For anyone trying to shed a few pounds or just adopt healthier eating practices, the idea of dining out in a restaurant might seem like putting temptation in your path.
When you shop for and prepare your own meals it is easier to avoid the high fat, high calorie items that you know are your downfall, but when you are confronted with a menu filled with forbidden foods, from which you have to choose at least one, the whole dining experience might start to seem more like an ordeal than a pleasure.
Chances are you will have educated yourself about healthier eating choices and know that grilled, poached or steamed is preferable to sautéed, pan-fried or roasted; that you should avoid creamy sauces and salad dressings; fish or white meat is a better choice than red meat and if eating red meat, choose lean cuts such as loin or flank rather than ribs or burgers.
Dietician Chad Collins believes it is essential to have an eating plan, which will take the guess work and the guilt out of eating, whether at home or in a restaurant.
But it is not all about abstinence: “ I always incorporate a treat meal into my personalized weight loss plans, so you can plan that one meal you love, and still lose weight,” he says.
Even if you have already used up your quota of treat meals, it does not mean that you can’t eat out for the rest of the week or the month, you just need to exercise some portion control.
A mistake many people make, according to Andrea Hill, nutritionist, is to fast all day if they know they are eating out later on.
This is in fact counter-productive as by the time you reach your chosen restaurant you are so ravenous you end up ordering far more than you should, and probably eating all the bread and snacks too.
Far better, she advises, to have a light lunch and a mid-afternoon snack, which will moderate your appetite for dinner.
Order a steak in a restaurant and you are likely to get at least an 8oz cut, if not more.
The average individual trying to lose weight should not have more than about four ounces of meat in one meal.
If you do not know how much 4oz is, the palm of your hand is roughly the same size as 4oz of meat.
Because restaurants also tend to pile plates high with fries, rice, pasta or other carbs, a good habit to get into is to immediately ask for one half your meal to be boxed up, so that you only eat half of what you are served and take the rest home.
If restaurants offer half portions, this is another option. Alternately, order your entrée from the appetizer menu, to ensure a smaller portion.
Another good way to control your portion size (if you are dining with someone else on a diet!) is to go for the “split entrée” option that restaurants increasingly offer.
For a few extra dollars the protein or meat part of the dish is divided between two plates, with a full portion of vegetables for each.
“Drinking a tall glass of water before a meal and sharing a dessert are also effective ways to control your calorie intake.
And don’t forget that alcoholic drinks are liquid calories!” adds Hill.
Remember, you do not have to eat everything on your plate. It takes a few minutes for your stomach to tell your brain it is full, so pause for a few minutes to see if you are still hungry. When you are no longer hungry stop eating.
Most restaurants are happy to accommodate special requests such as substituting potatoes or rice with a side salad or steamed vegetables, or having the sauce on the side.
Be careful with this though: a separate container of sauce could amount to more than would have been served normally.
To be on the safe side, try dipping your fork in the sauce before spearing your food – you will still get the taste without the calories. This applies as much to salad dressings as to creamy sauces.
People are often reluctant or embarrassed to ask for modifications to be made to the menu.
Executive Chef at the Westin Casuarina, Lloyd Cremer, believes in moderation in every area.
“It is perfectly acceptable to request certain modifications or changes – we understand that people like to have choices and mix things up a bit, and we are here to serve.
However, in fine dining restaurants the chefs have planned and executed their menus meticulously, and if customers start to make significant changes it will throw out the delicate balance of the dish.”
As the general public’s awareness of healthier eating practices grows, chefs are responding to the demand for lighter menus. “Chefs today are much more aware of where their ingredients come from, what is in season and whether it’s organic.
Even top French chefs are changing to accommodate their customers’ desire for less butter, cream and cheese,” explains Chef Cremer.
Fine dining establishments are therefore taking some of the burden off the consumer by providing lighter, fresher choices, but sadly, the cheapest food choices remain the least healthy.
If you avoid fast food outlets, control portion sizes and follow the experts’ advice there is no reason you can’t enjoy dining out while sticking to your diet.