Making healthy choices at home is hard enough, but dining at restaurants adds a whole other set of challenges. Attack them head on with this no-stress guide. By Ava Feuer, REDBOOK.
1. Focus on the people you're with
When you're following a new healthy eating plan, it can be easier to avoid situations that may trigger you to want to overindulge - namely restaurants. But just like life wouldn't be fun if you never went outside, it doesn't make much sense to avoid something as enjoyable as socializing with friends at restaurants forever. "Learning how to eat out and enjoy yourself while sticking to your new plan is all part of the process," explains nutritionist Stephanie Middleberg. It can be easier said than done - especially when you're friends have decided to group-order the signature queso fondito at your favorite Mexican place and now it's calling your name. But try to remember the reason your here - to catch up with said cheese-loving friends. "Shift your focus to the conversation, not the food," advises Middleberg. "Ongoing banter is actually an excellent opportunity to slow down." Take a few bites of what you love, then stay engaged in what's really important - i.e. What's going on with the annoying mom from playgroup.
2. Don't be afraid to make special requests
To strike the right balance between knowing what you're eating, and becoming unhealthily obsessive about it, Middleberg suggests making two healthy substitutions to your order, like asking for dressing on the side, or a salad instead of fries with your entrée. You don't want to go all When Harry Met Sally on your waiter, but speaking up for yourself - and your health - is actually a positive practice. If you suffer from a food allergy, such as Celiac's disease or lactose intolerance, do alert your waiter - irritating ingredients can sneak their way into dishes in ways you might not predict, and the last thing you want is for tummy trouble to cut short a fun night out.
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3. Choose what's important to you
When you're trying to avoid heavily dressed salads, heaps of processed cheese or other unhealthy extras they usually throw on restaurant food for flavor, it might be tempting to ask for none of it. But shouting "no" to every extra is bound to frustrate you beyond belief - and increase the likelihood you'll fall off the wagon later. Instead, pick the treat that will be most satisfying to you, whether that be the bread basket, dessert, or alcohol. Now your only job is to enjoy it, guilt-free.
4. Have a cocktail
We tend to think of heart-healthy wine as the purest alcohol choice, but because groups often order bottles, it's easy to overdo it on the vino. "It's hard to keep track of how much you're drinking when your glass keeps getting refilled," says Middleberg. "If you order a cocktail, you have to consciously ask for another one." But do keep it to one drink, and pair it with your main course. "If you start drinking on an empty stomach, you'll have two or three," she says. "Not only will you end up consuming more alcohol, but you'll start picking at everything else. All bets are off."
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5. Ward off food-pushers
You may walk up to the table ready to make smart choices, but so-called food-pushers don't make following through on your good intentions easy. When someone claims, "you don't have to eat healthy! Enjoy your meal," own your commitment to taking care of yourself, and respond with a statement about how you'll feel later. Think: "I love burritos, but I know I won't feel good tomorrow, and I have a big presentation at work, so I need to be at my best." And rest assured that if someone's really going at you, it's probably not about you, but rather about her own preoccupation with food and dieting.
6. Gather your thoughts
You've done your online research to figure out healthy ordering options, but as soon as a menu is placed in your hands, that plate of pasta carbonara starts looking mighty good. Be aware that those sorts of dishes are designed to be tempting - it's not just you who's drawn to them - but if your brain's still swirling, don't stress it. "Be sympathetic to yourself, and if you feel a bit overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths or walk away from the table for a bit to recenter," says Middleberg. If you do decide to go for the spaghetti, remember that it's just one meal. No matter how it goes, the experience won't sabotage all your efforts.
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7. Know yourself
Some people are totally satisfied eating a handful of French Fries, whereas others find that once they have a few, it's difficult to stop. It's not bad if you're part of the second group - so long as you're aware of it, and know it may be easier for you to not start munching. Ideally, you want to leave a meal 80 percent full, meaning you're satisfied, but that you could eat more. You can't control what food always is - say, if you're friends insist on meeting for Mexican - but you can take charge of how much you're eating. It's up to you to determine the best means of doing so.
8. Make it about just one meal
If you know you're going out to dinner, you may be tempted to "save up" calories, but doing so will only make you arrive ravenous. "That creates an unhealthy pattern where your body feels as if it's starving and sends an influx of hunger hormones that might make you overeat," says Middleberg. Similarly, don't fast after a big meal. Your best bet is to listen to your body's cues. When you do that, you'll be well-equipped for any eating challenge that may come your way.
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