While eating out every second night may not be the best decision for your health, having a thriving social life is certainly an integral part of living a healthy lifestyle.
That’s why at Sleekgeek we think that knowing how to confidently eat out at most restaurants without “falling off the wagon” is a very important skill. You shouldn’t need to abandon your diet or be that weirdo with your Tupperware under the table in order to go out to eat.
Some restaurants are easier than others
First of all, we want to reassure you that with the right strategies, there will almost always be something good enough that you can eat at any restaurant.
But, with that said, some restaurants will definitely be easier to get healthy meals from than others.
For example, you will probably find a steakhouse or a seafood restaurant easier to deal with than a restaurant specialising in a specific cuisine, such as Italian or Indian.
That’s why we suggest that, if possible, before you go out try to look at the menu online so that you know exactly what you can and will order.
- Figure out a Plan A meal.
- Also, have a backup Plan B meal incase your first choice is not possible or available any more.
Apart from making sure that the restaurant has what you want to eat, pre-selecting what you are going to order also makes any other off-limit foods at the restaurant less tempting because you’ve already made the decision and you don’t need to battle with willpower in the heat of the moment.
Let’s talk about ordering
We’re going to give you some suggestions on what to order just now, but first, let’s talk about actually ordering your food.
If you’re polite, friendly, and ask nicely then your waiter will almost always be willing to accommodate a custom order. Sure, you may need to pay a little bit extra, but that’s pretty reasonable and the grand scheme of things it really won’t be that much more.
We do suggest that you try and keep your order as short and to the point as possible though. Don’t get carried away and make your order super confusing or long as this will test the waiter’s patience and also simply increase the chance of the kitchen getting your order wrong.
And then just our two cents: Acknowledging the waiter’s efforts and tipping well if they get your order right will make it easier for you and others to order healthier custom meals from them in the future.
OK, so what should you order?
You know, protein + veg + carbs + fats = meal.
Step 1: Start with protein
We suggest that you always start with protein.
Look for protein-dense choices like steak, chicken, eggs, fish and other seafood, or tofu, etc.
See if you can get your protein as close to its “origin” as possible such as a plain steak, steamed fish, or grilled chicken breast as opposed to a steak covered in cheese and mushroom sauce, deep fried fish, or a crumbed chicken breast.
You probably want to skip anything that has the words “fried”, “cheesy”, “crispy”, “glazed”, or “secret blend” which will help you save yourself from eating hundreds of unwanted calories or added sugar.
Most restaurants portion their protein into fairly moderate servings which should be close to 1 palm-sized portion as per our Sleekgeek Portion Control Guide so don’t stress too much about this. The main goal is to just find a meal with protein in it.
Step 2: Load up with veg
Simply ask to swap the chips or starchy side out for some kind of salad or cooked veg.
No matter what you order at a restaurant, loading up on veggies to eat first is a great way to prevent yourself from overeating on more calorie-dense parts of the meal.
Something you can ALWAYS say at any restaurant is “Please can I have an extra side of veggies with that? I’m willing to pay a little more if need be.”
Step 3: Look for smart carbohydrates
When it comes to your carbs, looking for high-fibre, slow-digesting, minimally processed options are key. These will likely come in lower quantities while also helping you to feel fuller and more satiated.
Great choices for carbohydrates when eating out include more starchy kind of veg, beans and legumes, fruit, or whole-grains like quinoa, oats, and brown rice. Even whole grain bread can work well too, although it’s not something that we usually recommend.
Just make sure that carbohydrates aren’t the main focus of the meal. For example, a small side of brown rice should be an OK portion size, but a dish that is built around rice with a little bit of protein or veg added in is probably too much.
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If you can’t find any decent choices, just skip them and move on. It’s not the end of the world if you eat a low-carb meal once in a while. Don’t worry, you won’t turn into a Banter or lose all of your gains!
Step 4: What about fats?
Well, finding healthy fats can be pretty hard when it comes to eating out. And when you do find something like avo or nuts or olive, it’s very often in much bigger portions than the 1-2 thumbs of fat that we recommend in the Sleekgeek Portion Control Guide.
This is why we suggest that you don’t worry too much about healthy fats when eating out with the exception of opting for olive oil and vinegar as a simple salad dressing. Of course, if you prefer to follow a higher-fat and lower-carb diet, then making opting for less or no carbs you will be able to accommodate a more fat-dense meal.
There is a very good chance that your meal will be cooked in some kind of fat or oil anyways. Unfortunately, most restaurants will use cheaper soy or sunflower oil, and this is not really something that the waiter can change very easily. Kitchens have a very specific workflow that helps them put out consistent good quality meals very quickly and any kind of disruption to this could cause huge problems for them.
But, if it’s a more health-conscious or upmarket restaurant then there is still a good chance that they will use better quality ingredients like coconut oil, olive oil, or real butter.
Ultimately, your main focus should always be protein and veg when eating out. The carbs and fats are more optional and not the end of the world if you can’t get them right for one meal.
When you go out, just do your best and don’t sweat the small stuff. The goal is to actually make some kind of effort while eating out, rather than being “all-or-nothing” about it. And ENJOY your meal out!
Eat slowly and mindfully
Getting into the habit of Eating Slowly and Eating to 80% Full are winning strategies because no matter what comes your way, you can always choose to eat slowly and mindfully with any food, at any time, anywhere, around anyone, and in any situation.
You can use these strategies to stay on track even if you are stuck without healthy options or really just want to enjoy your favourite meal while out with friends and family.
Learn to apply moderation
With the 90/10 Rule For Moderation we suggest that 90% of the time, you stick to nutrient-dense minimally processed foods (such as in The Sleekgeek Food List) and 10% of the time, you give yourself a bit of flexibility to enjoy some of your favourite foods OR adapt to less than ideal food situations such as when there aren’t any healthy choices available.
This kind of approach still requires a significant amount of commitment and effort, however, it’s generally more realistic and sustainable for most people than aiming to be 100% compliant and “all-or-nothing” with their nutrition.
Knowing when to stick to the plan and when to indulge a bit is a skill that takes practice.
Go for “always something” rather than “all or nothing”
This is a key mental strategy that we teach in the Sleekgeek Healthy Habit Coaching Program.
Here’s how it works: When you are in the “always something” mindset, it means that no matter the situation, you are always trying to improve something or make the best of something. You recognise that progress is better than trying to be perfect (which ultimately leads most people to fail).
In contrast, an “all or nothing” mindset happens when you think to yourself “This meal isn’t perfect or part of my plan, therefore I’m now off the wagon and might as well indulge completely”. It’s when you go an order a large pizza, gobble it down angrily, feel guilty afterwards, binge on chocolate, and then struggle to get back on track on Monday. It may even snowball into something worse for a couple of days or weeks.
In this blog post, 10 Ways to Eat Pizza Without “Falling Off The Wagon”, I explain 10 different ways that I implement the “always something” approach so that I can go out and enjoy a pizza from time to time without falling off the wagon or overeating.
Minimise liquid calories
Apart from eating slowly and eating to 80% full, finding ways to avoid liquid calories by ordering water, coke zero, coffee, or tea with your meal can be a huge help in making eating out more sustainable and goal-friendly.
These are calorie-free beverages rather than wine, beer, regular soda, or a cappuccino that tend to be loaded with calories and can add up quickly. Alcohol can also impair your decision making and lead to further indulgence such as ordering dessert unnecessarily.
Choose a cup of coffee rather than dessert
If everyone else is ordering dessert, the last thing you want to do there is sit with empty hands feeling left out.
So order a cup of coffee (ideally decaf if at night) or a cup of tea.