Eating Out

By Kate Coughlan (Nov 3, 2019)

Eating out has been a staple in both my personal and professional life. I EAT OUT ALL THE TIME!  Whether breakfast, lunch or dinner many laughs, ideas, stories and advise have been exchanged during these events. Whether it is dining out to meet up with old friends or new, meeting professionals in your field to discuss ideas or grabbing some to-go food as you just do not want to cook, one problem exists for all scenarios– what can we eat that is healthy? 

I think I am the outlier in the “going out to eat” model.  There are weeks at work that I visit the same fast-food deli every day. Yes, you heard that correct -5 days a week- I go out to eat for lunch. Then when I realize I have eaten out for about 2 weeks; I give in to healthy snaking throughout the day which is not as satisfying.  In fact, eating out is an escape for me. When I am stressed, I eat out, when I am busy, I eat out and when I am just having a bad day, I like to reward myself with food from one of my favorite to go spots in town.  The other reason for going out is social.  As adults, or at least for my husband and I, we catch up with family and friends over food and drink at the latest restaurant.

To be honest, it has not been to recently that I ‘sort of’ paid attention to food choices at restaurants and healthy living. I was of the mindset that going out to eat meant splurging.  And in some sense, I still believe in this model, although as I age, I also realize that those foods may have long term effects on my health.  One advancement that has helped me, has been the trend for restaurants to place calories on their menu. This was a true awakening for me!  Prior to this I knew food from restaurants was not going to be healthy and would contain high amounts of calories however I was unprepared for the number of calories found in some of my staple foods.   From appetizers to desserts, the calories presented were more than the daily recommended dose of 2000 calories.   During some meals, I was estimating 4000 calories in that meal, in addition to the other foods that I ate that day as well.  This does not include the breakdown of sugars, fats and salt, all of which are high, in these types of food.   Moreover, this was amplified by eating out daily rather than limiting it to once a week or month.   Even those foods I thought were healthy, really racked up the calories including many salads on the menu. 

The reason for eating out is personal, however, the realization that there is not much on the menu that is considered healthy eating is known by many.  Ideally, if healthy eating is your goal, then should we never go out to eat?  The answer is no, eating out is a form of socialization, stress reducer and an important part of life. 

As I began to research this topic (see out FB post: Dining Out Doesn’t Mean Ditch Your Diet-AHA), here are some tips for eating out based on my research:

·       Meal planning is so important on a daily basis but even more important when you know that you have dinner plans with family or friends at one of your favorite restaurants. For example, if you know that you will eat out on Friday night, then plan heart-healthy meals a few days before and after the dining out meal.  

·       Decide on your meal before you arrive and calculate the caloric intake of this planned meal.  Many restaurants have calorie counts on the menu, so utilize this to make informed decisions.  For example, if the appetizer you want it 1000 calories, perhaps order for the entire table thereby allowing you to sample it while only costing you 250 calories. 

·       Restrict the add-ons and additional items the server may suggest.  The server’s responsibility is to upsell. As a former waitress, the higher the bill the better the tip. Often, we buy into the appetizers, additional cocktails, desserts or supersized meals. Keep in mind the old saying ‘our eyes are bigger than our stomachs.’

·       Share meals.  Portion sizes have increased a lot.  If you are wanting a hamburger and fries, think about splitting the meal or at least splitting the sides.

·       Watch out for items that we typically do not attribute to calories: Drink choices, condiments and cooking materials (oils).

·       Take it home!  Feel free to take you food home for the next day.  Again, many meals come as a double serving hence taking a bit of that food home will reduce the caloric intake for that day and also allow you to not over extend the stomach.

Other suggestions include drinking water before you go out to eat which will help reduce your appetite (Jeong, Ji Na. Effect of Pre-meal Water Consumption on Energy Intake and Satiety in Non-obese Young Adults. Clin Nutr Res. 2018 Oct; 7(4): 291–296.) Likewise, pick your battles. So maybe you love chips, instead of eliminating the chips choice the healthier combo- guacamole instead of queso.

Going out to eat should be a special treat and one should be able to indulge in fun food and conversation. Simple changes can make a huge difference in eating healthier when out at a restaurant. I would love to hear your ideas for maintaining a healthy lifestyle while still enjoying the social aspect of eating out.    

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