I spend 50% of my year on the road for business and fitness events, so it’s fair to say I’ve got some great experience when it comes to eating out while staying lean year round!
While it can be tough and feel like you’re doomed to fail, there are steps you can take to ensure you remain on track with your goals, while still enjoying yourself.
In this article, I’ll discuss ways that you can go out to eat yet still ensure you’re both enjoying yourself and eating for your body composition goals.
1. View The Menu And Decide On Some Options Before You Go
The best thing about the Internet is that we have instant access to information.
Luckily, restaurants are typically no exception. I suggest that before you go to a restaurant, you first decide on the place and then search through their menu to see what they offer.
If you have a body composition goal and you happen to choose a restaurant that only offers fried foods, this could spell disaster for your physique and emotions.
Prior to deciding where to eat, search online for their menu and ensure that they offer dishes that include options for lean proteins and even vegetables as a side. This will ensure that you aren’t just hoping that the restaurant you are going to will have something that will be enjoyable and in line with your goals.
Additionally, going to restaurants can be an exciting and pleasurable experience. Couple this excitement and pleasure with hunger and cravings and you have a potential disaster on your hands.
I suggest after viewing the restaurant’s menu, pick out two or three menu items that are acceptable for your goals and then decide when you get there. This will narrow down your options but also provide leeway in case the restaurant is out of your primary selection.
After all, 3 minutes reviewing the nutritional values online could save you 3 hours at the gym. While I’m not saying you must pick the lowest calorie option, there will often be 2 dishes you like equally where one may have just half the calories of the second. In this case, it’s simple logic to pick that one, but if you don’t review the information in advance you will never know.
2. Have Some Protein Before Going To The Restaurant
An easy solution to avoiding hunger cravings is to have some sort of protein source, such as a whey protein shake, prior to going out to a restaurant.
Multiple studies have revealed that due to the structure of protein, it has a satiating effect, meaning you feel fuller (1, 2).
By consuming a small protein source prior to departing, you can ensure that you are getting an ample amount of beneficial protein while also reducing the risk of overeating on what could be potentially less than optimal foods once at the restaurant.
3. Drink A Couple Glasses Of Water Before Your Meal
If you are stuck at a restaurant that only offers less than optimal choices, consider drinking a couple glasses of water prior to your meal.
Interestingly, a recent study actually determined that when participants drank 16 ounces of water before meals, they ate significantly less food compared to participants who did not drink the water (3).
Drinking a large volume of water prior to and with your meal can take up some of the limited space in your stomach. In doing so, you will elicit a feeling of fullness, earlier during your meal, allowing you to consume less total food.
Further, having a large amount of water can stretch the stomach meaning reduced secretion of the hunger hormone, ghrelin. This will allow you to feel less hungry when you get to the restaurant and more likely to make better decisions.
Other research has shown that a glass of cold water can even boost your metabolism by 50+ calories for that day.
4. Fill Up On Salad And Choose Dressings Wisely
Again, if you’re stuck at a restaurant with less than optimal choices, consider eating as much salad as possible.
By filling up on salad, you reduce the amount of volume in your stomach left to accommodate other foods that may not be as healthy.
Additionally, most restaurants provide options such as pairing with a lean protein, which can turn a suboptimal meal into a protein and fiber-filled one.
Consuming a large amount of salad will also provide a good amount of fiber since vegetables are fiber dense. Multiple studies have shown that fiber is essential not only for digestion but also for feelings of being satiated (4, 5, 6).
By filling up on fiber-filled vegetables via salad, you’ll leave feeling satisfied and confident that you ate healthily.
Lastly, opt for salad dressings that are lower in calories such as vinaigrettes.
While some creamier dressing variants can include upwards of 14 grams of fat per serving, most light vinaigrettes come in around 4-5 grams of fat per serving.
By simply choosing a lighter dressing option, you can significantly reduce the total amount of calories you are consuming.
5. Opt For Lean Proteins And Vegetables
Unless you are eating at a fast food restaurant, most establishments offer both lean protein options as well as substitutions of vegetables for a side.
I suggest that you choose these as your options since they will benefit you both in terms of nutritional density as well as satiety.
Protein and fiber have both been shown time and again to have a beneficial impact on both body composition and feelings of fullness (1, 2, 4, 5, 6).
Opting for both a lean protein and fiber-filled vegetable source is a no-brainer for the best option while eating out at a restaurant.
I also recommend this option if you plan on doing 2-3 courses, or drinking alcohol. By keeping your main entrée low calorie and based on protein/vegetables, you have more flexibility for a starter, dessert or an alcoholic drink!
6. Ask For Condiments To Be On The Side
Many restaurants offer delicious entrees that include lean proteins but then reduce how healthy they are by smothering them with high fat, high-calorie sauces.
This is in addition to high-calorie dressings often paired with pre-entrée salads. I’ve seen many salads labeled at over 1000 calories; if this is the case, you may as well just eat a burger, right?!
To ensure your efforts aren’t ruined by crazy high-calorie sauces, I suggest you request they place the condiments such as salad dressing, barbecue and other sauces on the side when you order an entrée.
By using this method, you can control how much of them you are actually consuming, potentially reducing the total amount of calories for the meal.
7. Share Your Meal
Unfortunately, restaurant entrées often come in very large portions with high-calorie amounts.
If you happen to go out with a friend or significant other, consider asking if they’d simply like to split the meal with you, especially if you are doing a typical 3 courses.
In doing so, you can reduce the total amount of calories that you would normally consume by half, with the additional bonus of reducing the total amount of money that you are spending too!
This is a great option nutritionally and financially speaking, especially if you normally don’t finish your portions when you go out. If sharing an entrée is too small, you could do 1 entrée with a salad and leaner, healthier side such as boiled potatoes, rice or mixed vegetables.
8. Eat Your Meal In Order Of Importance
One of the issues with eating out is that meals can often be very carbohydrate heavy.
If you find yourself in this situation, I suggest pairing your carb with protein and vegetables and then eating your meal in the order of importance. By this I mean, eat your protein, then your vegetables and then your carbohydrate.
By eating your protein and vegetables first, you can ensure that you eat the food that you need first and then eat the food that you want second.
If you opt to eat in this fashion, there is potential that after eating your protein and vegetable first, you will reduce the total amount of less beneficial carbohydrate that you are consuming.
9. Eat Slowly
In a restaurant or at home, research has shown the slower you eat the less you eat.
While this may not matter if you are eating a typical healthy meal at home, it can be a great rule when you are eating high calorie and super tasty food in a restaurant.
This also applies to ordering your courses and overall meal as well. If you aren’t sure about a dessert after the entrée, wait 20 mins and chat with your friends/spouse then decide; this allows your food to digest and your brain to receive signals of fullness.
The best and most common techniques are to drink water between bites, chat more and chew your food slowly. This alone may save you 20-30% calories!
10. Choose Your Treat
The final tip is to pick your treat.
What I mean by this is decide if you want to have an unhealthy starter, entrée, dessert or alcohol. Rather than having all 4 and consuming 4000 calories, pick one where you will relax and pick whatever you want as a ‘free’ meal, then make the other dishes low calorie and healthy.
For example, you may have a low-calorie salad as a starter, a high-calorie cheat entrée, such as a burger, then pass on a dessert and just drink a diet soda.
That way, you’ve got a healthy balance, enjoyed yourself, but have not gone over the top and wrecked the hard work of your whole last week’s training!
In Summary: How to Eat Out Without Blowing Your Diet
While eating out can be a daunting task if you have specific body composition goals, there are steps you can take to keep your enjoyment, but also eat according to those goals.
Before going out, I suggest selecting restaurants that offer options that are in line with your goals.
Placing emphasis on lean proteins and vegetables is easily the best option for eating out, along with focusing on all the other tips discussed above.
Of course, one of the best solutions is to just limit how often you eat out. If you restrict it to once per week and follow these steps it really shouldn’t cause a noticeable issue for your fat loss or physique efforts (especially if everything else is optimized during the week!).
1. Luscombe, N. D., Clifton, P. M., Noakes, M., Farnsworth, E., & Wittert, G. (2003). Effect of a high-protein, energy-restricted diet on weight loss and energy expenditure after weight stabilization in hyperinsulinemic subjects. International journal of obesity, 27(5), 582-590.
2. Veldhorst, M., Smeets, A. J. P. G., Soenen, S., Hochstenbach-Waelen, A., Hursel, R., Diepvens, K., … & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. (2008). Protein-induced satiety: effects and mechanisms of different proteins. Physiology & behavior, 94(2), 300-307.
3. Murray, M., & Vickers, Z. (2009). Consumer views of hunger and fullness. A qualitative approach. Appetite, 53(2), 174-182.
4. Bolton, R. P., Heaton, K. W., & Burroughs, L. F. (1981). The role of dietary fiber in satiety, glucose, and insulin: studies with fruit and fruit juice. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 34(2), 211-217.
5. Cho, S. S., Case, I. L., & Nishi, S. (2009). Fiber and Satiety. Weight Control and Slimming Ingredients in Food Technology, 227.
6. Lefranc-Millot, C., Macioce, V., Guérin-Deremaux, L., Lee, A. W., & Cho, S. S. (2012). Fiber and Satiety. Dietary Fiber and Health, 83.