New year. New you: Your survival guide for dining out (part 1)
How to lose weight faster.Most people love dining at restaurants. It’s always fun to try new foods, socialize with friends, family or business contacts while dining out. Of course, it also saves the time and effort of cooking a meal, especially for those who regard cooking as more chore than hobby. But for anyone hoping to lose weight faster this year, I’ll repeat a mantra that I share with my patients here at Your Body Evolution virtually every day. The one word that embodies success on our diet is: COOK! Dining out too often is a sure-fire way to pack on unwanted fat and pounds. That’s because most restaurants cook with taste in mind, not proper nutrition—and certainly not in a way that suits the needs of the average person trying to lose weight.
There are a couple of caveats to that rule, however. First, a meal or two once in a while at your favourite restaurant is not going to derail your weight-loss success. On the contrary, the right restaurant food might fit perfectly into your weight-loss regimen. The key word there is right—which brings us to my second point: Not all restaurants are created equally. Some serve healthier fare than others, and almost no fast food chains that I’ve ever seen provide more than one or two semi-healthy options. In other words, they’re best avoided altogether when trying to lose weight. The troubling trend is that many people continue to opt for high-fat, high-sugar, high-sodium fast-food when dining out. A recent survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that on average, American adults consumer more than 11 per cent of their daily calories from fast food. The numbers are similar here in Canada.
That said, it doesn’t require a pilgrimage to the Golden Arches to order nutrionally-challenging restaurant food. Even dining in finer establishments can be a diet buster. Consider the chicken parmesan with pasta or the Caesar salad that you simply have to have when you visit your favourite eatery. The former is fried and full of fat and less-healthy carbohydrates, while the latter, seemingly healthy option, can serve up more fat and calories than a Big Mac. It’s important to remember that restaurants aren’t on a mission to make people fat. But most love to cook with ingredients such as cream, fat, salt and sugar—not to mention using cooking methods such as deep frying to ensure quick service—because those methods and ingredients tend to make food taste better and send diners’ brains into a veritable state of chemically-driven euphoria. The food industry uses the same tactics to hook people on their processed or pre-packaged foods. If you’re interested in learning how, I recommend Michael Moss’ best-selling book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. For both restaurateurs and food conglomerates, the happier and more satisfied their customers, the greater the odds they’ll pay a return visit. Salt, fat and sugar are also popular additives not just because we’re hooked on them and they make food taste better, but because they’re incredibly cheap substitutes for better-quality ingredients.
In other words, it’s not the restaurants themselves that are necessarily the problem. The problem is what you eat at those restaurants, not to mention how often. We see patients virtually every day who, for various reasons from business commitments to family outings, eat at restaurants more than five times per week. That’s far too much. If you love eating out, allow yourself a treat once a week, and when you do indulge, follow these rules to pick the right restaurant:
Be wary of most chain restaurants—I’m not just talking about burger joints. Even many fine dining chain eateries use pre-packaged and processed food, or rely on deep frying when cooking. Opt instead for independent restaurants where there’s greater chance that meals will be prepared on-request and with fresh, unprocessed ingredients.
Do your research—Let’s say a client has invited you to a lunch meeting, but you aren’t sure about the menu options and don’t want to draw attention to yourself by spending 30 minutes choosing a diet-friendly entrée. Don’t panic. Whenever possible, think proactively and suggest a couple of diet-friendly restaurant options, or book the reservation yourself. To paraphrase Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the war is often won before the battle. The restaurant choice is out of your hands? Simply visit their website in advance and find options that suit your nutrition needs. If you can’t find the perfect, choose the healthiest possible option and request modifications to suit the Your Body Evolution food groups and intuitive portion sizes. If necessary, call the restaurant in advance and explain that you have food sensitivities or allergies and need special dietary accommodations (whether it’s the truth or not). The point is to use whatever tactic necessary—even slightly sneaky ones—to avoid derailing your weight-loss objectives.
Avoid stubborn chefs—A little advance restaurant reconnaissance is also useful because some restaurants have a no-modification policy. That means they’re run by chefs who feel their recipes will be compromised by any kind of modification. What you see on the menu is what you get. This can be a problem for dieters, especially if the eatery is known for deliciously creamy sauces and other scale-busting culinary indulgences. Whenever possible, try to choose restaurants that will be happy to accommodate your dietary needs. But there are very few chefs who won’t accommodate a food allergy. Remember my aforementioned advice and don’t be afraid to use a little fib now and then to keep your diet on track.
In my next post, I’ll delve into a few of the finer points of restaurant meal selection. Until then, stay well and keep enjoying your body evolution.
Dr. Jeffrey Brown, Medical Director
Your Body Evolution
Weight Loss Through Wellness