Eating out tonight? Don’t panic…5 tips for staying on track when dining out.



When you are trying to lose weight, there are certain habits you need to learn to change, eating out is one of them. My friends tease me that they are going to get me a sign I can wear when we eat out that reads “The Modifier”.  Yes that’s right, I am every server’s worst nightmare….seriously.  I rarely order anything as it is on the menu and will tip extra if the wait staff and kitchen get my order right, no joke. I realize that some might find this annoying or rude, but when you are trying to maintain your weight (or especially when trying to lose weight), and keep some semblance of a social life, you need to be able to make smart decisions when eating out and not be afraid to ask about food substitutions or omissions.

A few months ago, when I was training for my fitness show, it was my birthday and the family wanted to take me out.  I was two weeks out from the show, so at this point I was pretty much eating fish or chicken and asparagus with mustard…like 4 times a day. Its kind of tradition that we go out for a Birthday dinner, so although I tried to sway the family into postponing my dinner out until after my show, the kids weren’t taking no for an answer. We headed to our favourite family spot Jack Astor’s, because the kids can be kids and its a fun place for families, food is decent and  by modifying and asking for substitutions I know I can stick within my healthy food plan. So for my birthday dinner, I simply asked the server if I could have a grilled chicken breast with a side of steamed asparagus on some spinach or mixed greens…no dressing or sauce, just mustard on the side. To my absolute delight he actually asked me if I was doing a fitness show… (must have been the request for mustard, since this is a fitness competitor’s best friend come crunch time). So when my glorious birthday dinner came, I did not care that everyone else was having a cheat meal and enjoying their favourite foods, I was happy with my meal, because I got to spend the time with my family and stay on track with my meal plan.

My point to this story is that, you have to be willing to make the changes and stay the course even when you might be tempted otherwise. Excuses to stray from your diet and make poor eating choices will come up ALL THE TIME, you need to be able to make smart food decisions when eating out and not be afraid to ask the wait staff to make changes to suit your needs. I recognize that there are some restaurants and establishments that actually have it written in their menus or on their websites that they do not make ingredient substitutions etc. so it’s easy –  don’t go to these places. I’m serious, there a million other places that will happily sub out dressing for salsa, or just grill the salmon and leave out the fried butter. Especially in the beginning you need to make the best choices for your success and the people you are going out with should try to be supportive of you.

Here are my 5 helpful tips for surviving eating out while trying to lose or maintain weight loss.

  1. Google the restaurant before hand and check out their menu to see what options you will have when ordering to stay on track. Chains with over 20 locations in Canada are now required to list their calorie count for each meal, this is amazing information to have when looking to see what healthy options are available to you.
  2. Try to have something light before going like some raw veggies, 1/2 a protein shake, or some fruit, and a large glass of water. If you go out hungry, your resolve will falter when your stomach starts to rumble at the smell of all the great food coming from the kitchen.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask the server about healthier cooking options, like baked not fried, or grilled not sautéed in butter and always ask for dressing or garnishes to be removed or on the side. Ask for healthy substitutions like salsa or Pico de Gallo instead of salad dressing or a fresh chutney instead of butter or cream sauces. If you’re not comfortable asking in front of the guests at your table, ask the wait staff in private. I will guarantee you are not the first person to ask them to make a change and you will not be the last. Do not blow your awesome day of healthy eating because you didn’t want to remove the blue cheese dressing (from an otherwise fairly healthy Cobb salad) for fear of putting out the server or the kitchen. That is why they are there, that is why you are PAYING for your meal. Make them earn your business.
  4. If you know your going to be eating a meal out, it’s really important you don’t skip any regular meals. If your going out for lunch, make sure you have a good breakfast, if it’s going to be dinner out then don’t skip breakfast or lunch. Make sure your regular food choices are the same during the day so you feel like you have a good day of healthy eating under your belt, it will help to discourage you from falling way off the wagon while out later on. If you throw in the towel at breakfast and grab a McGriddler because you figure the whole day is a wash since your going out for dinner anyway, you will never give yourself the chance to change your habits. If you’re at a kid’s birthday party on a Saturday afternoon and you know you are going out for dinner that night, eat before you go to the party and skip the terrible kids pizza and piece of buttercream cake so you can enjoy something you really want later. Remember, it’s about learning new healthy habits and applying them every day, all the time.
  5. Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself if you do end up indulging and eating something that might not have been the best choice. After all we are only human, however, try to minimize the damage by going for a walk later in the evening or incorporating an activity like bowling or skating after dinner that will keep you from just ending up on the couch. Also, if you are going to indulge try to plan for it and make sure it’s worth it. If there is something you have been craving or thinking about having all week, add a bit of extra activity to your regular schedule that week to burn some extra calories, or decrease your intake of calories by just a little each day to give you a bit of a buffer so when you have that amazing steak, you can enjoy it without guilt. On this note, try not to drink your calories. If you are going to be indulging in some “spirits” keep to the lighter drinks like a lite beer, wine spritzer or vodka soda. There are hundreds of empty calories in the sugary cocktails and creamy concoctions, keep the calories and enjoy them in the food you chew.

Learning to adapt healthy eating habits and make them part of our every day lives takes time, but its critical to our long-term success in maintaining weight lose and continuing our goal of healthy living.  Birthdays, anniversaries, and social gatherings are not going to stop because we are trying to change our eating habits and get healthy. Modifying, planning, and making allowances for eating out will take the stress out of the event and allow you to incorporate your healthy lifestyle so you can enjoy the moment.