Can you really eat out at restaurants without gaining weight?
Your menu choices can make or break your fat-loss efforts.
Beware of restaurant jargon – “healthy” does NOT mean fewer calories!
Eating out at restaurants can be a really enjoyable experience. The right company, mood, lighting and setting can make for some of the best memories.
Saying that though, if your goals are health and physique related, dining out can potentially throw you right off course.Hopefully after reading this, you’ll be more aware of the hazards and common pitfalls of eating at restaurants, but still have fun and smash your physique goals.
WHAT YOU’RE GONNA LEARN
- Why restaurants make you overeat
- How often you should eat out vs cooking at home
- The effect of one-off restaurant splurges
- The importance of planning ahead
- Damage-control strategies to use while eating out
- How to translate restaurant menu lingo to choose the healthiest option
- Best-choice menu items from various world cuisines
WHY RESTAURANTS MAKE YOU OVEREAT
Since the 1970’s, the ratio of meals eaten at restaurants versus home-cooked meals has gone from a sixth to almost a third of people’s total food intake. 
In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if for many people in today’s busy society that number is even larger.
So what’s the problem?
Well, think about it ... what do restaurants all have in common? They want repeat business of course! They want you to visit their restaurant, recommend it to your friends and keep coming back for more.
They do this by dishing up incredibly tasty food – menu items that people find irresistible by way of a magic combination of sugar, fat and salt (SFS).
The chef doesn't give a damn about your fitness goals! #BodyPhi
This magic mix is effectively “food porn” – messing with your mind and excessively stimulating your appetite.  Regularly eating these foods can cause you to wildly overeat, even when you’re completely full and no longer hungry.
Think about which foods taste delicious and you find hard to resist?
• Chocolate Desserts
• Ice Cream
• Hot Bread and Olive Oil Dip
• Mac ‘n’ Cheese
See a pattern here? Yep – sugar, fat and salt! Read all about it below.
The next big issue you face is calorie concentration. Whereas a normal evening meal at home might rack up 600–700 calories – a meal out can EASILY soar to 2,000 calories due to hidden fats, rich sauces, fattier cuts of meat or calorie-bomb desserts.
Just comparing a simple home-cooked steak, veggies and sweet potato to it’s restaurant counterpart and you can begin to see the problem.
The steak comes with a Bearnaise sauce, the veggies are smothered in hot garlic butter and the sweet potato is double-fried and crunchy. All with a boat-load of salt to enhance flavour off the scale.
As soon as you step into a restaurant, calorie concentration skyrockets and “real” food from fruits and veggies goes out the window – BIG problem! 
And as if that’s not bad enough – studies consistently show that food portions at restaurants are on the increase and show no signs of slowing down. 
Fast-food outlet menu items too are up to five times larger than they were two decades ago.  Super-size anyone?
You can’t even take refuse in something as mundane as a salad – it too gets the SFS treatment. By adding tasty oils, nuts and cheeses – all of a sudden an innocent under-200 calorie side dish becomes a hefty 500-plus calories!
There you were thinking you’d ordered the “healthy” dish and BTW this applies to apparently healthy options at fast-food joints too. “Healthy” labels do NOT equal less calories!
That Double Big Mac = 680 calories
The McDonald's Kale Salad = 730 calories?
Next up is the actual restaurant itself – colours, temperature, lighting, music, aromas and the presence of other people, all affect how and what you eat. Restaurants know this and take full advantage to subconsciously affect your eating behaviour. 
By manipulating the surroundings, restaurants can have you consuming massively more food than you would otherwise at home – without you even realising. Not great for your fat-loss goals.
Not only this, what if I told you that your server actually has an impact on how much you eat?! In a recent 2015 study, diners were four times more likely to order dessert if their waiter was overweight! 
The final blow comes from the sheer variety of menu items and effortless access to them. Your server will bring whatever you want in minutes, clears the evidence and immediately presents you with more options.
RESTAURANTS ENCOURAGE OVEREATING – BY DESIGN #BodyPhi
Humans love variety and it’s been well-documented that increased food variety leads to overeating – obviously a problem if you want to burn body fat by doing the exact opposite – eating fewer calories. 
Worst-case example of this is buffet-style dining, each dish has a different flavour, colour, spiciness and texture – you never get bored and there are endless combinations that increase the likelihood of a feeding frenzy. More on this coming up.
TIPS FOR HEALTHY EATING OUT
So while yes, restaurants encourage overeating of all the “wrong” things – getting stressed about it won’t do you any favours.We all know how detrimental stress can be to absolutely everything, particularly where weight loss is concerned – read all about that below.
If it’s truly a one-off occasion – a birthday dinner or annual family gathering and there are foods you particularly enjoy and don’t have very often – go for it.
I’d much rather you enjoy yourself with friends and family, rather than obsessing over food and ruining the whole event. Trying to be perfect with your food plan 100% of the time will only lead to disappointment and unnecessary rigidity.
Life is so much more than looking great naked – let go and free yourself to enjoy these occasions.
“But I’ll get fat?”
In one meal? Absolutely not.It takes 3,500 calories ABOVE your normal eating to add one pound of body fat, and even then the calculation isn't perfect – in active, young, lean men it’s likely even higher. 
So let’s say you’re an average dude maintaining your weight on 2,700 calories. For arguments sake, let’s say you’ve had a decent-sized breakfast and lunch totalling 1,800 calories before a meal out with your buddies.
Even with wine, starters and dessert – there is no way you are going to eat 4,400 calories in one sitting. Yes, the scale will likely be up the next day, but it will be mainly water weight from the increased salt and carbohydrates in your meal.
Nothing that won’t vanish rapidly by just getting back on your plan. Remember it’s what you consistently eat day in, day out – NOT these few and far between outings.
EVERYDAY DAMAGE CONTROL
I’d say about 70% of my clients eat out on a regular basis, not because they are being glutenous, but because their jobs demand it to promote business relationships.
Now, clearly moving from one-off slap-up dinners to weekly, if not daily, dining out like this is a whole other kettle of fish. If well-managed, however, you can dine out and still smash fat loss.
Let’s dive in and see what tactics you can use to avoid any unnecessary fat gain.
It’s 2016 – many, many restaurants publish nutritional information online so you can plan what to have before you go.
Of course it won’t be 100% accurate, but it’ll give you a ball-park figure of calories you’re likely to consume. Here consistency wins over accuracy.
If after research, you find everything is super-heavy on the calories, no matter what you order, I recommend either purposely lowering your calories the day or two prior, or perhaps implementing some intermittent fasting.
Go easy on the carbs and the fats prior to your meal. Instead I recommend filling up on protein and fibre as these are the hardest for your body to digest, and generally more filling – things like fruits, veggies, egg whites, chicken, turkey and other lean meats. 
For example, skipping breakfast in favour of a couple of black Americanos and some sparkling water, then having a massive chicken or shrimp salad with lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and other low-calorie veggies for lunch is a great way to save a load of calories.
Avoid An Empty Stomach
This approach can certainly be super-useful to ensure your total daily calories don't go overboard. Be careful though – avoid turning up at the restaurant on a totally empty stomach as you'll likely overeat due to hunger.
Drink plenty of water and keep some fruit like apples on hand to tide you over to the high-calorie main event. You want to still be under your calories for the day, but not so hungry you could murder the entire loaf of bread before you even start your main course!
Surefire Restaurant Survival Tips
More often than not, restaurants are very accommodating to individual dietary requirements. Take control of your dining experience and make requests that are in line with your fat-loss goals.
This is massive – mindful eating is your single biggest weapon to help you reach or maintain your physique goals. It is the key to making sure you don't overeat and are always in full control of your actions during your meal.
A simple strategy I find super useful is to put down my cutlery between bites and chew properly. This way I sense my stomach filling and can stop way before the point of overeating.
Loads more easy-to-implement mindful-eating strategies below.
Stay In Control
One of the silliest ways to pile on the calories is to carry on eating when you’re full. We've all been there … still food on your plate, but engaged in conversation and unconsciously putting food in our mouth.
Stay mindful and take control of the situation by asking your server to remove your plate the instant you’ve finished.
Salad or soup are excellent low-calorie options compared to other typical starters and are filling so you're less likely to overeat on your main course.
Always ask for salad dressing on the side. With soups, the main rule is to avoid anything creamy – stay away from anything with “cream of” in the title, instead, stick with vegetable- or tomato-based options.
Water helps you feel full by taking up space in your stomach. It contains zero calories – an instant win – and also thirst is frequently mistaken for hunger.
Make sure you are drinking a full glass of water in between courses. Super-basic tip, but super-effective.
Appetisers vs Desserts
Be an adult and “pick your poison”. More of a savoury person? Go for a nice starter and main then, skip on the dessert. Have a sweet tooth? Skip the starter and save calories for the dessert.
Budget your food as you would budget your finances, don't be reckless because even if you aren't counting the calories or paying attention to what is going in your mouth, your body is.
Buffets are an absolute overeating nightmare. Why? As I’ve mentioned above – variety is the killer, so many different textures, flavours and tastes.
The other thing is that you feel justified to stuff your face as you’ve paid for it and the food is right there a short walk away. If you're serious about your health and physique, buffets should not be a regular occurrence.
At the very least choose a small plate and leave space on your plate before you return to your table. Between visits, drink some water and reassess your fullness levels – be mindful!
We’ve seen how restaurant portion sizes are on the rise … so when your meal arrives and it’s double what you need, ask your server to immediately remove half and place in a doggie bag.
Your food will still be there tomorrow, no need to stuff yourself past the point of fullness?! Take it home and have it for dinner the following night.
Doggie bags are way more common in countries like the States, probably because their portions are absolutely ridiculous compared to Europe. Make good use of them!
Choose easy-to-identify menu items. If at all possible, try and pick meals that have protein, carb and fat laid out as separately as possible and go heavy on the veggies!
At a Turkish restaurant for example, opting for grilled chicken skewers (protein) with some rice (carbs and some fat) with a side of hummus (fat and some carbs) – you know pretty much what's what.
Whereas going for the Moussaka, you could be adding hundreds more calories from hidden fats that are difficult to account for due to the large number of ingredients in the dish.
Dressings & Sauces On The Side Please
A very normal and easy request that can save you hundreds of calories simply by you taking control at the outset.
Some restaurants go so overboard with dressings – what was once a healthy salad ends up a pool of oil with a lettuce leaf or two to mop it up. Ask for dressings and sauces to come separately and immediately send back what you don’t need.
Get the lowdown on how to handle alcohol for fat loss in the article linked below. Bottom line: You can absolutely work in booze, you just need to know how to do so without adding unnecessary body fat. Check it out
Know The Lingo
Whilst terms like “light/lite”, “low-carb” and “reduced” can be useful in discerning which foods are more healthy or than others, they can also be entirely misleading.
A brunch of four eggs cooked in butter, five rashers of bacon served with mushrooms and tomatoes cooked in olive oil could very well be marketed as “low-carb.”
But, don’t kid yourself, this calorie bomb won't do wonders for your waistline I can assure you. Beware of these marketing labels and other terms that are likely loaded with hidden fats:
- buttery, in butter sauce
- fried / pan-fried
- au gratin
- cheese sauce
- au lait
- à la mode
- au fromage
- creamed or cream sauce
- in gravy
Look out for healthier food-prep styles such as:
- lean pot roast
- lean meat loaf
- London broil / broiled
- In its own juice
- garden freshand
also ... know your lean steak cuts and protein options:
- filet mignon
- flank steak
- sirloin tip
- flat iron
- Chicken breast
A typical slice of cheesecake, brownie or apple pie with ice cream etc, is going to be anywhere in the realm of 400–600 calories.
And whilst I can fully appreciate this is a really nice treat … in this damage-control dining context, choosing a lower-calorie option will be better suited to your goals. Good options are:
- Sorbets rather than ice creams
- Meringue-based desserts – typically lower in fat
- Fruit-based desserts – depending on what you have with them!
Think I’m exaggerating the calorie concentration of desserts? A very popular chain in the states called The Cheesecake Factory serves up a Red Velvet Cheesecake clocking in at a whopping 1,570 calories!
Yea … that’s just for one slice … not the entire cake!
That could be up to 90% of a guy’s daily calorie intake looking to drop body fat. Think hard about what you order for dessert!
Don’t clear all the previous hurdles just to screw up on the last one. Black Americanos, Espressos or Macchiatos are all good.
Super-milky, sugary and foamy drinks that barely taste of coffee are NOT your friend. Skip dessert if you're going to commit to one of these bad boys.
BEST DISH CHOICES
Mexican: Chicken Burrito/Enchilada – hold the cheese, guacamole and sour cream.
Chinese: Use chopsticks and go for boiled rice and chicken dishes, stay away from fried dishes
Indian: Chicken Biryani with steamed or boiled rice.Japanese: Sushi – without fancy sauces and avoid tempura dishes
Italian: Veal & Vegetables. If you’re going for pasta, go for a small bowl with a tomato-based sauce – avoid creamy dishes.
IN A NUTSHELL
• Restaurants encourage overeating by design by employing tactics such as:
• Calorie-packed meals
• Misleading descriptions
• Overeating-styled environment
• Instant food availability
• Chefs aren’t out to keep you lean – a meal out can likely add 200–700 calories to a similar at-home meal
• One-off or infrequent splurges aren’t a problem. ENJOY THEM – life is short and no-one ever got fat from a single meal
• Learn damage-control strategies if you eat out regularly due to business or lifestyle commitments:
• Plan ahead
• Prioritise mindful eating – stay focused and in control
• Keep your menu choices as simple as possible
• Pick a starter OR a dessert, NOT both
• Get familiar with restaurant jargon so you can choose your best bets
• Choose desserts and coffees wisely