How to navigate eating out

Eating out is something that is a part of everyone’s lifestyle. It’s unrealistic to stop eating out completely, but depending on your goals we have to be mindful of the impacts of eating out. 

Before we dive into the article we just wanted to note that food has many purposes, enjoyment being one and we also have to consider the social aspect that comes with food. So it’s important we can still go out and enjoy whatever food we want to. With that being said today’s article is written from a perspective of fat loss being the focus, so with that in mind we have approached the information today with a view of moderating calorie intake. One higher calorie meal won’t make you drastically gain loads of weight, the same way a salad doesn’t magically make you lose loads of body fat. One sunny day doesn’t make it summer.

It’s our calorie balance over time which is important to be mindful of. When the calories we consume exceeds the calories we burn, over time we will gain weight. 

Eating out

Anyhow, back to eating out. Eating out , especially when combined with a night out is sometimes one of the obstacles our members face when trying to lose fat. Even if you are in a deficit of calories Monday through to Friday, one to two high calorie meals (combined with drinks) could easily bring you back up to maintenance or above.

Unsurprisingly there is research showing those that eat out of the home more frequently are at an increased risk of weight gain and obesity [1]. There are numerous factors that have the potential to play into this

One of which being restaurant portion sizes have increased over time [2], which is only going to encourage more food consumption. To add to this the nutritional information provided is often highly inaccurate. One study found that on average restaurant meals contained 18% more calories than stated [3].

Obviously whilst dining out we tend to have more courses, totalling more overall food and more calorific drinks. 

A few things to consider when eating out

Many foods when cooked in restaurants are often cooked in oils (increasing overall calorie content). It may also be useful to be mindful of sauces, dips and dressings. Oil based dressings will be higher in fat than vinegar based ones. Yoghurt and cream sauces typically are going to be higher in calories than salsa or tomato based sauces too.

The types of meat used will impact the overall calorie content. Leaner cuts of meat contain less calories than fattier cuts, for example chicken thighs contain more calories than chicken breast. So depending on what is on the menu or what is cooked within dishes will impact overall calorie content. 

Depending on the method of cooking, this will further impact the overall calorie content. So if you are looking to control calorie intake, opt for grilling over frying.

Strategies for eating out

There are also a few strategies we can adopt in order to help manage eating out, whilst still staying on track with your goals.

  1. Enjoy the meal out, enjoy yourself and eat mindfully, and have a good time out with friends/family. Yes, this is an actual option, we just have to be mindful that this may mean we maintain our weight/fat loss this week (if the night out brings you out of any calorie deficit you may have been in).
  2. Calorie cycling – Calorie cycling is a popular strategy when it comes to eating out or attending events and can be used for a few different purposes. If you are on a set calorie intake in order to lose body fat you may want to opt to consume slightly less on rest days, and slightly more on training days. More food on a training day is more potential energy to help fuel and aid recovery from workouts. This same approach can be implemented into your week, allowing you a few slightly lower calorie days, and one or two higher days. The higher calorie days can be when you go out for a meal, or a few drinks with friends. This flexible approach is one that we talk to our members frequently, as we encourage them to look at their calories as a weekly target, not a 24-hour target. Calories don’t reset overnight, so one unplanned day doesn’t mean we need to write the week off. One thing to be mindful of with this approach is not getting caught in the cycle of overeating followed by undereating, or undereating so we can overeat. This approach ideally allows some flexibility whilst still encouraging a healthy, balanced, nutritious diet.
  3. Tagging onto the last point, we may opt for a similar approach with our macronutrients on the day we are going out. In this approach it is common to reduce your carbohydrate intake, potentially some dietary fat intake too, earlier in the day. Making the meals throughout the day leaner protein and vegetables based, with lower amounts of carbs and fats. This way we use an approach similar to calorie cycling, only now we are just backloading our calories later in the day.
  4. If your aim is to make sensible and moderated choices when eating out, ensure you aren’t going out whilst hungry and not having not eaten for several hours. Going several hours without food and then having a menu with delicious food put in front of you likely isn’t going to pan out as you planned. So regular meals/snacks, or even a protein shake, or protein based a short while before your meal out may be useful here. It can almost work as a ‘preventative’. The idea here is that keeping you more satiated and keeping stable energy levels has a higher potential for you to moderate your meal.
  5. Eating slowly is one task we know most people find challenging. Eating slowly can not only help with digestion but can also help reduce the overall calories consumed in a meal. Eating slowly means we eat more mindfully, which often results in being more connected with hunger and fullness signals, often resulting in people consuming less overall food.
  6. The last and a really simple strategy to use is to ask for sauces to be separated from the meal and placed in a side pot, this way you can choose how much sauce you want to consume.

We don’t use any arbitrary numbers to allow our members to eat out a set number of times a week or month. Instead, we educate our members on the potential impacts of eating out and develop strategies with our members in order to help them navigate eating out whilst still being able to achieve their goals.

pasta with sauce on plate

[1] GH-06-780.pdf (nih.gov)

[2] Benson, C. (2009) ‘Increasing portion size in Britain.’, Society, biology and human affairs., 74 (2). pp. 4-20.

[3] The Accuracy of Stated Energy Contents of Reduced-Energy, Commercially Prepared Foods
PMID: 20102837

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