Maintaining Your Waistline: Tips to Eating a Balanced Meal When Dining Out

As a nutritionist, women often ask me how they can enjoy the fun and relaxation of fine dining, without adding to their waistlines. Can you go to a restaurant, enjoy a great evening out and still follow a healthy eating plan? Well, eating well-balanced meals outside of your home is no picnic, though if you follow a few basic principles of health and nutrition, it can be done. Here are a few tips to help you make smart choices when eating out.

Enjoy the conversation. It's all about the ambiance, the music and the people around you. Try to create a relaxed environment during your meals. Avoid provocative discussions at the table; aim for pleasant and fun conversation instead.

Always start your day with breakfast. Skipping breakfast is like running a car on empty. When you skip breakfast, you're not only missing out on essential nutrients, you're more prone to consume extra calories at dinner, because you'll make poor food choices when you're hungry.

Eat your meals at regular times. It is a good practice to try to consume three meals and two small snacks on most days.  Remember to eat your meals on time and never skip a meal or snack.  Also, consider eating one small snack before going out to eat outside of your home.  You will experience a difference in mood and will have better control over your food choices once you get there.

Avoid using food to pacify emotions. Do not use restaurant outings to alleviate pain and suffering.  Food is meant to provide the nourishment that our bodies need and to help aid in daily functioning.  Food was never meant to be reward or punishment.  When using food as a reward, you're developing the habit of overeating in difficult times.  Provide comfort at difficult moments with love and attention, not food.

Eat small portions. Request appropriate portions for your body, age and activity. Decide how much you are going to eat from your plate, even when you think that they are serving you more than what you know your body needs. Leave time between bites so that your brain knows when you are satisfied.  Trust your own instincts and please do no not force yourself to finish everything in the plate – ever!  Learn to share - not only dessert but main entrees and even appetizers.  Send any leftovers back so they can immediately be put in a take-home container.

Choose a variety of foods. The simplest way to make sure you are eating a well-balanced meal is to fill your plate with plenty of colors, which ensures that you are getting a variety of nutrients.  Choose meals with an abundance of fruits and vegetables.  Include skim or low fat milk and dairy products, beans and lean meats, whole or enriched grain breads and cereals in your daily diet. Then, from time to time, allow yourself a small treat.

Avoid or limit alcohol consumption. Alcoholic beverages only provide hundreds of empty calories. Plus, after two or three glasses, you may be less diligent about what you are eating.

Attack hunger, not the bread basket. It takes time for your brain to get the signal that you are satisfied. When hunger strikes, wait fifteen minutes and drink some water. Chances are that you are dehydrated and not hungry.  Eat slowly and take time to savor the foods you are eating.  That bread or chip basket can provide hundreds of calories that don't really count toward nutrition.

Burn off the extra calories. Aim to work off at least 300 extra calories on the days that you know you’ll be going to go out to eat.  You will feel better knowing than you’ve already accounted for the extra calories you’re about to consume.

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