No one stays home anymore. Where are we? We’re sitting in restaurants. On average, Americans dine out four times a week, according to the National Restaurant Association. As we eat out more and more, the percentage of obese people increases, while their wallets decrease. Unrestrained, this type of eating out is the perfect recipe for obesity and disease down the road.
So what’s the answer? Eat only steamed veggies? Refuse to dine out? On the contrary, you can dine out successfully and enjoy your experience by learning how to navigate any menu. Follow these guidelines to enjoy a healthy, satisfying meal anywhere, even when you’re watching calories.
Sit in a quiet spot
Nobody knows this, but people who sit in the more distracting parts of restaurants (by a window or in front of a TV) eat considerably more. Commotion makes it easy to lose track of how much you’re putting in your mouth. If you’re making a reservation, request a quiet table. If you walk in and are offered a table in a busier spot, ask for one away from the action.
Be the first to order
You’ve decided to pick something light off the menu, but when your friend orders the decadent steak frites, you start to rethink your boring grilled salmon. To sidestep the temptation of your friend’s less healthy dish, place your order first. If you can’t order first, then make your decision, close the menu and repeat your selection to yourself to help you stick to it.
Beware of descriptions
Mouth-watering descriptions like “tender, juicy chicken breast” or “ripe heirloom tomatoes” are increasingly common on restaurant menus. Be extra aware of sensory terms like “velvety” mousse and nostalgic ones like “legendary” spaghetti and meatballs.
Research shows that words that promote taste and texture or appeal to diners’ emotions can increase sales by 23 percent, and can even influence the way you think the food tastes. Words like these prep your taste buds to expect your chicken to taste juicy, so to some degree it probably will.
Enjoy (a bit of) alcohol
Drinks can be diet-killers, too. Fancy mixed drinks have lots of empty calories, and the alcohol can dull your reasoning. Limiting your intake to 150 calories’ worth of alcohol is a good idea. The following portions of alcohol each contain 150 calories or less: 5 ounces wine, 1.5 ounces liquor, 12 ounces light beer.
Practice the 3-bite rule
Try to satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit, and that’s it. Wave off the dessert cart. That said, you can also practice my three-bite rule with desserts, if you want to watch your calories more strictly.
If you truly want chocolate turtle cheesecake, go ahead and have it, but limit yourself to a taste. Take three bites and then set it aside for a few minutes. You’re less likely to come back to it. You might even discover that those few bites of a great dessert might be all you really wanted. You can’t possibly blow your diet big-time on three bites of anything.