We, as a nation, really enjoy going out to eat at restaurants. So much so that Americans eat an average of 18.2 commercial meals per month. In other words, we eat out about 4-5 times per week! Does this number surprise you, or is it what you expected? The number of restaurants in the United States is increasing exponentially. In 2016 food and drink sales in America amounted to $766 billion U.S. dollars. Have you ever thought about how our love of dining at restaurants affects our weight loss goals?
While there are a lot of healthy-based restaurants opening up across the nation offering a variety of vegetarian and vegan menu options, the average meal at a restaurant is still going to have more calories than a homemade one. Studies show that people who eat out consume about 200 calories more on average, than individuals who stay home. For instance, if you think ordering a cobb salad at a restaurant is as healthy as making one at home, you are incorrect. A cobb salad with ranch at Red Robin contains 742 calories, and a homemade cobb salad has 260 calories. Granted, portion size matters in this situation, too. After all waist size and portion size go hand in hand.
The U.S. has an issue with portion size. We’re so used to having huge portions of food at restaurants so that we “get our money’s worth”, that we don’t stop to think if this amount of food is healthy for us. All we’re interested in is making sure we feel stuffed once we’re finished with our meal, or even have a to-go box full of leftovers. America has the highest per capita calorie consumption. And portion sizes are increasing. Fast food portion sizes are two to five times bigger than when they were first introduced.
So we know that the portion sizes at restaurants are often hindering our weight loss goals, and that the calorie intake is higher in restaurant made dishes than homemade meals. Does that mean we have to stop going out to eat in order to lose weight and get healthy? It can be especially difficult going out to eat with a group of people who don’t share the same health goals as you. A table full of pizza and wings can make it really tough to stick to your healthy habits.
Well, good news- you don’t have to give up dining at restaurants altogether. You can, however try and make eating out a special occasion instead of an everyday thing. It can be possible eating healthy at restaurants, you just have to follow a few tips. So let’s take a look at 5 ways we can still eat healthy at restaurants.
1. Don’t Go Into The Meal Starving.
So first of all, starving yourself is bad for weight loss in and of itself. It seems counterintuitive, but when you don’t eat enough food throughout the day, your body is storing fat and calories because it doesn’t know when its next meal is going to be. By starving yourself, you’re ruining your chances of productive weight loss. But also, this is just about the worst way to ensure you’ll eat healthy at a restaurant.
Imagine opening a menu when you’re starving and having to choose between a small portion of healthy food or a huge portion of something with carbs and tons of calories. If you are starving, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll choose a salad over a cheeseburger because your body is literally craving those calories and energy.
Before going out to eat, make sure you’ve been eating and snacking well throughout the day. You’ll be able to make smarter decisions when choosing something off the menu.
2. Ask For Substitutions.
Don’t be afraid to ask your server questions about your meal. Just because your meal comes with two sides of french fries and hot wings doesn’t mean that you can’t request a substitution. Most places will be happy to offer a different side. Instead of french fries you can ask for a baked potato, and in place of hot wings, request some steamed veggies. This will cut your calorie intake, and ensure you’re still eating healthy.
3. Find Out How Your Meal Was Prepared.
Pay attention to key words when scanning the menu. Notice how meals are prepared. For instance, fried chicken and roasted chicken are two different choices. Which one is healthier? You know when something is fried that it is fried in oil. Whereas roasting is a cooking method that uses dry heat in the oven. A roasted meal is going to be the healthier option than a fried meal.
Other key words to look for are: stir fries- these normally contain meats and vegetables. Steamed, grilled, or roasted veggies are all great choices. Remember, if you’re not sure how a meal is prepared, just ask your server!
4. Order 1/2 Portion.
We’ve gone over just how important portion sizes are. The average French portion size is 25% smaller than an American portion size. Perhaps that’s one reason why only 7% of the French are obese, and 39.8% of Americans are obese.
So now that we know most portion sizes at restaurants are too big to be healthy for us, we can do a few things to combat that. If you go out to eat by yourself, order half a meal and ask for the other half to be boxed right away. That way you don’t overeat at the restaurant, and you have leftovers for the next day. You can also just order half a portion if you’re calling something in to be delivered. When going out to eat with someone, you can split a meal in half.
5. If You Drink, Order The Classics.
If you like to enjoy your food with an alcoholic beverage, avoid drinks that contain too much sugar. An 8 ounce margarita contains about 455 calories, while a 12 ounce margarita will set you back around 680 calories. Think about that before you decide to order one of them fancy cocktails.
Instead, stick with the classics. A gin and tonic contains 120 calories. Order a gin and diet tonic, and you’re consuming only 59 calories per drink! Other low calorie drink options are vodka martinis, rum and diet coke, or a simple light beer.