You’re doing really well on your fitness journey and then it happens: date night, dinner out with your girlfriends, or a work dinner with new clients.
Before you know it, you’re staring at a menu for entirely too long, breaking a cold sweat and wondering if the only thing available to you is the sad looking garden salad in the “Appetizers”. When the waiter comes, you panic and order the triple decker heart attack burger special with a side of cheesy fries.
Listen, eating out is one of life’s most enjoyable pleasures, so if it’s an occasional indulgence, go for it!
Human beings eat for all kinds of reasons.
Some meals are wonderful to just enjoy with family and friends. Not every meal has to be centred around nutrition goals.
It took more than one meal to get out of shape in the first place, so one meal isn’t going to derail your progress.
Buuuuuut, if you do eat out a lot, or order in a lot, those rich meals can really add up. Most eateries cook for flavour, not health, so it can be a minefield to navigate healthy options.
But have no fear: you’re not doomed to choke down a garden salad with dressing on the side for the rest of your life. Here’s how to order in, or eat out on a fitness journey.
#1: Check the menu ahead of time
Many restaurants publish their menus online, giving you time to peruse them and shortlist a few options in advance.
Sometimes making a healthy choice on the spot can be agonizing amongst the delicious aromas of food and distracting table talk.
Having a game plan before you go out decreases your chances of making an impulse choice that isn’t in line with your goals.
#2: Steer clear of the bread basket
That basket of cheesy garlic bread is uber calorie dense. Have a light snack like a piece of fruit before heading out, and give it a miss.
#3: Know your cooking terms
Sometimes it’s not the food itself which is unhealthy but the way it’s prepared.
As a general rule, cooking methods such as poached, steamed, roasted or grilled are the best choice.
Avoid preparations including fried, crispy, battered, pan-fried, breaded, sauteed or crumbed. These methods of cooking typically involve a LOT of oil.
#4: Always eat with a knife and fork
Look, people will think you’re a psycho, but trust me. Even if you’ve ordered pizza or a burger, eat your meal with a knife and fork.
Cut off small bites, chew mindfully, be present during the table conversation, and put down your cutlery between bites.
This prevents mindless overeating, helps you to slow down, and allows your body to register satiety cues more readily.
(Eating slower also makes your meal more delicious. True story.)
#4: Be mindful of alcohol
I don’t know about you, but I ALWAYS eat more if I’m drinking red wine. Red wine gives me a serious case of the munchies – anyone else?
Alcohol can not only deplete your body of the vitamins and minerals from the food you just consumed, but it can also limit your body’s ability to burn fat.
Alcohol is a readily available fuel source – so your body will choose to burn it first over glucose and lipids (i.e. carbs and fats) from your meal. Those carbs and fats will more likely end up being stored as fat.
The extra sugar and calories from alcohol can also have a detrimental effect on your goals.
Finally, as we’re all aware, alcohol can really affect our judgement. You’re more likely to order the fishbowl fudge brownie banana split extravaganza after a few vinos than you would be sober.
Listen, it’s fine to enjoy a sexy glass of red on date night or a champagne with the girls at your bestie’s birthday dinner. You don’t have to miss out – just be mindful.
- Ask for a small 150 ml glass of wine rather than a large glass
- Order a champagne spritzer – half champagne, half soda water
- Be expensive, order a scotch on the rocks, and make it last the whole meal
- Rather than a sugary cocktail, order a tequila highball – tequila, fresh lime juice and soda water
- Alternate between alcoholic beverages and a lemon water (this helps with digestion too)
#5: Cut it in half
Restaurant portions are usually WAY too big (unless you go to one of those really bougie places where you pay $39 for a risotto and it’s like a tablespoon of rice with a basil leaf in the middle).
When you get your main, cut it in half with your cutlery. Eat that half, then pause and assess.
Sip your drink, enjoy the conversation, then check in with yourself.
Are you still hungry, or are you satisfied?
If you’re still hungry, go for that second half. If you’re starting to feel full, ask your waiter to put the rest in a takeaway bag.
Meal prep – glamour girl style.
#6: Make healthy swaps
Swap French fries for baked or mashed potato, or ask if they can be swapped for steamed veggies instead.
If you order pizza, ask for half the regular amount of cheese, and extra veggies.
Don’t be afraid to ask your waiter if meals can be “tweaked” a little bit to make them more suitable to your goals.
(P.S. Have a backup option in case this isn’t possible.)
#7: Gluten free does NOT equal healthy
Just because something says it’s gluten free, doesn’t mean it’s better for you (unless you’re gluten allergic/intolerant or Coeliac).
The same goes for menu items labelled as “plant based”, “vegetarian”, “keto”, “paleo”, “vegan”, “dairy free”, or “high in protein”.
These foods may live up to their claims, but are usually full of other things, like fat or sugar, to help give them more flavour.
#8: Choose tomato based sauces over cream based sauces
We all love a good carbonara! And if you want to stay on track, it’s better to choose tomato based sauces for your pasta dish than cream/cheesy based sauces like carbonara, alfredo, béchamel, or rose.
#9: Ask for sauces, syrups or dressings on the side
Sauces, syrups, gravies and dressings can be deceptively calorie heavy, and meals often come out drenched in them!
Ask for these things to be served on the side, and dip each forkful instead.
You’ll consume far less calories without compromising on taste!
#10: On dessert
Okay, but what happens when the dessert menu comes out?
Firstly, everyone knows my stance on dessert: I wholeheartedly believe in it, and rare is the day I go without it.
With that said, it can be a minefield when you’re trying to eat out on a fitness journey.
Fortunately, I have a few suggestions:
- Order a coffee instead. Even with a teaspoon of sugar, it’s often still healthier than a decadent dessert but scratches that itch for something “extra” after dinner. (And something about it feels incredibly chic.)
- Have dessert when you get home. Give your meal some time to settle and if you’re still hankering for a sweet treat when you get in, go for it with a healthy sweet treat. My faves are protein yoghurt, protein bars, fresh fruit, or a bowl of cold cereal.
- Split a dessert with your dinner companion. Often those restaurant desserts are gigantic and it only takes a few bites to feel satisfied. You’ll still get all the satisfaction of having eaten dessert without the extra calories.
Finally, and most importantly, I want to share a bonus tip with you:
Every now and again, eat out without paying attention to ANY of these tips.
It’s just one meal, life is short, and food is glorious. Enjoy it, and come back to your goals at your next meal without guilt.
Trying to eat out on a fitness journey can feel like a minefield, but it doesn’t have to be. Armed with the right tips, you can navigate it like the glamour girl you are. (And sometimes – throw those tips out the window and enjoy living your life.)