Your Guide To Eating Out And Staying On Track
“Do you want to go try that snazzy new restaurant that opened up?”
“Hey! Mike and Sally invited us over to their place for dinner this Friday, you free?”
“I’ll be in town next week! Do you wanna catchup?”
How often do you find yourself in one of these situations?!
As much as I try to deny it, humans are social creatures.
We need community, and we crave belonging.
And a big part of life happens over food.
Let’s be honest, we all want an approach that also caters to our lifestyle.
And there's nothing wrong with that, in fact, it's smart.
Put it this way, if you aren’t going to stop eating out for the rest of your life, it’s important that you learn how to navigate doing so in a way that allows you to maintain your lean physique and still progress with your goals.
Know Your Goals
I want to kick things off by saying that the extent to which you can eat out and make progress is going to be completely goal dependent.
We have to accept that when we choose to eat out, we will inevitably have less control over our nutrition.
If you are at the tail end of a fat loss phase, or maybe in an aggressive mini-cut 2 weeks out from your beach vacation, every meal matters and you need to be more accurate with your tracking.
Or if you generally struggle with eating out, limiting yourself to 1-2 meals a week to practice the skills until you get a good handle is a smart move.
That said, it is completely possible to make progress while eating out, these two things are not mutually exclusive.
You just need to know what to look out for.
And after you learn and implement the strategies and methods that my clients and I use, you will knw exactly what to look for.
Let’s dive in.
BEFORE THE MEAL
Tip 1: Plan Ahead Of Time
I know how annoying cliché sayings are, but here is one that is critical when it comes to achieving your dream physique: “Fail to plan, plan to fail”.
Another one, “No one ever got results by accident”.
I hope I am getting the message across - Planning ahead is key.
The more aware and intentional you are, the better.
An easy way to apply this would be to plan for the day ahead, or better yet, plan for the week ahead.
And don't wait for tomorrow to come along to plan for it.
Plan for tomorrow, today.
What do you plan to eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner each day?
How will you hit your protein target? How much protein will you need to have at each meal to make that happen?
How many meals will you be eating out this week?
What will those meals look like? Will you be drinking?
How can you work your macros around those meals to still hit your calorie/macro goals?
Take for example you are heading to office on Wednesday for a team lunch. That’s one meal out. You could still cook your own breakfast and dinner. Maybe you know that you always rush out of the house in the morning, and don’t have time to prepare a healthy breakfast. Prepare your breakfast the night before, so you can just heat it up and go- that would take you 5 minutes tops. If you know what’s for dinner, log that in as well. You might know the restaurant you’re heading to for lunch. Look up that menu ahead of time and decide on 1-2 choices that would allow you to hit your total daily macros.
Tip 2: Eat More Lean Protein, Fibrous Veggies, And Low Fat Throughout The Day/Over The Rest Of Your Meals
If you know that you will be eating out and might find it hard to reach your protein goal for the day, pre-eat your protein.
By front-loading your protein intake, you will be filling yourself up, making you less hungry when you go out for that meal, and less likely to overeat.
There are many ways you could do this, either increasing the protein portions of your prior meals, or having a protein shake before heading out.
You also want to load up on low-calorie fibrous vegetables throughout the day. This is going to help keep you satiated and full.
Lastly, keep your prior meals as low-fat as possible.
I can assure you that meals prepared in restaurants have much higher carbohydrates and fat than the exact same meal prepared at home!
Fat, in particular, can be hidden and hard to spot (we don’t know for sure how much butter the chef put in your steak).
Tip 3: Check The Menu Ahead Of Time If you happen to know which restaurant you will be heading to, check the menu ahead of time!
There are many restaurants nowadays that also have the nutritional information of their menu items available online.
If you aren't able to find this, look for similar restaurants and reference the nutritional information you can find.
The point is to get as close as you can!
If you have any say at all in the place you are eating at, choose a restaurant where you can easily find this nutritional information, or at least which has easy-to-track foods (more on this below).
Next, decide what you will be having before reaching the restaurant. That way you are less likely to get tempted by what your friend orders. And you can make a more intentional decision. A good practice is to pre-log your meal before even reaching the restaurant.
AT THE RESTAURANT
Tip 4: Stick To Simple Customizable Meals
When it comes to picking what to eat, keep it simple.
Choose single ingredients meals that are easy to identify and track.
A 200g Sirloin steak with a side of baked potato and garden salad is far easier to deconstruct than the deep-dish Lasagna and crème brulee!
Examples of "easy-to-track" meals
Examples of "tough-to-track" meals
- Foods where they list the amount of protein on a plate (200g sirloin steak, 150g chicken thigh)
- Salads (protein + fibrous veggies + sauce on the side)
- Wraps, burgers, sandwiches (bread + protein + fibrous veggies + sauce on the side)
- Standard steakhouse meals (protein + veggies + starchy carbs)
- Opt for tomato-based pastas if you want to have pastas
- Japanese food (stick to the raw stuff)
- Breaded and deep fried foods (fish and chips, french fries, onion rings)
- Foods smothered in high-calorie sauce like olive oil, mayo, cheese, cream, sour cream like pastas, pizzas, salads, desserts, some soups (for example: aglio olio, cheese fries, clam chowder soup, triple cheese pizzas, baked potato with sour cream and bacon bits)
- Desserts like cake, pancakes, milkshakes (for example: tiramisu, souffle pancakes)
- Steamboats and hotpots
Picking meals and restaurants that allow for customization and substitutions when ordering also helps.
That way you can easily opt for the healthier option like switching the French fries to a baked potato, chicken thigh to chicken breast, sauces on the side, and less butter in your steak.
Tip 5: Ask Your Waiter Questions
Don’t be afraid to ask the service staff questions.
Questions worth asking include how many grams of meat is being prepared. Restaurants typically know this (inventory management), so it's a totally valid question.
Another one I like is to ask if they will be using any calorie-dense sauces and oils in the dish. And if it's possible, ask them to cook it without that. You would be surprised how accommodating some restaurants are!
Tip 6: Eat Your Protein And Veggies First
Even when eating out, you can be mindful and strategic with what you put into your mouth first.
This looks like not mindlessly grazing on the bread basket, chips and guac.
When your food comes, eat the protein and veggies first.
And then move on to the rest of the food on your plate if you are still hungry.
Tip 7: Focus On The Company And Conversations
Savor the experience.
Put your fork down between bites.
Chew your food.
Engage in conversation.
Make memories with your friends and family.
Tip 8: Stop At 70-80% Fullness
Don’t eat yourself silly.
Stay aware of your hunger and satiation cues throughout the meal.
It takes time for your body to register that you are full.
By the time you “feel” full, you would have eaten easily to 100-120% fullness.
Make a decision to stop at 70-80% fullness instead. You can always portion out what you plan to eat, and get them to pack the rest to go!
Tip 9: Track Anyway Even if you feel like your tracking is going to be inaccurate, track anyway. Say your actual total intake for that meal was 523 calories.
Even if you only manage to track 410 calories, that beats logging 0 calories! With training and nutrition, this principle applies across the board:
“Something is better than nothing.”
Remember we are after progress not perfection, so track to the best of your abilities!
Over time, you will get better at it.
Additional tip: Err the side of overestimating your tracking whenever eating out. Especially if your goals are fat loss, leave yourself a buffer. I like to track 1.1-1.2x the amount of carb and fat in the meals I am eating out.
Another way to do this is to add one more tsp of butter or oil to your tracking to account for the extra fat and oils.
Tip 10: When In Doubt, Stick To Your Own Portions
It’s so common to share an appetizer and dessert, or three (guilty) when eating out with friends.
All of the above tips applies in this case (like stopping at 70-80% fullness, tracking anyway, eating protein and veg first).
What I would do in this case is to take the portion of food that I plan to eat from the shared plate, and put it on a separate plate. This way I can keep track of how much I took. If I were to go spoon by spoon, I would lose track after a couple of bites!
If it’s just too hard to do the mental gymnastics, you might be better off just skipping it altogether.
Whatever you decide here, make it a conscious and intentional, and not impulsive decision!
AFTER THE MEAL
If you happen to go “off track”, remember that one day of poor adherence is not the end of the world.
As long as you get back on track right away.
It is the consistency in executing your daily habits over the long term that determines success.
So if you “f*cked up” and burst one tire, make sure you’re not slashing the other three.
Simply change that one tire and get on with it.
If you find yourself in unexpected scenarios where you have to eat out.
Remember that making these decisions on the fly is a skill that takes time and practice.
Instead of being flustered, realize that every wrench in your plans is an opportunity to improvise and make a “good enough” choice.