Get Leaner While Eating Out Part 2: Chain Restaurants

For Part 1 of this series, click here.

We looked at quicker meal options in the first part of this series for those situations where you just need to get a quick lunch or when you’re traveling by yourself and might just want to kick back with something easy to take to your hotel room.  Now, let’s take a look at situations where you may have to go out to a sit-down dinner with co-workers or clients.

One of the things I hear from a lot of nutritional consults that I’ve done is that many people feel pressured into eating a certain way when they go out to business dinners, that somebody may not want to be the odd one out at a table full of their peers.  While understandable to a point, the reality is that you cannot use somebody else as an excuse.  While issues of peer pressure might be difficult to work through when you’re 7 years old and your friends want you to go steal candy from a 7-11 with them, it should not be an issue for a 35 year old adult with a full-time career.  People will always find a reason to give you grief about something you are doing.  It is a fact of life.  However, unless they have agreed to pay for your medical bills when you are diagnosed with an ulcer and Type II diabetes, their opinions mean NOTHING in the long run.

Anyway, back to business.  Let’s take a look at your typical restaurants to see how you can entertain and still stay with your fitness goals.  And remember this key phrase when you find yourself at a restaurant of just about any type: they will make just about anything you ask them to.  Just because a steak, broccoli and sweet potatoes might not be a meal on the menu, if they have dishes that use those ingredients,they will make a special order for you.  JUST. ASK.

But There’s So Much to Eat…

I know, I know.  There’s ten other people with me at this table, and I don’t want to stick out as the party pooper.  So I’m going to do what they do, which looks a little something like this.  First, start with the appetizer 0′ death…


…then crush a giant steak with tons of potatoes or french fries…

…and don’t forget to polish it off with some artery-violating dessert…

…then go back to your hotel and do this…

But it doesn’t have to be this way, does it?

How to Survive and Thrive at a Restaurant

I was originally going to go down a list of chain restaurants that are popular for corporate entertainment, but figured it would make more sense instead to give some more fluid guidelines to follow, as there is such a broad spectrum of options that I would never be able to cover it all in one article.  And on the bright side, I am writing this operating under the assumption that you are not the one picking the restaurant and do not have advanced access to the menu.

 Step 1: Ditch the bread.

Sorry, folks, get over it.  If you have control over it, request immediately upon being seated that the server does not bring out the bread basket.  If you’re with half a dozen other people who want it, well… sucks to be you.  But the reality is, you need to have some willpower here.  “I’ll just have one piece” is not going to cut it.

Step 2:  Watch the appetizers.

This is another tough one, but it’s rare to find a safe appetizer when eating out.  Unless you find things like chicken skewers or non-breaded/fried versions of something like calamari, you’ll have to pass.  Instead, scan the menu and decide what it is you want to eat.  Ask that your food be brought out with the appetizer; if that makes you uncomfortable, order your meal and ask that your side salad (with an oil and vinegar dressing, not French or Thousand Island, or God forbid, bleu cheese) come out with the appetizer.  If possible, get a half-portion of grilled chicken on your salad so you have something more substantial until the entree comes.

Step 3: Meat and veggies for an entree.

Doesn’t matter where you’re eating, this should be an option.  Olive Garden?  Get the Mixed Grill with no potatoes.  Red Robin?  Gourmet cheeseburger with a lettuce wrap bun and side salad instead of fries, or the Ensenada Chicken Platter with no ranch sauce.  Don’t see it on the menu?  ASK.  No excuses here, just do it.

Step 4: No booze.

Water with lemon, unsweetened tea, or coffee.  Can’t handle going to dinner and not getting alcohol?  That makes you an alcoholic.  If you’re not an alcoholic, you can make it through a meal without booze.  I don’t care who else is there, alcohol is not an obligation at dinner, or any meal.  If you’re not dieting and just trying to live healthy, 4-6oz of red wine won’t kill you.  But if you want fat loss?  Nope.

Step 5: Dessert?

Fresh berries & whipped cream.  You may have to deviate off the given menu here, but there aren’t many places who don’t use these components in their desserts, so they should be able to accommodate.

Stay the Course

I hear a lot from people who have to eat out sometimes 10, 15, or even 20 meals a week when they’re traveling or because their job requires a lot of corporate entertaining.  If 25-50% or more of your meals are eaten away from your own home, you CANNOT make a lack of willpower your excuse for overdoing it when you eat out, or you will not succeed in changing body composition.  There is no magic trick here.  It would be great if I could give you better answers, but this is how it goes.

Have questions?  Ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer thoroughly.