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Six ways to make eating out not-so-waist-expanding

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You may not care for this article.

When you eat out, it’s a treat. It rarely happens and you want all the trimmings—the drinks, entree, dessert, bread – oh and an after dinner mint – yes please! You roll home from the restaurant in a mild coma vowing never to eat so much again, but gosh you had fun!

No, this post is not for you.

This is written for you— busy executive negotiating many a contract or business arrangement at one of our quality eateries around town. It’s for you—the public servant who buys your lunch most days, not because you’re lazy, but because you appreciate getting away from your desk. This post is also for you—the person who often finds themselves with lots of free time at airports. Meals are an aside thought for you, merely eaten because, simply put, if you don’t eat you’ll die.

Whether you frequent restaurants or cafes often, I’m sure you’ll agree that eating out is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s a highly integral part of our social construct and without food (I believe) we’d have had many more world wars. The problem that many of us face, however, is eating food in excess, leading to overweight and obesity. And most of the time eating food out at a licensed establishment is associated with eating too much.

If sitting in restaurants and cafes around Canberra is a normal part of your life but you’re struggling with managing your weight, then here are six ways to make eating out an experience with maximum enjoyment but minimum fat storage.

Choose a healthy cafe

Check out this recent article where I find the healthiest cafes in Canberra. I know that there are heaps more out there to—so make sure you give them your business, (and do let us know where you like to find a healthy bite to eat in the comments below).

Watch your drinks

When I say drinks, I’m referring to alcoholic beverages, soft drink, fruit juice, coffee, milkshakes, frappes, smoothies… You get the idea – anything that doesn’t require chewing!

The problem with most drinks is that they contain a significant amount of energy (usually derived from sugar) but very little nutrition. They are also an extra dose of energy in addition to the meal you’re eating. Research shows that drinking soft drink, in particular, doesn’t dampen your appetite. In fact, they do the opposite and most people eat more.

Restaurant and cafe style meals usually contribute a significant amount of energy to our diets and if you order a cider and a coffee to go with whatever you’re eating, you’ve added an additional 365 calories (1533kJ). This is equivalent to a small meal in itself.

Sooo, get used to drinking water or be totally posh and get sparkling or lightly sparkling water to go with your meal rather than soft drink, juice or milkshakes. Order a black tea or coffee afterwards and if you choose a drop to drink, keep your alcohol intake to one standard drink.

A very popular article on my website, The trap of drinking your calories, explains this concept in much more detail.

Order whole foods

Aim to order foods from the menu with the least amount of processing. Ask about the menu if you’re not sure.

In an ideal world, the less done to food, (at least between the farmer and you), the better. Fresh cuts of meat, chicken or fish are better than processed burger meat, bacon and salami. Make sure your meals contains lots of vegetables (cooked or salad), these help you fill up on fewer calories and boost the nutrient density of the meal.

Here are some examples of what to order:

  • Order a fresh cut of steak instead of a schnitzel
  • Order grilled fish instead of battered fish
  • Go for chicken breast over bacon
  • Order a minute steak over a hamburger patty
  • Go for a fresh garden salad rather than coleslaw or a caesar salad
  • Choose baked/roast potato over chips

Make your own modifications

You’re a paying customer, so feel free to make some modifications to the meal so you get it just the way you like it.

Some good modifications to make when it comes to weight management are:

  • Ask for the sauce or dressing on the side, that way you can control how much of it you eat
  • Ask for no chips (just steal two or three from your friend)
  • Ask for a side salad or vegetables if it doesn’t come with any
  • Ask for a burger without the bun or ask for wholemeal or another higher fibre bread instead

Create a mindful eating environment

Generally speaking, ordering from an a la carte menu creates a more mindful eating environment than a tapas style of eating where you’re just picking at food all night.

When you order a meal just for you, the plate arrives in front of you, your brain registers the volume of food on that plate and, if you take your time, your brain will tell you to stop eating when you’re full. You should listen to it.

When you’re eating a tapas style meal or just picking and grazing from a shared table of food, you’re eating much less mindfully and often have no idea how much you’ve put in your mouth by the end of the night.

Share with a friend

This is such a great tip and one that I’ve actually come to use quite often myself. I never used to be this way. I love food and hate sharing it. However, over the years I’ve learnt to really loathe that I’m so full I can’t move feeling and spending so much money on fine dining from ordering too much food, that is then left uneaten.

Now when I eat out with my husband or a friend we usually just order one meal and share it. Nine times out of 10 there is plenty of food, it doesn’t cost the earth and I still leave the restaurant happy but not stuffed.

In the end, healthy eating is about balance. It’s not about restriction, cutting out foods or picking plates at a cafe while all your friends dig into BLTs and beer. I think it’s about giving your body the food it needs to function at it’s best whilst engaging in the culture and society in which we live. Be smart with your eating out and you’ll do just fine.

If you’d like more individualised nutrition advice for your lifestyle, why not come see myself or one of my colleagues at The Healthy Eating Hub, we’re experts at this stuff!

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