For many ‘eating out’ can be perceived as a potential hurdle in sticking to their healthy eating habits . Whether this is watching your calories or trying to eat more vegetables, we list a few tips below to help you enjoy eating out and not feel guilty about it!
1. Approach eating out with the right mindset:
Think Positive, add to your meal don't just restrict.
Eating healthfully is not all about what you can't eat! Shift your mindset and focus on what healthy items you can add to your plate and to your diet, instead of only what foods to avoid.
Look for opportunities to add colour and variety in the forms of fruits and vegetables, fibre in whole-grain breads, pastas and sides; opt for foods with healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds; and for those who are inclined try for lean meat, turkey, chicken or fish.
Try Eating Your Meal Mindfully.
Mindful eating means making conscious choices about what you consume and giving your full attention to the eating process.
While it may be a bit rude to those you are eating with, to give your full attention to the food, at least take the time to savour the aromas and flavours of your meal. Discuss the food with those you are dining with as this may aid the process as well as providing sometimes needed conversation.
Chew your food well and take time to pause while you’re eating by putting your cutlery down between each mouthful. This can help you to enjoy your eating experience and in slowing down the eating process help avoid overeating. This is because when your stomach has taken enough food, a hormone called leptin is released from fat tissues which sends signals the brain of fullness. It is thought, however, that it takes around 20 minutes for this process to occur (1).
Mindful eating has been linked with healthier food choices in restaurants (2)and can also help improve your self-control, preventing overeating (3).
In essence enjoy your food, that’s one of the reasons why we eat out right? That and no washing up.
Continuing the theme of Mindful eating making some conscious choices before arriving at the restaurant will make the experience far more relaxing enjoyable and healthy.
Read the Menu Before You Go
These days, most restaurants have their menus available online. If you’re not familiar with the menu, read it before you get to the restaurant and make a few choices before you even arrive.
You’re far more likely to make less healthy choices when hungry, distracted or influenced by others at the table. Not to mention the sight and smell of food making the healthy choice more difficult.
Choosing your food before you arrive makes it easier to avoid snap decisions and allows you to be mindful in your decisions, eat healthier and to explore different foods you may not normally go for.
How many courses?
If you’re watching your calorie intake consuming three courses or more may not be the best idea. However, sometimes sticking to just one course, once you see what everyone else is having is hard.
Decide before you arrive if you are going to have a starter or a dessert. Take into consideration which you would enjoy more, which one you’ll find easier to decline and which would provide the greatest health benefits.
Starters could be another great option to increase you vegetable intake or to try new foods you may not have had before.
Have a soup or a salad as a starter.
Having a soup or a salad before your main course can stop you from eating too much (4,5,6,7).
Studies looking at the effects of eating soup before a meal have shown that it can reduce your total calorie intake by 20% (7).
This could be because of the 20 minute fullness point above. We are far less likely to over eat when we reach our main course if we have an accurate feeling of how hungry or full we actually are.
Check How Food is Cooked and Prepared
The way food is cooked can have a significant impact on the amount of calories it contains.
Look for food that has been steamed, grilled, roasted or poached. Be aware in general, these cooking methods can equate to less fat and therefore fewer calories.
Foods that are described on the menu as pan-fried, fried, crispy, crunchy or sautéed will usually contain more fat and more calories.
3. At the table
Order Your Meal Before Everyone Else
Other people can influence our decisions without us really noticing.
In social situations, we tend to mimic others subconsciously, and dining out is no exception. Our meal choices and eating behaviours can be highly influenced by the choices of other people at the table (8,9,10).
If you’re eating with a group they may order something that doesn’t fit into your healthy eating plan, make sure you order first to avoid further temptation.
Ask Ask Ask! You are the customer…
Don't be afraid to ask your waiter to help create your desired meal, remember you are the customer.
A few simple requests you could make include:
Salad in place of chips with a meal,
Replacing or adding portions of vegetables
Items to be prepared with less oil or cheese,
Not to leave the bread basket
Serve salad dressing and/or sauces on the side, (this makes it easier to control your intake)
Request an appetizer/starter portion of a main meal.
You should also feel able and confident to at least ask if you can order "off-menu". For example, ask what vegetarian dish the chef can prepare for you, if it's possible to make grilled chicken and steamed vegetables or maybe even what extra vegetables would compliment a current dish.
Remember you are the paying customer!
Drink water throughout the meal.
Try your best to get used to drinking water as your main beverage. This will slow you down from eating your food too fast, which in turn will help you enjoy the food more, and allow your brain to get the message form your stomach that you’re full so you don’t overeat before your plate is already empty.
You can ask for a slice of lemon, if plain water is too boring. To ease into just having water, you can also wait to order a different beverage until after you’ve finished your first glass of water.
Skip the fancy drinks.
If you must order an alcoholic drink, try to avoid margaritas, piña coladas, and other exotic mixed drinks. They include sugary add-ins that add tons of calories and processed sugars and flavours.
Instead, order a glass of wine, a light beer, a vodka and tonic, or a simple martini. These options will be better for your healthy eating goals, especially if you choose not to drink that often.
Approach your alcoholic beverage as mindfully as you would your food, savour each sip and make the one drink last, while still washing your food down with water.
Have a Cup of Coffee Instead of Dessert
Decided against dessert? Order a tea or coffee instead. Don’t be left empty handed while your friends enjoy their desserts. Hopefully by this point you are full, but there will be far more health benefits to a cup of green tea or even a coffee than an ice cream sundae.
A Final Note....
There will be times when you want to eat your favourite food for pleasure and not worry about whether it is healthy or not. THIS IS OK!!
Being flexible about your diet and food choices has been associated with better overall health and weight management (11, 12).
It’s helpful to think about how a meal fits into the bigger picture of your diet and indeed your lifestyle. If you are eating and living healthily most of the time, go ahead and treat yourself. An occasional indulgence can be good for the soul.
If you enjoy dining out, don't think you have to stop to stay healthy. With some preparation and smart substitutions, you can order meals that are as nutritious as the ones you prepare at home. All without the washing up!
Bda, Mindful eating. Mindful Eating | British Dietetic Association (BDA). Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/mindful-eating.html [Accessed September 30, 2021].
Timmerman, G.M. & Brown, A., 2012. The effect of a mindful restaurant eating intervention on weight management in women. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 44(1), pp.22–28.
Robinson, E. et al., 2013. Eating attentively: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(4), pp.728–742.
Rolls, B.J. et al., 1990. Foods with different satiating effects in humans. Appetite, 15(2), pp.115–126.
HIMAYA, A.B.D.O.U. & LOUIS-SYLVESTRE, J.E.A.N.I.N.E., 1998. The effect of soup on satiation. Appetite, 30(2), pp.199–210.
Roe, L.S., Meengs, J.S. & Rolls, B.J., 2012. Salad and satiety. the effect of timing of salad consumption on meal energy intake. Appetite, 58(1), pp.242–248.
Flood, J.E. & Rolls, B.J., 2007. Soup preloads in a variety of forms reduce meal energy intake. Appetite, 49(3), pp.626–634.
Robinson, E. et al., 2014. What everyone else is eating: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of informational eating norms on eating behavior. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(3), pp.414–429.
Cruwys, T., Bevelander, K.E. & Hermans, R.C.J., 2015. Social modeling of eating: A review of when and why social influence affects food intake and choice. Appetite, 86, pp.3–18.
Higgs, S., 2015. Social norms and their influence on eating behaviours. Appetite, 86, pp.38–44.
Teixeira, P.J. et al., 2015. Successful behavior change in obesity interventions in adults: A systematic review of self-regulation mediators. BMC Medicine, 13(1).
Teixeira, P.J. et al., 2010. Mediators of weight loss and weight Loss maintenance in middle-aged women. Obesity, 18(4), pp.725–735.