One of the most challenging things when you are making improvements or changes to your diet is eating when you aren't at home. This becomes especially challenging for those of us who are trying to meet athletic goals because straying from our routine often means unintended side effects. How often have you eaten out the night before a long run or hard workout only to find yourself not feeling so hot or suddenly needing a bathroom?
If you rarely eat out, I would say that these guidelines are far less important to follow because one meal every few weeks that doesn't fit into your plan isn't going to completely derail progress or prevent you from meeting your goals. But, If you eat out regularly, you need a way to make sure that you stay on track and don't eat your weight in free bread!
Here are some things to keep in mind when you are eating out but trying to stick to a plan or meet goals:
1. Customize your order: Ask for steamed veggies or a salad instead of fries, ask for sauce on the side, have them bring your salad dressing on the side, or add protein to a salad to make it a meal. Most restaurants want to make their customers happy, so kindly requesting changes to your dish can usually be accommodated. The same goes for allergies or foods you are avoiding. Tell your server that you have a gluten allergy and ask questions about specific dishes. However, do not go to a restaurant with specific food intolerances and expect to be able to eat everything off the menu. Know what may or may not be safe and stick with safe choices (salads, anything grilled, burgers without the bun, etc.).
2. Skip the freebies: So many restaurants bring you free bread before your meal. Simply ask them not to. The same goes for those ridiculous fried oreos that they bring you after you've stuffed yourself with sushi. Just say no (or no thanks if your mom taught you good manners).
3. Drink water: Most beverages are either filled with empty calories or gross chemicals. Skip the alcohol and soda (and definitely the diet soda) and drink water or unsweetened iced tea. One of my favorite things to drink at a restaurant when I feel like I need something other than plain water is soda water with lime. It makes me feel like I'm participating but I know it won't leave me feeling lousy after.
4. Pay attention to portions: Restaurants often give you more food than you need to be eating in one sitting. Several studies found that the average meal at a restaurant (not fast food) was 1100 calories! If you are worried about self-control, your server box half the portion before you start to eat it. Ordering a salad an an appetizer or two as your dinner can also help keep portion sizes under control.
5. Plan ahead: If you are sticking to specific macros (which you should be, but that's a topic for another day), plan the rest of your meals around what you think you might eat out. If you know that you will probably eat extra carbs because the restaurant you are going to has your favorite mashed potatoes, cut some carbs from your other meals. Most restaurants these days have their menus online so you can check the menu ahead of time if it's a new to you restaurant. Having a vague idea of what you might want to eat (or what you can eat) will help you plan the rest of your meals so your dinner can still fit into your plan.