I love eating at restaurants. (It’s a huge part of what got me into my fat-obese-mess that I was in). Being 100 lbs lighter doesn’t make me love eating out any less, though. It just means I have a system for when I eat out.
First, you need your secret weapon. I have compiled these two lists, which you should print out and keep with you at all times.
- A complete list of macro-friendly choices at fast food restaurants
- A complete list of macro-friendly choices at various chain restaurants.
So with the above list in your hands (so you know what you can safely order), here are my top tips for eating out.
1. Know what you’re going to order before you walk in the restaurant.
If you sit down and pull out the menu and start trying to decide then and there, one of two things will happen. You’ll either really annoy the people you’re with and the waiter while you take forever to figure out what’s friendly and will fit in your numbers—or you’re going to end up ordering something that doesn’t fit. Figure out where you’re going in advance, and spend 10 or 15 minutes online researching the menu and the macros. (Hence the cheat sheets above).
2. Plan your eating-out meals FIRST, and then build the rest of your day around that meal.
This will make it easier to fit in something good/delicious at the restaurant but might mean a smaller lunch or breakfast in exchange (a trade-off you will gladly make, but if you’ve already eaten lunch/breakfast, you don’t get that chance).
3. If you can’t find the nutrition information for a particular restaurant, don’t eat there.
Not only is it likely to end in failure (estimating macros for a restaurant is impossible. You have no idea what’s in their stuff), but any restaurant that won’t tell you what’s in the food they’re serving doesn’t deserve your business.
4. If for some reason you end up breaking rules #1, #2, and #3, order safe.
Don’t be afraid to order something that’s been heavily modified, or not on the menu at all. Order the side of veggies with no butter. Order a plain side-salad with no dressing. Order the plain chicken breast with no sauce. Do whatever it takes to bail yourself out of the mess you made.
5. Beware: The soups and salads are not healthy, stay away!
With very few exceptions, restaurant soups and salads are absolutely loaded with carbs, fat, and calories. Unless you have very specific information on the macros of the soup or salad, assume it’s completely off limits. If you do have the macro information for a salad, make sure you know whether or not that includes, or excludes the dressing. (The dressing can easily double the calories.) Better options are a chicken-breast, salmon, or a PLAIN steak without butter.
6. Don’t be afraid to “bring your own”
I often carry my own salad dressing and/or “light mayo” packets to restaurants. I can order a sandwich with no mayo, a salad with no dressing, etc. etc., and I can often massively reduce the number of calories in a dish by doing so. It might seem a little weird, but it’s not as uncommon as you think.
7. Don’t trust MyFitnessPal to give you accurate information about restaurant food nutrition:
I’ve found that it’s wrong about 75% of the time when it comes to restaurants (whoever enters this stuff usually doesn’t do their research). Get the macro information directly from the website or the menu of the restaurant itself. I think restaurants under-report their nutrition information in order to get you in the door.
If you follow these rules, you’ll find that eating out is actually not a problem. (I eat at McDonald’s, Chili’s, and other restaurants way more often than I care to admit). But it does take advanced planning. Even when I’m going into a restaurant with foods I know well, I still have to plan my days’ meals in advance, or I end up blowing up my numbers.
One more comment. Avoid eating out, in general, if you can. I’ve found that when I skip the restaurants and eat at home, even if the numbers look good, I get better weight-loss results, and so will you.