There’s no quicker way to sabotage your diet than to dine out all the time—those enormous portions, the hidden sugars and fats, and the seriously tempting fries can sink the resolve of even the healthiest eaters. So do you need to avoid restaurants altogether? Not necessarily.
A study in the January/February 2012 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior concludes you can eat at restaurants and still burn fat. In the study, 35 healthy, middle-aged women participated in a six-week program called Mindful Restaurant Eating, which teaches people how to eat healthfully at restaurants.
Now, keep in mind the goal of Mindful Restaurant Eating was to determine its ability to prevent weight gain in these women, who fell into the perimenopausal age range, a time when weight gain and ensuing problems such as diabetes and heart disease occur more frequently. In other words, researchers did not intend for Mindful Restaurant Eating to help the women lose weight. But that’s exactly what happened.
Researchers found that the women who completed this program lost much more weight, ate fewer calories and had fewer issues when they ate at restaurants than women who did not complete the program. The program taught them how to choose healthy entrees and resist going face down in the peanut-butter-brownie-bottom cheesecake.
Eating out without going overboard
You’re probably wondering how these women lost weight while eating restaurant food. After all, it’s notorious for being loaded with sugar, trans fats and other ingredients that don’t promote fat loss. But despite the temptations, these women learned to make smart choices in restaurants, ordering foods with fewer calories and less fat in order to stick with their healthy eating plan.
While not consuming the gargantuan portion sizes most restaurants serve is a good approach, it isn't necessary to focus so scrupulously on calories. Note, though, that you do need to be mindful of the fact that some of the entrees at popular chain restaurants have 3,000 calories and are loaded with fat, including trans fats.
Rather than obsessing over numbers, try to focus on eating quality foods at restaurants. Search for options that can be prepared as whole food meals. If you don't see anything that works, ask your server what the healthiest dishes are on the menu.
You can also employ these five “swap” strategies the next time you're dining out, and you’ll get results similar to (and probably even better than) those enjoyed by the women in the study:
- Swap the breadbasket for olives. You know as soon as your server puts down that breadbasket, you’re going to dive right in. Don’t let that happen. Olives, raw vegetables with salsa or even a cheese plate make far better starter options.
- Swap the appetizer for a salad. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that women who ate a 100-calorie salad consumed less food during their meal. I’m talking a small salad here, not one of those zillion-calorie salads loaded with creamy dressing, nuts and dried fruit.
- Swap the pasta for lean protein. A big plate of fettuccini Alfredo is a surefire way to spike and crash your blood sugar level and store fat. Choose a lean protein instead, such as a vegetarian option with beans or tofu, salmon, poultry, lamb or steak. And avoid any meat that has been “breaded” or “battered.”
- Swap the starch for another vegetable. Rather than rice pilaf or a baked potato, request sautéed spinach with garlic or whatever other vegetable sounds good. You’ll raise your nutrient quota while reducing the meal’s glycemic load.
- Swap the sugary dessert for fresh fruit. The easiest way to undo a healthy meal is to eat a big, gooey dessert. Ask instead for fresh berries in cream or the fruit-and-cheese plate along with a cup of green or herbal tea.
By making smart substitutions, you can easily customize your plate in restaurants for optimal fat loss and healthy restaurant dining.