Your survival guide for dining out (part 3)
In part two of Your Survival Guide for Dining Out, I offered 15 strategies to help you eat the right way when dining out at restaurants. That means taking very deliberate steps to ensure your customized Your Body Evolution journey to weight loss and wellness continues without any hiccups.
In the third and final installment of Your Survival Guide for Dining Out, I want to talk about making healthy menu choices. That’s right—I’m talking about the tough and tempting part of any dining experience.
Remember that restaurants love to cook with lots of sugar, fat and salt because all three are great tasting, cheap ingredients. Do they have to use such large quantities of this unhealthy triumvirate? No, but their job is to make delicious food that draws you back to their establishment. Your job is to make the right nutritional choices to ensure your body evolution keeps moving full-steam ahead. It only takes one unhealthy meal to derail an entire week of weight-loss work, after all.
With that in mind, here are five common food-ordering challenges for dieters dining out—and how to overcome them:
Ordering alcohol—The majority of Canadians enjoy a drink every now and then, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for those of us trying to lose weight and improve our overall wellness, alcohol is best avoided. That’s because a standard-size glass of wine, spirits or beer contains between 100 to 200 calories. Have a few drinks over the course of a meal, and you can see how quickly those extra calories can add up. If you do want a drink over dinner, limit consumption to a maximum of two (less if you’re driving), and opt for dry wine or spirits such as vodka or gin mixed with diet pop. If you want beer—and it’s by no means the best beverage option—have the real thing and avoid ‘light’ brands altogether. Why? For one thing, light beer tastes terrible, and most people who order it only end up over indulging. Another reason to avoid alcohol altogether is that because you’re reducing your caloric intake, you’ll have a lower alcohol tolerance and can expect to get tipsy faster. Because intoxication only lowers your inhibitions, you’re far more likely to order a plate of nachos when you’ve had a few too many than if you abstained in the first place. Also, never drink alcohol on an empty stomach. It only further speeds the intoxication process, wreaks havoc on your digestive system and can seriously impair liver function.
Ordering high-calorie ‘treat’ drinks —Many restaurants offer a range of tasty potables jam-packed with full-fat (and very high-calorie) milk, cream and/or sugar—not to mention other indulgent additives such as chocolate or caramel sauce. A milkshake alone can hide a meal full of calories. My advice is to avoid these drinks altogether and stick to beverages like water or diet pop.
Ordering appetizers—Restaurateurs are not biochemists, but without realizing they take advantage of how our bodies release insulin during a meal. How? When they drop a basket of bread on your table, for example, they’re kick-starting a metabolic chain reaction that ensures you experience a secondary insulin peak right around the time they offer those tempting cheesecakes, tiramisus and ice creams. That’s right: they’re not just offering bread as a ‘thank you’ for visiting their establishment. To deal with this type of temptation, ask your server to remove all bread from your table or not deliver it in first place, or pass it around to everyone and then suggest taking it off the table. Your friends and family should be happy to oblige if they support your weight-loss goals.
That’s one problem solved. Now it’s time to make nutritionally-friendly appetizer choices. The problem at most restaurants is that appetizers tend to be fried, loaded with high-calorie cheese or accompanied by sauces with off-the-chart calorie and fat counts. Those are all obvious non-starters. But if you do order apps, start with low-fat proteins such as shrimp cocktails or Thai chicken skewers, vegetables (minus the dip) and salad. Again when ordering salad, be sure to ask for dressing on the side and limit the amount to one or two tablespoons. An ever better idea is to bring your own light dressing from home. Another option: request vinegar and olive oil to use as a salad topping, but always avoid sugar-laden vinaigrette dressings. When it comes to soups, say ‘no thanks’ to cream soups, purees of starchy vegetables such as potatoes, or anything with noodles when dieting. If there’s no good option, such as a plain broth or consume, order another diet-friendly appetizer instead.
And when someone at your table suggests sharing a plate of nachos—and at some point in your weight-loss journey, someone will—hold firm and remind them that deep-fried chips are a non-starter when it comes to achieving your weight-loss and wellness goals on the Your Body Evolution program.
Ordering desserts— I’ve yet to see a restaurant dessert menu offer selections that would be suitable for anyone following a mainstream diet. You name the delectable—from cheesecake to ice cream to key lime pie—and they’re all packed with sugar and fat. Your best approach is to avoid dessert altogether. Can’t resist the temptation? I’m not a fan of replacing dessert with other treats, but I often advise patients on the maintenance phase of the Your Body Evolution program to eat a sugar-free mint or go for a walk when their party is indulging. A tiny after-dinner mint can help trick your brain into thinking it’s getting sugar, therefore prompting it to quit blasting out craving signals. Also, once you’ve had a mint and go to eat something sweet, it won’t taste nearly as good. So, think of a sugar-free, after-dinner mint as a deterrent, kind of like drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth. When all else fails and you know you can’t say no, get up and go for a walk. But if you are going to succumb and are in the maintenance phase of your diet, then order the dessert you actually want to eat—and share it. Use a teaspoon and limit yourself to three to five bites, with at least 30 seconds between each. That may seem like a small portion, but it should be enough to satiate your cravings without derailing your diet.
Limiting portion sizes—The vast majority of restaurants serve meals with what they believe to be good value, not appropriate portion sizing, in mind. That means you’ll often be served meals that contain twice the calories needed to satisfy the appetite of the average person. Worse, it’s often high-carbohydrate, but inexpensive, foods such as rice and French fries that load most plates. Think before you order and ask for a smaller amount of starches such as potatoes with your meal, instead requesting extra vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower. When your plate arrives and is inevitably over-packed with food, use the tip I outlined earlier and move excess goodies to a side plate before you start eating. Then use the handy method to judge portion sizes. A salad portion should be about the size of two hands cupped together, meat portions should be about the width and size of the palm of your hand, vegetables should cover half a plate or be the equivalent of your outstretched hand and starch portions should be no larger than the size of a tennis ball. Oh, and always remember to substitute starches such as potatoes for classic vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower or peppers whenever possible.
And my last piece of advice: avoid any food that’s fried or loaded with creamy sauces or cheese. In my next post, I’ll discuss a common weight-related double standard—and why it needs to be erased. Until then, stay well and keep enjoying your body evolution.
Dr. Jeffrey Brown, Medical Director
Your Body Evolution
Weight Loss Through Wellness