10 Tips for Totally Painless, Healthy Restaurant Eating in 2015

2 women eating at a restaurant

image: Getty

You have a brain. You know that fried food is bad for you and kale is better for you. You know enough to eat healthy and yet, it’s so tempting not to. Right? Especially when we’re out at restaurants just trying to unwind from the day or the week, asking for that second bread basket doesn’t seem like a crime. And of course, it’s not. But one extra order is a slippery slope that can lead to an extra order every Friday. And then, before you know it, your healthy eating efforts for 2015 have pretty much been derailed. How are you really going to make this year different?

Allow us to provide a few suggestions. We spoke to two New York City-based fitness and certified nutrition experts to find out how they maintain their willpower and rounded up a few menu options that are right in line with their advice. So, let this be the year you kick your breadstick habit for good and all the other ones you may indulge in after one too many margaritas. Hey, don’t feel bad, we’re right there with you! 

Clint Palabay, New York City trainer and owner of Baypala Fitness, points out that Americans eat out more and more as they get busier and busier. “Here in New York, it’s not uncommon to eat out lunch every working day and dinner three or more nights per week…we don’t really know how much salt or oil is used at restaurants,” he says. “It is important to become conscious about our choices.” 

Self-Control and Self-Love 

Palabay makes a very important point: Depriving ourselves never works. He maintains his commitment to fitness by having dessert from time to time. His trick not to do it every time? “To be fully aware of how delicious the food is and savor it.” This helps to completely fulfill cravings. And hey, love yourself enough to love your food too, especially on special occasions!

Let’s Talk About Those Margaritas  

The good news is, the FDA just released new labeling rules that require chain restaurants to post calories on the menu, in plain sight, next to dishes. And that includes fancy drinks, so you’ll know what you’re drinking. But will you pay attention? Let it be a deterrent to over-drinking. Jackie Sizemore, New York City certified personal trainer, nutritionist and owner of Youniquelyfit LLC, avoids sugary drinks whether they’re alcoholic or virgin. If you’re going for booze, she suggests limiting yourself to one drink and going for a mix of vodka and Sprite Zero. If you have a “sweet tooth” and are going alcohol-free, she suggests herbal tea with honey and mentions it’s also great for your immune system.

Fill Up with Water

Sizemore has another great liquid-based trick to help avoid eating more than our fill. Drink one glass of water before your meal and one glass during your meal. You’ll be asking for a doggie bag before you go home. Because who wants to ask for one at the beginning of the meal, like so many diet experts suggest?

Protein Is King (or Queen)

Both Palabay and Sizemore love protein for its ability to provide hunger satisfaction without unhealthy calories. When you’re looking for entrees, go directly for grilled chicken, fish and steak. We’re into Applebee’s new The Pub Diet menu because it includes healthy dishes without sacrificing flavor. Try Cedar Grilled Chicken with apple relish and lemon olive oil vinaigrette or Pepper-Crusted Sirloin with whole grains. So good.

Olive Oil Dos and Don’ts

Look for dishes that include olive oil in their prep, like the grilled chicken above, but avoid dipping your bread in it. According to Fitness magazine, that can add hundreds of extra calories to your meal before you even take a bite of your entree. They say spreading butter on a slice of bread tends to be less caloric than olive oil dippers. As long as you don’t overdo it on the bread, that is.

Share and Share Alike

Here’s something many of us do and it’s important to note because this is a good habit to continue — or start. Splitting main dishes and desserts helps curb your consumption and it gives you more variety in dishes, too. More flavor without more calories? Count us in. As you’re eating a bite from this plate and a bite from another, ask yourself if you’re still hungry. Stop when you feel satisfied. 

Be App Mindful

Appetizer menus are usually loaded down with unhealthy food. (Look away! Look away!) If you’re starving by the time you sit down (and who isn’t?), order a salad with dressing on the side or a cup of soup to have along with that pre-meal glass of water. They’ll come out faster than most app dishes and are a lot healthier. Sizemore reminds us to avoid soups with “Cream of” in the name. Go for stock and broth bases.

Be Side Dish Mindful, Too

Palabay suggests avoiding fries and ordering a side salad instead. Yeah, we hear you groan about that one. But, he points out, he’s tempted just as much as we are! He reminds himself they’re just not worth it. And while you’re at it, avoid other types of fried potatoes that may seem healthier, like sweet potato fries, because they’re not.

Small Size It

Some of us like to get value for our money and we’re tempted to super size or add more for just “$1.25” or whatever deal the restaurant is offering. The truth is that extra food is either going to go in your less-healthy bank right then or it’s going to go in the garbage later on. 

For You Leftover Lovers

We’re always told leftovers are good, even from our first Thanksgiving. The problem is that if there’s a ton of leftover food, we can just as easily overindulge in our kitchen the next day as we could’ve the night before at the restaurant. Be aware if what you have left over could be divvied up into dinner and a lunch the next day, rather than just dinner. 

Tackle each one of these one at a time until it becomes a habit, then move on to the next. Repeat. Healthy living is a marathon, not a race. In the long run, having these tricks and tips be second nature is what’s going to separate your future health from all the previous years.

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