Joy Bauer's Tips: Eat Out Without Gaining Weight

By , SparkPeople Blogger
From our partners at Woman's Day

Dining out is one of the biggest challenges for dieters. Menus are designed to lure you in, and studies have shown that simply seeing or smelling food can erode the steeliest resolve (it’s hard to resist ordering that brownie after seeing it pass by on the dessert cart!). That’s why it’s important to have a game plan before you set foot in a restaurant.

Check Out the Menu in Advance
Access it online if possible, or call the restaurant and ask if they can fax a copy. When you get there, don’t even open the menu—simply tell the waiter what you decided on earlier in the day.

Start with greens. Salad helps fill you up without adding many calories… as long as you don’t drown it in dressing or smother it with fatty toppings like cheese and nuts. Vinegar contains negligible calories (plain vinegar, not vinaigrette), so feel free to douse your salad with as much as you want. Or ask for a dressing on the side and use no more than one to two tablespoons.

Watch portions. They are notoriously huge in restaurants. Even if you choose everything right, you can go wrong by cleaning your plate. You want to leave the table satisfied, not stuffed. One way to achieve this is to eat slowly and mindfully, paying attention to the company, not just the food. Try putting down your fork and taking a break every three bites or so. This gives your brain time to get the “I’m full” message from your stomach. On a similar note, don’t get so wrapped up in conversation that you forget what and how much you’re eating. To make sure you don’t overstuff yourself, when you’re about halfway through what’s on your plate, stop and assess your hunger on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being ravenous and 5 being stuffed. If you’re at a 3 or 4, stop eating.

Skip the bread basket. Most of the time, it’s a calorie bomb. If you must have something, a small slice of French bread or a small plain roll (no butter) is the way to go.

Don’t drink your calories. Stick with water, seltzer or a diet soda. If you enjoy alcohol, limit yourself to one drink—preferably a glass of wine, a wine spritzer, a light beer, or a shot of hard liquor mixed with club soda or another noncaloric beverage—all of which are around 100 calories. Avoid frou-frou drinks like frozen margaritas, which contain hundreds of calories.

Go lowfat. As a general rule of thumb, order foods that are broiled, grilled, roasted or steamed, and steer clear of those that are fried or sautéed. When entrées are pansautéed, the food soaks up more oil than during grilling or broiling.

Don’t be afraid to make special requests. You can save lots of calories by asking for sauce on the side, steamed vs. fried or sautéed vegetables, double orders of veggies instead of a starch, and half-portion entrées. Plate-sharing and doggie bags are also a great way to cut calories and cost. (A charge for a plateshare is less than another entrée.)

Order two appetizers instead of an entrée. Seafood appetizers like shrimp cocktail, oysters or grilled calamari are low enough in calories that you can order two (stick to the same guidelines about avoiding fried, sautéed, etc.) plus a salad as your entire meal.

Ditch dessert. If you need something sweet to end your meal, go for fruit or a few small bites of a shared dessert. Sometimes a cup of tea or a skim cappuccino is all it takes to make you feel like you’ve had a full dining experience.

When You’re Eating Ethnic Foods… It can be hard to choose when you don’t completely understand the menu! You can always ask the waiter what’s in a dish and how it’s prepared, but here’s some help.

Best Italian picks:

The Best and Worst Fast-Food Salads

Joy Bauer's Guide to Dieting—Family Style

Simple Ways to Cut Calories at Every Meal

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My husband and I have been sharing one meal at restaurants for years. They simply give way too much food.
However, I need to concentrate on how the food is prepared more. We used to frequent a wings place and I would order naked wings (no breading) but this just can't be a normal thing anymore since everything there is fried.
Planning now for a dinner date I have Friday night - what can I eat, how is it prepared, ... Haha! Never did this before SP! Report
Share a meal with your friend/honey/neighbor or bring 1/2 of your meal home for the next day. Works very well. Thanks for the info. Report
Great advice, I went to my favourite Italian restaurant and ordered the summer crispy salad. Beautiful meal healthy and as an added bonus; the cheapest meal on the menu. When I informed the waiter about my eating plan, he had the chef throw in extra olives to "Beef it up a little." yum, yum. I'm in Australia if you are wondering why I was ordering a Summer Salad : ) Report
Your list of "tips" makes a person just want to stay at home and not bother to go out to eat at all. Or carry a bag of spinach in and order some good coffee and that's that. The whole point of going "out to eat" is to have something extra good, not the same as the stuff you eat at home, day in and day out, and "on plan". We don't go out often, once a month, so that is our time to have something really good and different. Report
I don't eat out a lot, but this is definitely info I need to keep in mind. Thank you! Report
Although I am not really a eating out person these tips are good to know when I do go out... Thanks Report
Very good tips! I often plan ahead--for example, when I'll be eating Mexican I'll decide ahead of time to eat just 6 chips w/ salsa, & fajitas with no tortillas as my main course.

In general, even when I'm eating out several times in a week I can lose weight by focusing on protein & veggies & bypassing the carbs (bread, tortillas, rice, potatoes). Report
Thank you for the information. Great referrance Report
Good ideas here! Report
Whenever I eat out, I do try to be mindful of the portion. In my "eating" days, I would typically clean my plate. Needless to say, I had no idea I could have been eating upwards of 2,000 calories at one meal !! These days, if there is something I'd really like to have, I'll have, but will watch the portion. I'll probably eat half and take the rest home in a doggie bag.

These days, I do enjoy a good doggie bag.
It's a great idea to check out the menu beforehand online. I've been doing this for some time now, and it keeps me in check and I avoid taking forever trying to calculate calories and fat at the last minute. (plus, once I decide on a restaurant meal early, it gives me something to look forward to later - sort of like a reward!) Report
Brilliant idea to have the menu before hand and choose Before going out. I shall definitely give this a go as I am easily swayed once sat down and shown a menu.

My tip is to have a large glass of water before going out. It does help curb my appetite, as does an apple. Report
My friend and I have a habit now of sharing a suitable starter and dessert and I always ask for any dressings to be served separately.
Another tip is to ask the waitress to take away any bread rolls on the table! So easy to fill up on that while you're waiting for your meal! Report
Right on. Report
Great eating out tips! I've always ordered 'on the side' for many things, but after being on SP for a while now, I find myself quizzing the wait staff on dish ingredients and prep techniques more and more. I think more people are doing this as they seem to be very well prepared to answer my questions. I'm hoping to copy and condense the 3 ethnic cuisine recommendations onto my iPod Touch and keep it with me with I order :0) Thanks again! Report
My mother thinks I'm so boring & don't like surprises because I always check out the menu when we're eating out. Actually I love most surprises. However I don't want to surprise myself by being unprepared and end up eating too many calories because I haven't done my homework. So I'll stay boring & make my way to a thinner me! Report
I wish I could carry this blog with me when I dine out. Report
Last Sunday my hubby and I went to Vic Stewart's Steakhouse for an early Valentine lunch. I couldn't find any menu calorie info online at all. Next time, I'll call ahead and see if they'll fax a menu or pick one up next time I'm in the area. If anyone knows of a link to Vic Stewart's, (including calorie info) please post a reply. Report
Thnx this is very helpful!!:) Report
When my husband and I eat out and decide to have dessert we order what we would like eat a few bites (typically three bites each) and then quickly smother the rest in salt. This keeps us from eating any more of it than we intend to. It is just a little trick to help us control ourselves. The dessert can now sit on the table and we do not have the urge to keep nibbling. Report
Good article! AppleBee's 550 calorie menu is great! Lots of veggies that tasted good plus a meat! I am really full and happy after going there! Report
DH and I have a go to restaurant meal. Salmon and 6 ounce steak. I have steak, DH has salmon. I order a side salad, dressing balsamic Vinegraite on the side, and i ask for smallest baked potato they have. He eats the coleslaw and biscuit. This enables us to eat with a group of friends at the same restaurant and now other couples follow our lead way to go. Pat in Maine. Report
Thanks for all the great info! I printed it for the next time I eat out. Report
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