Eating Out: Considerations for Weight Loss Goals

Eating Out: Considerations for Weight Loss Goals

Less “Perfect,” More “Better”

We’ve all been there. Just as we’ve made a resolution to eat better, we find ourselves sliding into the booth at our favorite restaurant, and we have to decide whether to indulge in our usual favorite… or order the salad.

But it doesn’t have to be that extreme.

When clients ask me for advice about eating out, my constant refrain sounds something like this:

“Making healthier eating choices is not about sticking to a prescribed set of rules. It’s not about not eating types of foods (like carbohydrates) or not eating specific foods (like pizza). It’s about making better choices than you would have made, which help you to stay overall consistent with your change in lifestyle.”

It’s not specific enough to be sexy or buzzy (#keto), but it’s the simple truth that has worked over and over again with clients.

Eating out is fun. Not cooking or cleaning up after yourself is fun. Trying new foods is fun. Enjoying old favorites is fun.

Eating more healthfully does not mean that you have to stop having fun with food, even in familiar ways.

The National Weight Control Registry (which I just officially joined, yay!) points out that 98% of participants “modified their food intake in some way to lose weight.”

I hope you’ll notice that the vague phrase “modified their food intake” leaves a lot of room for interpretation. It doesn’t mean “stopped eating carbohydrates,” or “counted calories forever.”

Modifying your food intake could be as simple as having one slice of pizza instead of two. Or, as a client of mine said during her Skype call today, it was as easy as picking a few fries off of her husband’s plate, instead of getting her own order (the favorite strategy of husbands everywhere!).

If you think your restaurant habits are particular poor, you may need a lot of “modification.” But if you’re stressing over what you’re ordering a few times a week, it’s likely that you just need a small shift, and that you could sweat less over your decisions.

Here are four strategies that I personally use, and recommend for clients, for enjoying dining out while working on weight loss (or body composition) goals:

Eat out less

This one’s probably the most effective, and extremely simple. Do what you can to eat out with less frequency during the week, including convenience meals! If you’re on-the-go, build your repertoire of what you can bring with you in transit, like protein bars, smoothies, homemade wraps, or simple sandwiches.

Decline the free extras

Carbs are cheap, so restaurants serve them up freely. If you say “no” to the chips, the bread, the pita, and the naan, you’re automatically freeing up more of your “caloric budget” to really enjoy the food that you wanted – the food that you ordered. It keeps life simpler.


Obviously this is easier if you have a close dining companion (I wouldn’t split with just anyone). But if you’re out with your spouse or a close friend, it’s easy to order one thing and split it. You get all the joy, and half the calories.

Choose true favorites

Finally, this is a mindset tip. Take time to choose your true favorites – your “must haves.” My husband and I used to go out for nachos every Tuesday night – there was an amazing upscale bar in our neighborhood where we loved the nachos. I’m not kidding that I would get in the car chanting, “NA-CHO-NIGHT! NA-CHO-NIGHT! NA-CHO-NIGHT!”

Then we moved. On a quest to find a new nacho place, we landed on a new bar that felt vaguely similar to the old one, but… the nachos weren’t great. They felt heavy and extremely greasy compared to our old favorite.

Because it was a loved tradition, it was hard to let it go. But a few days later, I said to Michael, “I really didn’t care for those. I’d prefer to find a new place for Tuesday night date night.” And we did! Now, date nights are on Monday, and instead of going to the same place every time, our “new” tradition is to try a new place every Monday night.

Choosing your true favorites allows you to weed out the foods that you don’t really love, which end up taking up a lot of room in your diet. Focusing on what you really do love frees up a lot of space to enjoy food more.

Oh, and – side note – what shouldn’t you do when you eat out? Don’t try to out-exercise it. Check out this blog post and this blog post to learn why.