Going out to eat can be stressful for those watching their weight, focusing on fat loss, or simply trying to eat nutritiously in general. It doesn’t have to be though! I actually think we make dining out more stressful than it needs to be when we think too much about it ahead of time. Food is meant to be an enjoyable experience with friends and family, not one that involves agonizing about the menu or dreading it because of anxiety the menu won’t have anything you “can” eat. I would actually argue that regardless of the food on a menu, there’s always a way to order mindfully and stress free. Even at McDonald’s. 😉
Today I want to give you three tools that will help you achieve #stressfreefitness while at a restaurant. It might seem like going out to eat takes our control away from food, BUT we always have the choice. And it’s absolutely possible to go out to eat, order a meal that’s pretty fat loss friendly, AND enjoy it!
Three Tools to Help You Order Mindfully When Out to Eat
Tool #1: Use the Alphabet Approach
The alphabet approach is one of THE top ways I am able to maintain my moderation without deprivation point of view when it comes to nutrition in general, but it’s especially helpful for dining out and/or navigating a social situation. You don’t need the whole alphabet, just the first five letters. ABCDE stands for alcohol, bread, carbs, dessert, and/or extras… all the good stuff! Before I go into a restaurant, I’ll think about each of these areas and what I feel like having the MOST (if any), and then I’ll order around that craving. This little check doesn’t take any time at all, and the ABC aspect makes it easy to remember.
Here’s a quick breakdown for you:
Alcohol —> wine, beer, mixed drinks, etc.
Bread —> bread/rolls from the bread basket, hamburger buns, sandwich bread, pizza dough, etc.
Carbs —> white potatoes, pasta, rice, French fries, chips, etc. No need to include the better for you carbs like fruit or starchier veggies like squash or sweet potatoes in this category. Not worth it!
Dessert —> cake, pie, cookies, brownies, ice cream, etc.
Extras —> cheese, nuts, other higher fat items or individual dietary considerations (ie sodium)
The majority of the time, I’ll choose alcohol over the others. I just like my wine and craft beer and margaritas! During a typical night out, I’ll order a glass or two of wine, pass on the bread basket and dessert, and I’ll order a meal without the refined carbs. If I decide the bread looks unreal one night, maybe I’ll stick to seltzer water or just one glass of wine instead of two. If I am craving pizza, I’ll pair it with a salad but say no to a cookie after. If you are someone who LOVES French fries, maybe you order your fries but opt for your burger on a lettuce wrap instead the bun.
As for extras, don’t stress about sticking to ONLY something like cheese and skipping all the others. Extras are just something to take into consideration when thinking about your day as a whole. Did you have a lot of cheese during breakfast and/or lunch? Then maybe leave it out for dinner. Make sense? The whole thing is like a plug and play puzzle. It’s not an exact science, and there are most certainly days I use the alphabet approach more than others, but the key (and quite frankly, why this nutrition method WORKS) is that you still get to order items that feel like a treat or that you once associated with being “bad.” The difference now is that you can order with mindful intention and no guilt. Nothing has to be off-limits, YOU get to pick and choose, AND you can still #likehowyoueat!
Tool #2: Go PRO
Going PRO is another tool that can help you order mindfully at a restaurant after gauging the ABCDE items. Going PRO is a little phrase I recently came up with, and it means building the majority of your meal around PROtein and PROduce! Easy peasy. On social media, I’ve been using the hashtag #GoPROeats with pictures of meals and snacks that are built around protein and produce, and here’s how you can think about ordering #GoPROeats when dining out:
PROtein —> chicken that’s grilled or baked, fish that’s grilled, baked or broiled, leaner cuts of meat such as sirloin or tenderloin, tofu, quinoa, eggs, beans, etc. These are all more fat loss friendly than deli type stuff or fattier cuts of meat such as strip steak. However, protein is protein, and I would argue that sometimes opting for the fattier cuts of meat is a better choice than ordering a protein that’s fried/covered in breadcrumbs or skipping the protein/produce all together. For example, I would much rather order a ribeye that’s grilled with some simple seasonings than chicken cutlets that have been breaded and deep-fried. Or when I go out for breakfast, I usually opt for eggs with fruit and a couple of slices of bacon (protein/produce/protein) over eggs with hash browns and toast (protein/carbs/bread).
PROduce —> greens, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, asparagus, green beans, carrots, beets, the list goes on! So many options! I don’t really count corn and white potatoes here, but again, I don’t stress about some of the starchier veggies like sweet potatoes and squash, or fruit.
Tool #3: Be Like Sally
Being like Sally is my third tool for ordering mindfully but also enjoyably at a restaurant. Sally is a character from the movie When Harry Met Sally. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s one of my faves, and there is a funny scene where Sally asks her server to change everything about what she orders:
“I’d like the chef salad please, with the oil and vinegar on the side, and the apple pie a la mode. But I’d like the pie heated, and I don’t want the ice cream on top. I want it on the side, and I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it. If not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but only if it’s real. If it’s out of a can, then nothing.”
“Not even the pie?
“No, just the pie, just not heated.”
I encourage you to channel your inner Sally when out to eat so you can order mindfully, but also in a way that you are happy with! Don’t be afraid to ask for modifications to menu items or make special requests. A good restaurant should be MORE than happy to accommodate your request for the returning business.
At first you might feel uncomfortable speaking up, but the more you do, the more confident you’ll become in asking for what you want. My approach is to give a friendly laugh or smile and tell the server I have a few requests before starting my order. Most of the time the server ends up saying, “okay, that wasn’t so bad.” If the server gives you a hard time, that’s on them, not you. So ask for salad dressing and toppings like cheese or tortilla strips on the side, ask for a side of veggies even if they aren’t listed on the menu, and ask for your buffalo chicken to be grilled instead of fried. Again, the restaurant should want YOU to be a happy customer, so don’t be scared to ask for things the way you want them… and DON’T apologize for it!
- Use the alphabet approach and really think about what sounds the most appetizing out of alcohol, bread, carbs, dessert, and extras.
- Go PRO and center your meal around protein and produce for #GoPROeats.
- Be like Sally and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Modify, modify, modify!
Remember, going out to eat is ONE meal. Don’t ever shoot for perfection, but just do your best because it’s all you can do, enjoy the time out with the company you are with, and move right along.
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