Healthy eating at restaurants can be really hard, believe me, I know…
At home your food options are mostly limited to what’s in your fridge and pantry, making healthy choices feel easier.
But when you sit down to order at a restaurant, there’s pictures on the menu that look delicious, waiters walking by with sizzling plates of food that smell AH-MAZING, and there are just SO. MANY. OPTIONS.
I’ve found this is often one of the biggest obstacles to consistency with healthy eating.
Since consistency is key to seeing the results we want from our healthy choices, it’s important to find ways to make choices we feel proud of no matter where we’re eating.
So today I’m sharing five tips for make healthy choices at restaurants and ending food guilt from eating out.
Let’s jump in…
Make A Plan in Advance
If you know where you’re going, then the easiest way to make healthy choices is to make the decision before you get there.
When you plan what you’ll eat in advance, you are using your prefrontal cortex – the reasoning part of your brain. The plans you make using this part of your brain are always aligned with your highest level goals in life.
The decisions you make in the moment are heavily influenced by your primitive brain. This is heavily influenced by the primal needs for comfort, safety and immediate gratification. Often decision made from our primitive brain and subconscious or instinctual.
This explains why, often, we can have the best of intentions for what we’ll eat tonight, tomorrow, or this weekend. Then, in the moment, we end up making less healthy choices that provide more immediate gratification.
For more on planning meals in advance, check out my blog post: How to Build a Weekly Meal Plan (And Actually Stick To It!).
If you’re going out to dinner, look up the menu the morning before and write down a note about what you plan to order.
When you show up to the restaurant you won’t be lusting over everything on the menu, drooling over the food at the table next to you, or talking about how good it all sounds with your friends…all of which make healthy choices feel harder.
Your mind will be freed up to enjoy the moment instead of being preoccupied with an inner battle over whether or not you’ve been “good enough” this week to order fries.
*NOTE – Physically writing down your plans is really important, so don’t miss that step.
Studies show we’re 42% more likely to follow through on our goals and achieve them when we write them down.
This is why I always recommend writing down your plans instead of keeping them floating around in your mind!
Have a List of Go-To Orders
If you don’t know where you’ll be eating, the next best strategy is to have a pre-defined list of go-to orders to choose from at all different types of restaurants.
- Going to a burger joint? You always order a burger with no bun and a veggie side.
- Going to a Mexican restaurant? You always order the fajita plate.
- Going to a steak house? You always order a filet and a sweet potato.
- Going to a pizza place? You always a slice of pizza with a side salad.
- Going to an Italian restaurant? You always order a soup and salad.
- Going to a sea food place? You always order grilled shrimp and vegetables.
I think you get the point.
The value of this approach is the same as any other form of planning in advance. It takes away the “in-the-moment” decision and frees up your mind to stop worrying about what you should or shouldn’t eat.
To utilize this approach, you’ll first need to spend time thinking about what to put on this personalized menu and then writing it all down.
I prefer to keep this in the Notes app on my phone so it’s always with me.
*NOTE – Make sure you’re realistic when making your menu. Choose foods you actually enjoy eating.
If you’re not a big salad eater, don’t set yourself up for failure or dissatisfaction by planning to order a salad every time you eat at a burger joint.
Make sure your list is filled with foods you’ll want to eat, but won’t leave you with bloating and food guilt later.
One Small Order Upgrade
Not feeling ready to jump right in and make a commitment to planning your order in advance? Not problem…
Instead, you can try the “one small upgrade” approach. This has really helped some of my more commitment-averse clients start consistently making choices they’re proud of when eating out.
Here’s how it works…
When you sit down to order, instead of deciding between something healthy or unhealthy, order what you feel like in the moment, but with just one small, healthy upgrade.
This could look like…
- Ordering a thin crust pizza instead of thick crust.
- Ordering a burger and fries but not eating the bun.
- Eating the chips and queso but getting lettuce wrap tacos instead of tortillas.
- Eating the pasta but skip the free bread.
- Ordering the omelet instead of french toast, with just one pancake on the side.
- Ordering the margarita, but requesting the bartender leave out the agave.
This method works wonders because it brings you out of all-or-nothing thinking. It helps you look for all the little ways you can take care of your body without needing to feel deprived.
Many women feel they need to be “perfect” with their food in order to feel proud of themselves. If they don’t order the healthiest thing on the menu, they feel like a failure.
But sometimes you’re just not in the mood for a salad, and that’s ok!
Ordering what you want, just because you want it, doesn’t mean anything about your ability to make good food choices or take care of your body.
I order things at restaurants all the time because I just want them. By sticking to the “one small upgrade” rule, I still leave the restaurant feeling proud of myself for my good choices.
Remember that perfect is the energy of good when it comes to consistent healthy eating.
Don’t Save Up Your Calories
Please avoid the temptation to “save up” your calories for later.
People often make comments like this before a big event, holiday or just a some big dinner plans.
The thought, by planning to not eat for an extended period of time, you can overeat later with less mental and physical discomfort.
In my experience, this is a recipe for disaster.
Going hungry for an extended period of time with the intention to “save your calories for later,” will put you on the fast track to, what I like to call, “F it” eating (when you turn your brain off and eat all the things without any thought about why, how much or what you’re eating).
The mistake I see so many women make is thinking that they need to be all-in or all-out when it comes to the food for special occasions.
You don’t need try to save room in your stomach to eat everything. Instead, eat a normal amount that day so you can walk into the situation feeling confident and in control.
The goal should be to intentionally choose the treats to enjoy, not over do it on any foods that send your blood sugar or cravings spiraling out of control, and then get right back on track at the next meal.
Saving up for later makes both the physical and mental aspects of this much harder than they need to be.
Clean Up Your Thoughts
If you feel like a failure after going out to eat it’s only because of what you believe your food choices mean about you.
While you may not be able to completely turn-off all the negative self-talk that comes into your mind after eating something unhealthy, you always get to choose whether or not you will believe it.
If you’re believing things like…
“I always screw it up at restaurants.”
“I’m never going to lose weight eating like this!”
“Why can’t I just stop giving in to my cravings?”
…you may be unconsciously perpetuating the beliefs that you aren’t good enough to reach your goals, you don’t deserve to take care of yourself, and you’re not perfect so there’s no point in trying.
News Flash: NONE OF THIS IS TRUE.
You absolutely can reach your goals while still eating fun foods you love.
You really don’t need to eat perfect to be healthy and feel proud and confident.
Your health is always an outcome of what you do MOST of the time, not just SOME of the time.
Remind yourself of thoughts like these whenever you start hearing your own negative self talk creep in. That way, you won’t slip back down into the all-or-nothing thinking that leave you feeling stuck or unworthy.
The Bottom Line
Planning what to order and writing it down is the most effective way to ensure you make healthy choices when eating out.
Even if you’re can’t be certain about where you’re going to eat, you can maintain your own personalized “menu” of food options for any given scenario, making ordering a breeze.
If you’d prefer to choose your order in the moment, don’t slip into seeing the menu in terms of “unhealthy” versus “unhealthy” options. Instead order what you actually want and make just one small, healthy upgrade…then be proud!
Avoid the temptation to save up all your calories so you can eat a bigger meal when you go out. This usually leads to overdoing it and feeling much worse later.
Just eat like you normally would beforehand. If there is some special tree available that feels worth it to you, have it in moderation and enjoy it. Then, get right back on track at the next meal.
Above all else, know that you have the power to decide what you want to believe about the choices you make when eating out.
Choose beliefs that feel good and make you want to take care of your body out of love and compassion for yourself.
Remember, perfect is the enemy of good!
July 8, 2021