Restaurant Eating

Podcast Episode #013: Restaurant Eating That Doesn’t Kill Your Diet

"Healthy restaurant eating" is almost an oxymoron.

Sometimes even the "healthiest" options are jam-packed with calories, preservatives, and other ingredients you'd prefer to avoid. Today I've got some really effective ways you can approach restaurant eating without going off the deep end. It is possible to eat smart while eating out.

Restaurant Eating That Doesn't Kill Your Diet [Full Text]

Today, I have a great question from Julie. Let’s dive right in. Julie says,

“I’ve really been watching what I’ve been eating, and I’ve developed some pretty good routines when I’m at home. The problem is social eating. Multiple times each week, I find myself eating at restaurants for work or other social engagements. I know I can choose what to order but I can’t control how food is prepared. I feel like all this eating out is killing me. Any suggestions on how to deal with it?”

Thanks for your question, Julie, and this is something that I know many of us struggle with. Eating out is tough.

To share an experience to emphasize that point, I was recently at a steakhouse for a social engagement, and I was trying to choose something that’s a healthier option on the menu. I got an eight ounce sirloin steak. I’m a big steak guy. I was really excited to get this steak. Then, I ordered baked potato and veggies on the side. I thought this looks like a pretty healthy meal. I enjoyed the meal. It was fantastic. It tasted great.

When I went home, just out of curiosity, I went to the restaurant website, and looked up the nutritional information. I was shocked because that meal had almost 1300 calories and 66 grams of fat. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, that’s about half of my daily calorie intake, and almost 100% of the daily intake that I would aim for in terms of fat. There were a lot of calories packed into that one meal.

One thing that I was really surprised about is that I’ve actually chosen the baked potato over mashed potatoes thinking that that was the healthier option but that baked potato actually had an extra 150 calories and extra 5 grams of fat. Even though I was trying to make a healthy decision, the type of food or the amount of food that I was consuming was still a lot more than I would have eaten if I were at home.

Restaurant Food Just Isn't Healthy

Why did I tell you this story?

It’s important for us to realize that when we eat out at restaurants or going to eat more food, or more calories, or more fat than we would at home. Yes, there’s all kinds of “healthy options” that you can order and there likely are ones that are better than others but almost regardless of what we choose to order, the food that we’re going to eat at a restaurant isn’t going to be of the same quality as that that we can prepare on our own.

Why is this?

If you think about it, how do restaurants make food taste good? That is their objective. Regardless of how healthy they claim to be, their objective is to make food taste good so that people enjoy their meal. How do they make it taste good? Generally, they add three things: They’ll add fat, they’ll add sugar, and they’ll add salt. All of those added very quickly and, again, are probably presented to us in meals at a restaurant in quantities that far surpass what we prepare on our own.

I could give you some advice about which salad dressing to choose or looking for foods that are prepared or cooked in a certain way versus others, and those may make minor differences but again, I go back to the point that when we eat at a restaurant, we have to expect that the food that we’re eating is carrying a whole lot more calories and likely a lot more fat than the food that we prepare for ourselves.

Again, it goes back to the question, what do we do about this because eating at restaurants is part of life? We’re probably not going to be able to avoid that. What can we do?

My Sushi Showdown

I want to start off by again telling you an eating story...

I was running a boot camp, and there is a girl in the boot camp, a friend of mine named Steph. Steph, she’s about 5 feet tall and weighs about 100 pounds, and she was telling me how she was the biggest eater, and could out-eat me any day of the week.

I’ll tell you, I really like to eat and I’m very competitive. When this 5-foot tall girl was telling me that she could beat me in an eating competition, it was on!

What we decided to do is after the booth camp was finished on the last week of class, the entire class went out to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant to celebrate. Steph and I lined up across the table from each other, and went head to head, piece of sushi for piece of sushi.

I’ll admit, it probably got pretty gross. By the end of the night, we definitely had each eaten well over 50 pieces of sushi. I think we lost count just because of the sheer quantity was too much to keep track off.

(On the side note, Steph, if you’re listening, I am pretty sure I beat you)...

But the point is that we drastically over-consumed sushi that night.

In the grand scheme of things, sushi is actually a relatively healthy restaurant food. Depending on what types of sushi you can order, it can be a relatively healthy and low calorie meal but when you get into huge quantities like Steph and I did, the calories are just off the charts. I think we probably each ate upwards of 2500 or maybe even 3000 calories in that one sitting.

My point with this story is that even if we’re choosing, again, “healthy food” options when we go to eat, if we’re overindulging and eating too much food, it doesn’t matter how healthy that choice was.

It doesn’t have to be just all-you-can restaurants. I’ll include in the show notes a link to a study that shows how portion sizes at restaurants have changed over the years, and the stats are mind-boggling. Compared to 1950, the average portion size in a restaurant today is 400% bigger. Just let that sink in for a second. In the last 60 years or 70 years, we’ve increased our portion sizes at restaurants by four times.

Again, even if those foods are healthier choices, we are eating a huge amount. That’s what we need to focus on if we’re looking to maintain a healthy diet, while still eating regularly at restaurants. There’s a couple of relatively easy ways to do this...

Controlling Your Quantity

First of all, let’s avoid the appetizers. Aside from just adding more food and more calories to our overall meal, appetizers have been shown to be some of the worst quality foods that you can order at a restaurant. Again, in the show notes, I am going to include a study that just shows some of the statistics, and it’s, again, mind-boggling how many calories can be packed into just one appetizer. Let’s avoid the appetizer altogether.

Another thing that we can do is go into that restaurant knowing that our meal, our entrée is going to be way bigger than what people have historically eaten at restaurants. What could we do that about that? We can partner up, and go in with a partner, and say, “Hey, let’s order a meal, and we’re going to divvy that up 50/50,” and know that you’re still going to get a very satisfying meal.

If you don’t have a partner or someone who wants to share a meal with you, that’s fine. Go in saying that this meal is actually going to make two meals. This can be challenging. If you’re doing it on your own, your eyes can get really big, I know mine can, and it’s easy to eat the entire meal or three-quarters of the meal, and then think, “I should have probably not eaten all this,” but try and think of it ahead of time.

When you get that meal, maybe physically divide it in two. It doesn’t have to be a big show. Everyone on the table doesn’t even have to notice but just make a division, put it into two parts on your plate, and say, “I am going to eat this half,” or ask your waiter or waitress for a doggy bag or a take home container, and maybe ask them before you even finish a meal, and then put half of it in that container, and then you’re guaranteed that eating only half of the meal is going to happen at the restaurant, and the other half for another meal later.

Just keep in mind when you’re doing this, I know probably no one else is going to be taking this strategy. Everyone is going to be finishing their meal but we’re getting 400% of the amount of food. Do we actually need to finish it all?

Even an easier strategy is looking at the menu for lunch size or small size options, and a lot of restaurants do offer this. Sometimes, those sizes are half or just over half of what the regular entrée would be. Again, that’s plenty of food for anyone to feel satisfied when they leave that restaurant.

Don't Drink Your Calories

Another simple thing that you can do when you go to a restaurant is to avoid drinking your calories. This should really go without saying. Ordering water instead of ordering a soda or ordering an alcoholic beverage can make a huge difference in the total calorie count for your meal. It doesn’t really take away from the social eating perspective of it either.

Yes, it’d be weird if we went into a restaurant and didn’t order any food, just sat there in front of a bare plate while everyone else ate their meal. That would be a little bit awkward but ordering a water while other people order other drinks doesn’t detract from the social aspect of it at all. In fact, most people I bet, won’t even notice that you’re just drinking water, and you’re going to be saving yourself a huge amount of calories. Most of those calories are going to be sugar.

Before You Arrive...

Another thing that you can do to deal with a lot of social eating or eating at restaurants is to prepare ahead of time.

What do I mean by that?

If you’re going out for dinner and you know that there’s probably going to be some food consumed or quantity of food consumed that is more than you’d actually like, think about your breakfast and lunch. How big are those meals going to be?

Yes, there is some advantage to front loading your calories, and this is something that I definitely recommend. Try and eat more of your calories during your breakfast meal, and then less during lunch, and even less during dinner as we prepare for bed, and our body naturally winds down. It’s metabolism, but in some cases, that’s just not possible.

If we’re going to be eating a big meal at dinner, we can still help ourselves out by reducing the amount of food that we eat at breakfast and at lunch. Doing that just helps our total calories for the day stay relatively within check.

What About Exercise?

Another thing that we can do to plan ahead is to make sure that we exercise. If you’re listening to this podcast regularly or if you read my blog, you know that I am a big believer in the fact that exercise can’t outdo a bad diet. That is so true.

No matter how much you exercise, you can’t out-exercise the amount of calories that you can consume through bad food choices, but exercise still does burn calories and it still does increase our metabolism. If you know that you have a big meal coming up in the evening, make sure you get your exercise done before you go to that meal.

After Your Meal...

Now, what about after the meal? Again, just assuming that it’s an evening meal, it’s dinner, think about what your calorie consumption or your food consumption is going to look like after that meal. Maybe if you’re an evening snack person, do you really need that snack or is that just a habitual behaviour? Then, think about the next morning, what are you going to eat for breakfast the next morning?

One of the things that I work on with many of clients is starting the process of fasting. I know fasting is a scary word - Going without food for a long period of time. That’s not actually what it needs to look like. A fast is actually something that we practice every single day. Every night, when we sleep, whether it’s for six hours, eight hours, ten hours, whatever it is, we’re not eating any food. That’s a better third of our day when we’re going to be fasting.

If we have an exceptionally big meal or eat some foods that we normally would like to avoid, think about maybe extending that fast a little bit longer. Maybe if you wake up the next morning, and you don’t feel absolutely famish, you don’t feel like you need to eat that breakfast, skip it.

I know what you’re probably thinking, “I thought breakfast was the most important meal of the day?” I am a big believer in eating breakfast. That’s great but if we’ve over-consumed the night before, think about the 24-hour calorie consumption in totality. We can really balance that out by skipping just one meal.

Do it based on how you feel. If you feel like you can skip that meal, do it if that really helps balance out that calorie influx that we had the night before, and then go on and eat your regular lunch and your regular dinner, and it makes a big difference.

"10 in 4" Takeaway

Time for our takeaway for today. Yes, eating at restaurants is probably going to be a fact of life, and whether you do it once a week or three times a week, there still are strategies that can be taken to help minimize the impact that that’s going to have on your healthy diet. What’s really important to avoid is an all-in mentality. That idea of going to a restaurant and thinking, “I’m at a restaurant so I am just going to eat whatever I like, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” there is something that we can do about it.

Here’s my challenge for you. Take your calendar, whether it’s a physical calendar, or one on your phone, or one on your computer, and start marking down how many times you’re going out for restaurant meals.

This can include anything. It can be breakfast on the way to work, or a work lunch, or eating at a restaurant in the evening, it doesn’t matter. Our purpose here is to see how much restaurant eating we’re doing for the entire month. If you’re like most people, there’s probably going to be a lot more instances of eating out than you actually think.

This is why it’s so important to start adopting some of these strategies. If you’re eating out more often than you’d actually like, what can you do to help offset some of that eating out so that you can maintain a really healthy diet?

Thanks for joining me today!

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