How to Eat "Well" in a Restaurant (without Feeling Guilty in the Morning)

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  • Eating out is fun. But as a dedicated "Foodie", you eat out one or several times a week and the fun part needs to be balanced with good sense. Find a way to eat what you like, without going overboard. It will help if you decide ahead of time what you plan to order. Better yet, use the Internet to get the restaurant menu in advance and pre-order what you want - this helps you stick to your gameplan.

  • Seek restaurants that promote healthy dining programs.  Many restaurants across the country have healthy menu options listed.  One such nationwide program is the Winner's Circle, created by North Carolina Prevention Partners.  It is a healthy dining program that showcases a purple star and fork logo which means that the menu item contains 30% less fat, less than 1,500 mg of sodium and it must contain a specific amount of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans or dairy.  If the restaurant you are in does not yet participate in the Winner's Circle program, ask about healthy eating options offered.  You might be pleasantly surprised!

  • Pick a restaurant that will prepare what you want, how you want it. Fast food establishments aren't that accommodating and unless you are extremely self-disciplined, most buffets (even breakfast) offer such a smorgasbord of delights that it is difficult to stay true to your diet.

  • Don't be afraid to request substitutions. Ask for grilled fish instead of fried fish, request mustard instead of mayonnaise and skim instead of whole milk. Ask if your vegetables can be prepared in olive oil instead of butter. Fat calories add up, pay attention.

  • While it may fly in the face of what your mother used to tell you, there is no reason why you need to eat everything on your plate. Cut your portions in half and eat slowly. (The way portion sizes are today, half a portion is probably plenty!) See if you're really hungry enough to eat the other half. If you can, take it home with you. If you can't, don't feel guilty - rather, pat yourself on the back (or your flat stomach) for eating responsibly and move on.

    • Here are two more good strategies: order appetizers, side dishes or entrees to share (i.e., order garlic-infused smashed Idaho Potatoes for the table and pass them on after you get your "share" of the dish); and, order two appetizers and ask for one of them to be served as a main course.

  • Pass on the bread basket, unless you absolutely must sample. If you do sample, skip the butter.

  • Idaho Potatoes are a wonderful "naturally portion controlled" food. They are also very high in fiber, so they are filling. Go ahead, enjoy an Idaho Potato and know that you are loading up on nutrients and minerals, without the calories. (One medium potato only has about 100 calories.)

  • Always ask for salad dressing on the side. Add 1/2 to the salad and save the rest to use if needed later. Ask for a low cal dressing (you know how many calories are in salad dressing.) If you prefer, just use olive oil and a good vinegar with a squeeze of lemon, as another way to save a few calories.

  • Watch what you drink and how much you drink. Alcohol has a lot of calories and so do mixers. Don't necessarily order what you think you should eat.

  • Dining out doesn't have to be a subtle form of punishment. Order a meal that you know you will enjoy, but enjoy it in moderation. If you eat out frequently, watch and count your calories and you be the judge of what and how much you should eat throughout the day. It's the calories and your level of physical exertion that matters in the weight control world - not carbs or protein - or whatever diet one follows. Remember one word "moderation" and it will serve you well.