12 Nutritionist-Approved Tips for Dining Out

Find out how health experts navigate eating at restaurants.

12 Nutritionist-Approved Tips for Dining Out

When you’re trying to slim down and stick to a healthy eating plan, a restaurant visit can seem unnerving, threatening to derail your latest weight loss efforts. You don’t need to ditch restaurant meals until you’ve hit your goal weight, just learn how to prepare for these higher-calorie foods and the best ways to enjoy indulgences as part of your diet plan. Here, nutrition experts share the tips they practice when eating out. “Going out to dinner is part of everyday life,” says Miami-based Marina Chaparro, R.D.N., Clinical Dietitian & Certified Diabetes Educator, National Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “You shouldn’t be afraid of going out to dinner for fear of gaining weight. Learn how to order at a restaurant and plan ahead. The more you know about the restaurant or cuisine, the better choices you can make,” she adds.

More: 10 Foods a Nutritionist Never Eats

Eat Before You Leave the House

By the time you get seated, place the order, and receive your dish, it might be over an hour since you left your home or work and you might feel like you’re starving if you haven’t eaten since lunch. “As a foodie who enjoys eating, it's always a challenge to stick to a healthy eating plan when you dine out,” says Chaparro. “Avoid going out when you’re starving.” If you’re dining out for lunch or dinner, make sure you have a good breakfast or lunch and you may want to include a snack in between. “That way you avoid eating with your eyes and resist the temptation to order an appetizer, entree, and dessert,” Chaparro says. A balanced snack with fat, protein, and carbs can help you feel less hungry when you’re at the restaurant—so you’ll be more likely to make better decisions, says Phoenix-based nutritionist, Wesley Delbridge, R.D.N., spokesperson for the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition. He also suggests drinking water with that snack, or, at the very least, drink water on the way to the restaurant so you’re not dehydrated and feeling hungry.

More: 75 Quick and Easy Snacks

Q: I end up overeating because it makes me feel better and I never really get full. I'd like to lose weight but this makes it hard. Any suggestions?

A: Being persistently hungry can cause big trouble. So can overeating for comfort/pleasure. These two behaviors, say researchers from Baylor University's Children's Nutrition Research Center, are controlled deep within your brain by serotonin-producing neurons, but operate separately from each other — one in the hypothalamus, the other in the midbrain. They both can, however, end up fueling poor nutritional choices and obesity.

Eating for Hunger

When hunger is your motive for eating, the question is: "Does your body know when you've had enough?" Well, if you are overweight, obese or have diabetes you may develop leptin resistance and your "I am full" hormone, leptin, can't do its job. The hormone's signal to your hypothalamus is dampened, and you keep eating.

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