I live in San Francisco, one of the coolest (in my opinion) cities in the U.S., and it’s absolutely packed with amazing restaurants.
Yes, I know that when I eat at home, it’s usually healthier since I can control exactly what goes into my meals. But really, what’s the point of living somewhere like San Francisco if you can’t experience all the great food it has to offer?
And that’s the conundrum that so many people experience when they’re trying to get in shape or meet their health and fitness goals. They know they should be eating healthy… but they also really love eating out.
And so do I.
In fact, that’s one of my biggest problems with bodybuilding-style fitness and nutrition approaches: they’re incredibly restrictive, and more often than not completely limit your ability to eat outside of your home.
But since most of us aren’t trying to be bodybuilders, here’s the good news: as long as you try and follow the 80/20 rule most of the time, you can still eat healthy—even while eating out.
Don’t arrive starving
If there’s one major mistake that most people make when going out to eat that automatically sets you up for failure, it’s to arrive to the restaurant absolutely starving.
Being overly hungry at a place with too many good smells will almost always make you order more than you usually would, and the more you order, the more you’ll eat. Having a healthy snack like a handful of almonds, some protein, or even a salad before going to a restaurant will help you control your portion sizes when you get there.
Get your salad dressing on the side
No doubt one you’ve heard before, but getting the dressing on the side of your salad rather than tossed in is one of the best things you can do to avoid unnecessary calories when eating out.
If you can’t stand the possibility of dry lettuce, ask for your salad to be really lightly dressed—it’ll still taste as good, but will usually end up being about half the amount that the restaurant would have put in otherwise.
Better yet, substitute any unhealthy salad dressings for oil and vinegar (and lemon, if they have it) or a low sugar vinaigrette for a healthier option.
Skip the bread
This goes along with not arriving starving, but one of the worst things you can do when eating out is to immediately fill up on bread, chips or other appetizers the second you sit down.
Either decide the second the bread arrives that you’ll only have one piece, or if you know you don’t have that much self control, just ask that they don’t bring bread at all.
Order extra veggies
Rather than filling up on bread or extra pasta, order a side of veggies or add extra to your meal to help you get full on healthy stuff.
I almost always do this now when I eat out—it allows me to go away from the meal feeling more satisfied and like I ate larger portions even though it was really just vegetables. And yes, it usually costs an extra dollar or two, but in the long run what’s an extra couple dollars for your health?
One of the best parts about eating out is getting to try fun new foods, but if you order all the different foods for yourself, you will end up eating most of that food.
By sharing with others, you’ll still get to taste a variety of foods without adding to your portion sizes—giving you the best of both worlds.
Ask for light oil, cheese, etc.
One of the most frustrating things about eating at restaurants is that even when you order something seemingly healthy like grilled veggies, it often comes slathered in oil, cheese or other condiments.
While it’s not the most fun thing to do (who really likes asking for modifications at restaurants? I sure don’t), it’s always possible to ask for light or no oil, cheese or other toppings. Most restaurants are pretty accommodating, and the result will be a much healthier dish for you.
Be aware of the effects of alcohol
I’m not one of those fitness people who will tell you to avoid alcohol altogether—I’d be a hypocrite if I did, since I have a couple of glasses of wine several times a week.
But if you do choose to drink at dinner, just be aware that alcohol can lower your inhibitions and make you go into “f#%& it” mode when it comes to choosing what to eat.
You’re much more likely to pick the endless nacho plate than a healthy salad after a few drinks, so just make sure to go in with a plan (and avoid crazy high calorie cocktails), and you’ll be fine.
Remember, you don’t do all this hard work for nothing—part of the fun about being active and working out consistently is that you can go out to a restaurant and enjoy a good meal.
Do your best to follow the 80/20 rule, and you’ll have no problem eating out and staying fit. Really!