Most fitness and nutrition people will give you the laundry list of why you should never eat out, but listen: we are human, we need to socialize, and honestly, we love to eat. Important human to human interactions occur when we share stories over food. Laughing and enjoying yourself is part of being "well." There is no scientific claim behind this, but I'd say a person who eats an occasional burger with friends is healthier than a person who eats kale all day in front of a laptop. So this post is about how you can save yourself some calories by making smart decisions when eating out, while still having fun! Have to thank my wife for a lot of these tips, as she has taught me to be good over time. Wives can be great inspiration, did you know that Beachbody CEO, Carl Daikeler's wife was the inventor of Shakeology?
Skip the appetizer and eat dessert at home
Ok, first thing first: think over the last time you ate out. Now, what was on the appetizer menu? Nachos, potato skins, buffalo wings, fried cheese, chicken tenders, fried... fried... fried... If you are absolutely starving and need something quick, you can salvage a huge amount of calories by not getting the table nachos doused in meat, cheese, and guacamole, but having the table share a basket of chips and salsa. Split that between 4 or more people and now you have a much more reasonable portion for everyone. Something like calamari, which you might think is healthy because it's fish, by contrast can add up to over 900 calories per full plate. Also, beware of cream-based soups like a bisque and most chowders. In general, soup is so easy to make and is so much healthier homemade, there is no need to get it out at restaurants or in cans!
As far as the dessert goes, have some fruit and a can of redi-whip set up at home, and invite your party to your place after dinner for a nice light dessert. Restaurant dessert portions are preposterous, and usually not worth it once you start digging in! Plus think of all the money you save not ordering desserts for the whole table!
Split an entree
Being a man, it took me a while to actually get to the point where I was comfortable splitting entrees with my wife, but honestly it makes SO much sense. When you split an entree with your partner, or friend, you are probably eating closer to a real portion of food anyway! With the giant plates that restaurants put out, we don't even realize how big the portions are, some are literally double size. I have to admit I love burgers, and I can with zero effort down an entire 1/2 lb. burger and fries. But when my wife and I order one burger and fries and split it in half, I always find that I am full anyway and I ingested half the calories I would have otherwise! Just do it - I'd suggest eating half your portion and bringing the other half home, but I know for me if the food is in front of me I will want to eat it. So if you split an entree, you will just eat what is in front of you and be making a healthy choice at the same time!
Don't be scared to sub fries for a salad
A lot of people look at the menu and are scared to ask for substitutions. But honestly, any restaurant that says they can't substitute a side of fries with a garden salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing is lying to you. Kind of like when you order a huge desert and then half way through regret it, I find I'm the same way with fries. I'll eat fries if they are there, but if I don't order them in the first place, I am actually quite happy with a salad. Of course ask for the dressing on the side (see next section!).
Are salads really healthy?
Don't trick yourself into thinking that ordering a salad is the healthiest choice. Nothing wrong with a bunch of vegetables in a bowl, but start adding fatty and salty dressings, and other add-ons like fried chicken, bacon and tortilla strips, and you are in trouble. Check this out, from the Olive Garden's website:
Garden-Fresh Salad (with dressing): 350 calories, 26g fat, 4.5g saturated fat, 1930g sodium
Garden-Fresh Salad (WITHOUT dressing): 120 calories, 3.5g fat, .5g saturated fat, 550g sodium
So there is a no brainer, ASK FOR THE DRESSING ON THE SIDE. Control how much dressing you put on, or keep it in the little side cup and dip your salad in as you eat. Wonder how there is still 550g sodium in the plain salad? I'll give you a clue - skip the olives and pepperoncini's - these seem harmless, but are both loaded with sodium. You can't really avoid high sodium content when you eat out, but by picking these items out of the salad you are saving yourself a little bit!
Avoid certain condiments, like mayonnaise
A tablespoon of mayonnaise has 120 calories, and practically all of it is from fat. That adds up pretty quick, especially because they put more than a tablespoon on! But it's not just plain mayonnaise, many other sauces, like aioli, are mayonnaise based. Don't be afraid to ask the server about the sauce - it may be something you want on the side or to avoid altogether.
Just make it your default - order a water with dinner. That way you avoid sugary sodas, iced teas, and other soft drinks. Be wary of your alcohol consumption. I know alcohol is a touchy topic for people who are working out or trying to lose weight. Obviously, if you want to get the best results from your workout program, you have to cut out alcohol, but of course, as with anything, moderation is key. A lot of people ask me "Well, I read beer can have benefits for you, so does that mean I can drink it and still get results?" My answer is usually - if you have to ask, you probably know the answer. Again, that doesn't mean never drink, like I said before, we are human and there are certain social things we do that make us who we are. But seriously, if nobody else ordered a drink, do you really need that beer? I know people harp on how many "carbs" are in their beers, but don't forget, every ounce of alcohol comes with empty calories in it, that aren't used for anything. If you had an ounce of grain alcohol, you would be ingesting 190 calories that aren't fat, carb, or protein - completely empty. There is a time and a place to get a little tipsy, just pick and choose, make them few and far between, and just be responsible!
The other thing about water is, as we talked about with the high sodium, you will need to hydrate a lot after eating out, otherwise you might find you are retaining water more the next day!
Finally, never "save" calories earlier in the day
Never skip breakfast, or limit your caloric intake during the day so you can splurge at night. First of all, you are denying yourself good nutrition during the day, which can effect your metabolism, your ability to workout and/or just get through the day. But also, by starving yourself during the day, you will be all the more susceptible to making bad choices at night when you are finally ravenous and the whole world of food is in front of you. Listen - it takes 3,500 calories in surplus to put on a pound of fat (I sound like a broken record, I know I've put that factoid in other emails :) ), so you aren't going to "blow it" in one night. Focusing on sound nutrition during the day, and then making smart decisions at dinner you don't really have to worry about blowing it.
Ok, so be honest, did I just take ALL the fun out of eating out? I hope not. But seriously, the coolest part is when you order water, ask for dressing on the side, sub out for fries, split entrees, you are setting a great example for your friends too. It's like that Nutragrain Bar commercial where they say "one healthy decision leads to another!" Only don't eat Nutragrain bars, they are really high in sugar :).