Top Tips for Dining Out Without Gaining Weight


Restaurants are no place for someone watching their weight. After all, many chain restaurant meals exceed government recommendations for fat and sodium. With more than 80% of Americans eating out at least once a week, and many as much as four times per week, staying healthy can be a challenge. But that doesn't mean taste, convenience, and fun are off-limits. Here are ways to continue dining out without sacrificing your health.

#1 Have a Plan

It's easy to be influenced by enticing menu descriptions or photos if you don't have a plan. Before you get to the restaurant, look up the menu online and decide what you'll order. Consider starting with a salad to fill up on greens before digging into your entree.

#2 Order First

We are heavily influenced by the people around us. If you're planning to order a healthier item, place your order before your dinner companions. That way, if those around you order something tantalizing, you won't have the chance to think twice.

#3 Make Strategic Cuts

Small changes can make a big difference. Turn away the bread before the meal, cut back on beverages other than water, and skip the appetizer unless you're ordering it as your meal. Just beware that most appetizers are high in fat, sodium, and calories.

#4 Cut Down Portions

Most restaurant portions are at least double the recommended size. When your meal arrives, cut it in half or ask the server to package up a portion before it even arrives. Alternatively, consider splitting an entrée with your companion.

#5 Know the Buzzwords

Menus have code words to watch out for. Go easy on foods that are fried, sauteed or described as creamy, crispy or rich. Instead, choose those that are grilled, roasted, steamed or broiled.

#6 Modify the Menu

Most restaurant meals can be made-to-order. Ask questions about how the food is prepared and request healthy modifications. Ask for vegetables without butter or salt, a baked potato, and brown rice or vegetables instead of french fries, while having salad dressings, gravies, and sauces served on the side.

#7 Eat Mindfully

At a busy restaurant, it can be difficult to pay attention to what you’re eating. Chew slowly, savoring the flavor, texture, aroma, and presentation of your meal. Stopping when your body tells you it’s satisfied means you’ll be less likely to walk out feeling uncomfortably full.

#8 Rethink Salad

“I’ll just have a salad,” is the proud assertion of many women trying to be “good” at a restaurant. In reality, many restaurant salads pack on more calories and fat than hamburgers. Go easy on toppings like cheese, bacon, and croutons and order the dressing on the side.

#9 Don't Skip Meals

When you skip a meal, your blood sugar plummets and your body goes into starvation mode, clinging to fat and calories. If you’re famished before mealtime, have a piece of fruit or a few veggies. Keeping your blood sugar consistent throughout the day can reduce food cravings.

#10 Indulge in Moderation

If you want to splurge, do it. Just appreciate every bite! Enjoy your favorite indulgences as treats and avoid those high-calorie options that don’t hold as much appeal.

Eating at a restaurant without gaining weight is possible. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, nearly 70% of women who participated in a six-week educational program managed to lose weight and keep it off while continuing to eat out. All of the women simply followed similar tips like the ones in this blog.

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Dr. Carolyn Ross is an internationally known physician, author and speaker on addictions, obesity and eating disorders. She serves as a consultant to The Ranch's eating disorder treatment program in Tennessee, maintains a private practice in Denver, is the author of The Binge Eating and Compulsive Overeating Workbook: An Integrated Approach to Overcoming Disordered Eating as well as The Joy of Eating Well and also hosts a weekly radio show, The Vital Life. 

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