Whether you’re observing food and dietary trends, have an allergy or are trying to restrict your calorie intake, eating out can be a challenge for any diet. Yet being able to sustain your diet without sacrificing your social life is an important factor in how well you’ll be able to stick to it. How can you keep up your healthy eating habits without saying no to that evening out - or bumming out your friends and family if they’re not following the same diet as you?
Help is at hand: we’ve put together 10 useful tips recommended by people who love to eat healthy and to eat out. Bon appetit!
#1 Plan ahead
If you’re given a choice of restaurants, have a browse of their menus online to see which would be best suited to your dietary needs. If the venue is already set, try and decide ahead of time what you’re going to order: you might be surprised to learn that you have more options than you expected. In any case, it will be a lot easier to make a healthy choice now than when you’re in a great-smelling restaurant surrounded by friends who all just ordered pizza.
#2 Pregame your meal if you can
You probably know that you shouldn’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry: well, counter-intuitive as it may seem to avoid being hungry at a restaurant, you’ll find it much easier to take advantage of the rest of the tips on this list if you’re not absolutely ravenous by the time you sit down to eat. Don’t eat so much that you ruin your meal, but consider eating a light snack, such as a banana or granola bar, about thirty minutes to an hour before your meal, just to take the edge of your appetite.
#3 Drink water (lots of it)
Swapping out alcohol or soda for water is an easy way to make your meal healthier and lighter - but drinking water before and during your meal will also help regulate your appetite. Ask for a jug of water (however you like it: if you prefer carbonated or a slice of lemon, treat yourself) as soon as you’re shown to your table, start making the most of it right away, and don’t be afraid to ask for refills throughout the meal.
#4 Say no to stuff you don’t want!
While you’re asking your server to bring you some water as above, don’t be afraid to ask them not to bring you stuff, too. At a lot of restaurants you’ll find a basket of bread, an order of poppadoms or some other appetizer appears on your table without you even having to think about it: and while that might be great a lot of the time, it’s less great if what turns up isn’t in line with the healthy choices you’re trying to make. Avoid wasting food or filling up on food you didn’t want: pre-empt your server before that basket gets filled with bread.
#5 Be the first to order
This might seem like a weirdly specific trick, but it works: try to be the first at your table to place your order. And don’t change it once you’ve heard what everyone else is having! This means you can confidently order whatever you decided on while planning ahead, and might even influence your fellow diners to influence your healthy choice. Letting everyone else go first runs the risk that you’ll think “...maaan, those fries really sound good, I want some too.”
#6 Try two appetizers instead of a main
So what should you order? Well, if there’s nothing on the list of entrées that works for your diet, take a look at the appetizer section of the menu: you’ll often find that you can assemble a meal from a couple of items on there. This is a trick particularly beloved of vegans! What’s more, studies have shown that people are less likely to overeat if their portion sizes are smaller, so as long as you don’t order too many apps - two should be fine - this will also help you with portion control.
#7 Make healthy swaps if you can
What if there is an entrée that sounds perfect for you, but it comes with a side of fries or something equally incompatible with your diet? Simple: order it, but ask your server to swap the unhealthy component of the meal for a salad, some steamed vegetables, or whatever works best for you. A minority of restaurants don’t allow swaps, but the worst they can say is no! (Also: you may feel like a lot of items on this list involve making a lot of demands on your server. And you’d be right! Don’t feel guilty: just be clear and polite, and remember to tip generously.)
#8 Get the dressing on the side
One more tip for ordering your entrée: if you’re ordering a salad, or anything else that comes with dressing, request it on the side so that you can add it yourself and don’t eat more (potentially oily) dressing than you want or need. Like a lot of these tips, it’s all about maintaining control over what and how much you eat.
#9 Eat slowly and mindfully
It’s pretty well-known that you’re less likely to overeat if you take your time over your meal, as this will give your stomach and gut chance to register when you’re full. And eating out in a social context can really help with this, as you can slow down your eating by chatting to your dining companions throughout your meal. Practising mindful eating - savoring the smell of your food and the taste of each mouthful - is another great habit to get into when you’re trying to eat more healthily.
#10 Go for coffee over dessert
If you’re trying to cut down on calories or follow any diet that precludes dessert, practise this phrase: “Just coffee for me, thanks.” No trying to convince yourself that the sorbet counts towards your servings of fruit for the day; no back-and-forth with your buddy over whether to split that piece of cake: just order your coffee, sip it mindfully, and congratulate yourself on another healthy meal out.