We don't have to buy food, then prepare and cook it, and then after all of that, we have to clean up our own mess. It's definitely not as fun as going out to eat.
Being mindful of what you eat or trying to make healthy choices in your food can be thwarted when you step into a restaurant. Since eating out is tasty, easy, and fast, this really creates a barrier to weight loss success.
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Reports show that Americans eat and drink on average a third of their total daily calories away from home.
We all know that home-cooked meals from whole foods are the best choice when you are trying to lose weight and eat healthy. Life does get in the way, so eating out will be inevitable.
Instead of letting that ruin your progress, try to limit yourself to once or twice per week so you can feel good about your whole situation. We all need some comforts in this life, we just have to be mindful of what we eat.
Making healthy choices is pretty hard to do consistently. Here are the top five most common pitfalls when you eat out. Along with that, I'll show you how to make the best of each pitfall.
Eat Out and Lose Weight
#1 - Showing Up Hungry
You want to get your money's worth, right?
We go all day without eating just so we can eat our favorite meal. Since we are very low on calories today, it's free game to eat it all.
Going out to eat while hungry can be pretty challenging to keep your cool. You follow the calorie counts on the menu and you know exactly what you are getting, right?
You sit there waiting for a table, thinking about your stomach that is empty. You finally get a table, and while you are sitting there dying of hunger... there it is.
The bread basket.
Before the waiter even turns away from your table, you ask him to "bring you another, please."
If you go out to eat while you are very hungry, by the time you get your food, you could be at an uncontrollable level of hungry. You can't control what you eat or how much of it you eat.
"Saving up" calories is a good idea when you can maintain a reasonable hunger level. If you are getting those hunger headaches and stabbing pains in your stomach - it's time to eat.
That hunger you feel after hours and hours of not eating can be detrimental to making healthy food choices.
The Solution - Don't let yourself get hangry. Eat regular meals and light snacks during the day. Letting yourself be hungry is okay, but keep the hunger under control.
If you feel like you are getting past the point of a reasonable level of hunger, eat a handful of almonds or a banana before going out.
#2 - Those Servings Are Huge
In the 1970s, restaurants in the US took a pretty sharp increase in portion sizes - and continue to get bigger. There are many well-controlled studies out there that show when offered a larger portion size, people will consume more.
One study gave participants four different portion sizes of macaroni and cheese on different days. They found a 30% increase in calorie consumption when the participants were offered the extra-large portion versus the small portion.
Look, the portion sizes that restaurants give us isn't a "serving size." We simply don't need that much.
The Solution - There are a few things you could try here:
- Try the kid size portion.
- Share the entree with someone.
- Try a vegetable side dish instead of fries or chips. You don't have to have fries with every meal.
- Ask for a to-go container as soon as you get your food and put up half of it before you even start eating.
The last tip is one that's worked well for me. You're going to still get more than enough food and then you can have it again later on.
#3 - Drinks Have Calories Too
Water gets boring. Trust me, I know.
While going out to eat, there's a lot of pressure to get one of the house special beverages or a nice cold Mountain Dew.
Did you know a small 12-ounce drink has about 140 calories? Those cocktails can range from 100 to 500 calories per drink.
It adds up.
The Solution - Don't be afraid to order water. If you go out into a group, you'd be surprised who else would order water if they heard someone order it. I almost always get water, and the people who almost religiously drink soda will sometimes get water too.
Treat yourself, don't always indulge.
#4 - Look at All of This Great Food
Going to your favorite greasy joint is fun. Eating there brings you joy and their food is so tasty, right?
Every item on the menu makes your mouth salivate until you just have to order it all. Don't let the tempting choices make you feel like you may "never get this again."
Enjoy it, don't scarf it down.
The Solution - Instead of allowing the temptations around you to control you, remind yourself that you will probably be back here the same time next week.
Take home those leftovers and don't feel ashamed that you just ate a 4-person appetizer platter.
#5 - Don't Give into the "Cheating" Mentality
Eating out should be seen as a treat. Seriously, if you can't cook your own food, what are you doing?
Since eating out is a treat, the "cheating" mentality can easily creep in. We label foods as "bad" or "unhealthy" because we feel guilty about our choices.
That generally results in us throwing in the towel on trying to eat healthy. We will give in to this mentality, rationalizing every extra 100 calories we eat.
The sense of guilt and regret sucks, but it's addictive.
So now you have an unhealthy eating cycle that you just keep falling off of the bandwagon. You recommit, and then you feel guilty again.
There's no such thing as eating perfectly.
The mentality and vicious cycle that this "cheating" mentality brings will make your relationship with food strained, at best.
The Solution - Make eating out a part of your lifestyle.
Improve your relationship with foods, arm yourself with knowledge of what foods you should eat more of, and what foods you should eat less of.
Wrapping It Up
Look, eating out puts us against odds. It's possible to make healthy food choices. The more whole foods you cook at home, the better of a relationship with food you will have.
Try to recreate your favorite dishes and have fun with it.
Become aware of these common pitfalls and call yourself out when you start to fall for them. The more likely you can enjoy the occasional night out without guilt or shame, the more likely you are to stick to your eating plans.