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Healthy Dining at Restaurants: The Skinny on Eating For Weight Control

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Weight Gain Is A Side Effect Of Eating Out 4-5 Times A Week

Eating out is a regular habit to most Americans, and while an average consumer dines outside the home 4.8 times a week, this comes with a price (and not just with your wallet). The side effect of all this indulgence is evident: with a restaurant’s huge portions offered, rushed table-turning eating, hidden calories and free drink refills, it is difficult to keep this in control:

Your Weight (!)

Here is my short list of tricks on how to eat out often, dine healthier and strive for weight control

Healthy Dining at Restaurants

Say No To Turning Tables

Turning tables is restaurant jargon for getting customers to eat fast and out the door to seat the next crowd. This tactic, while I understand it from a business point of view, makes you feel rushed through a meal. Let dining out be a relaxing experience, unless you have to run back to the office.

Tip: Make your expectations clear to the wait staff that you do not want to be rushed through your meal. Eating slowly helps with satiety and pleasure. 

If the waiter/waitress lets you enjoy your meal without pressure to leave, then leave them a good tip for service. And if the restaurant’s management pushes this table-turning too far, let them know you will be writing a review online about your rushed experience.

Bread With the Meal, Not Before

Another common restaurant habit is to put a basket of bread (along with those little butters) down in front of you before the meal. Who isn’t tempted to pick up a hot roll, smear it with butter, and eat it? Not many of us. So do like the French and use bread as a compliment to the meal, not as the first first course (even before the appetizer). My experience is that restaurant food usually comes quickly (thanks to table-turning tricks, see above) and holding off on bread keeps your hunger intact to really enjoying the food when it comes.

Tip: Let the wait staff know you want the bread served with the meal, not before. And ask them hold the butter.

Don’t Arrive Ravenous

Ravenous comes from the verb to RAVEN, to devour greedily, to seize, and to prowl hungrily. It doesn’t sound too polite to devour greedily in a restaurant, but I know many people who arrive to dine starving and ready to ‘attack the meal.’ Isn’t it human nature to dive in and eat heartily when your last meal was (too many) hours ago? Here is what I recommend (to eat like a little bird):

Tip: Arrive hungry to eat, but not starving or ravenous. Eat a small fat or protein source, like a yogurt, small square of dark chocolate or about 10 nuts 1-2 hours before going out to eat. You will cut your hunger and still have enough appetite to enjoy your meal without acting like a raven.

Main Meal It

Portion sizes in a typical American restaurant are on the extreme super-size. So main meal it, or find a good appetizer to order. A typical adult eating the recommended 2,000-2,5000 calories a day cannot finish an appetizer, main dish and dessert.

Tip: Order one dish off the menu and enjoy it.

Flat or Gassy: You Decide

Not your stomach dear, but your water. At the start of a restaurant meal in Italy the waiter asks you, “flat or gassy?” This question is about the water you will drink with your meal (plain or carbonated water). Do like the Italians (and French) and drink water with meals, complimented with a glass of wine (if you enjoy the taste). Soft drinks add sugar and calories to the meal, usually come with free refills (easy to over indulge) and dull the taste of the food. Diet sodas are an option, but these drinks also do not compliment the taste of the food either and I believe artificial sugar should be avoided as much as possible because of their long-term health risk.

Tip: Drink flat or carbonated (gassy) water with meals and dress it up with a twist of lemon. Wine or beer is optional, and helps to compliment the taste of the food and slow down the meal, adding to meal enjoyment.

Dressings On The Side, Si Vous Plait

The tastiest way to dress a salad is with a Chanel dressing. Let your salad dressing be a sleek compliment to the leaves, and add just enough to keep the taste of the greens while not overdoing it. A typical salad dressing contains too many calories and unhealthy fats, so my advice is to:

Tip: Order your favorite salad dressing on the side and add just a small amount to the salad, mixing it and adding more if needed. Or ask the wait staff for oil and vinegar and make your own vinaigrette, as you like it. Vinaigrette is a healthier option to bottled salad dressings.

The Finish

I am not going to tell you to not order dessert at a restaurant. That isn’t realistic. But if you don’t feel like eating  it, then don’t (or another option is to share a dessert by ordering one with a few spoons for the table). And don’t give into the pressure of the crowd you are dining with who put pressure on you to “c’mon-just order a dessert” because they are ordering one too. But finish your meal with something, (a symbol), like a coffee or a tea.

Tip: The end of a meal is as important as the start. Don’t feel pressure to order a dessert or eat the dessert that comes with your menu, but finishing your meal with a small coffee or tea. This helps to signal to your brain that the meal is over.

Doggie Bag It

Doggie bags are an exclusive American restaurant habit, and you might be surprised to know that in Europe this doggie bag option does not exist. So when in America, take advantage of these huge portion sizes and move the rest of your meal to the doggie box to eat for leftovers.

Tip: Let your brain decide. It takes 20 minutes for your brain to signal that you are full. Eat slowly and don’t finish your plate if you are full. Take the rest home in a doggie bag for the dog or lunch tomorrow.

The Meal Doesn’t End There

Finally, if you have had a great meal, chances are you are feeling a bit sluggish at the end. When possible, enjoy a digestion trick that works: a leisurely walk after exiting the restaurant and before getting in your car.

Tip: Start your body digesting your meal with a leisurely stroll. Hit the road with your feet and drive home later.

Do you have other healthy dining ideas that you could like to add to this list? Let me know by shouting it out in the comments below.

I hope these tips help to keep you enjoying restaurant dining while helping control your weight and waistline. If you would like to read more articles like this, please subscribe to the newsletter to get updates on new articles and health information direct in your inbox. Your email will remain private, (I promise!) and by joining you can download your E-report on French and European Good Health Tips. Any sharing of these articles is greatly appreciated and you can do this easily below. Thank you for your support.

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