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Tips for Eating Healthily While Eating Out

January 25, 2012

Healthy diners, rejoice! A recent study released in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior proves that with a little education and a mindful approach, it is possible to maintain and even lose weight while eating out.

35 healthy women who ate out often were assigned to one of two groups: one that offered weekly sessions on education and mindful eating meditations, or one without any counseling. The first group learned about portion sizes, strategies to prevent weight gain in various types of restaurants, setting personal goals, and meditating to increase awareness of feeling hungry or full.

At the end of the six-week period, the women in the first group felt confident about achieving their goal to prevent weight gain, and many lost weight - an average of 3.7 pounds! The women even made some serious caloric cutbacks at home as well, proving that the education from the counseling sessions transformed their eating habits at every meal, not just the ones eaten out.

This study just further proves what we already know about the effectiveness of health coaching. Yet this issue remains a challenge for many, and we live in a culture where dining out is routine. We celebrate special occasions at fancy restaurants, the paper’s latest review urges us to try the pizza joint that just opened up, and business clients would prefer a nice dinner out rather than leftovers at your place.

It’s a good idea to reflect on how much you eat out each week, and consider cutting back if possible. But for the days where you just can’t get home for dinner, give these tips a try:

  • Entering a restaurant with an empty stomach is lethal. Before devouring three straight breadbaskets, drink a glass of water or tea, or even have a small snack like a piece of fruit before a meal to avoid overeating.
  • Become familiar with the nutritional value of meals at the restaurants you visit often. That spaghetti in a “light cream sauce” might not be as light as you thought, and even if you’re sharing the cheesecake, chances are one half of it contains more calories than you need for one day.
  • If it’s a healthy meal but the portions are huge, ask the waiter for a to-go box as soon as the food comes out so you can save half of the meal for another time when you’re hungry.
  • Put your smartphone to work! There are tons of apps designed to aid your mealtime struggles. Run a quick Google search; several restaurants such as Panera Bread have nutritional calculators for their menus that you can access on the go.
  • Remember why you’re eating out in the first place and enjoy yourself! Whether you’re with family and friends, getting to know someone new, or just taking in the surrounding atmosphere, try to focus on the whole experience rather than simply what’s in front of you.

A mindful approach to eating out could make all the difference, but it doesn’t start with the restaurant and what’s on the menu; it starts with the diner and what they choose to order. Health Coaches can help people make conscious changes to their eating habits in any environment, so they see lasting results and feel the difference.

Do you have experience as a Health Coach working with clients who had trouble being mindful while eating out? Would you add any tips to this list?