Weight issues

Monday, April 9th, 2012

Eating out while watching your weight


One of life’s pleasures is eating out with family and friends; whether it’s to celebrate special occasions and important achievements, or to simply enjoy time together. For a lot of us, eating away from home is actually part of the reality of our busy work and family schedules.

The good news is that with a bit of thought, you can enjoy both the pleasures of eating out and the rewards of healthy living. This Eating Out Guide will help give you some practical solutions to staying on your dieting track.

Why take care when eating out?

When you’re busy or tired, eating out may seem the easiest option, but it’s easy to pile on the calories when eating out, especially when you are not really focused on what you’re eating, and it’s hard to tell sometimes how many calories you eat when eating out, even if you are focused.

Quite often food eaten in a restaurant is considered more ‘indulgent’ and comes in large portions, which usually equates to being higher in calories! An indulgence now and then is fine, but on a frequent basis will inevitably lead to weight gain. Fast food and food you take away is unlikely to be calorie controlled either as it is often high in fat and low on the vegetable content and so packs quite a punch as far as calories are concerned.

Compared to eating at home, eating out can easily mean you eat double the calories, or more, than you normally would. One study proved this point when it looked at women who ate out at least seven times a week resulting in consuming an extra 300 calories per meal eaten out compared to meals not eaten out; enough to gain 2lbs a month!

Meal out tips

  • Fill yourself up with extra ‘free’ vegetables or salad
  • You can allow yourself an extra 250 calories for a meal out ‘splurge’, but this extra allowance should only happen twice in any one week.
  • The Healthy Plate is a good model to follow whenever you are having a meal. As you see in the illustration below, half your plate should be made up of your salad or vegetables, without extra oils, butters or fatty dressings of course! Then a quarter of your plate should be the protein part of the meal such as lean meat, grilled or steamed fish or beans /pulses. The other quarter of the plate should be your starchy part of the meal such as rice, pasta, potatoes or bread. Try and make sure this is wholegrain as it can help you to feel fuller and provides essential fibre for a healthy gut.

  • Although it’s good to turn up at a restaurant with a healthy appetite, don’t be tempted to starve yourself all day so that you are so hungry when you eat out, you forget all about your diet. If you are eating out later than your usual meal time, then have a healthy snack in the afternoon so that you are not over hungry in the evening.
  • Finally, be first to put your order in; experience shows that you can get easily swayed to eat the more calorie laden options when those around you order them!

Portion sizes

Many restaurants will not want to appear stingy and so will dish up large portions. An average fast food meal can be around 1000 calories; this is because of the portion size but also because fast foods are normally very calorie dense foods, i.e. each bite packs a lot of calories! Try and remember the sizes of the portions you have when following your diet and so don’t feel obliged to eat everything presented to you or because everyone else is eating large!

Preview the Menu

Forewarned is forearmed, so if you can, ask to see a menu before you eat or view it on line if available. That way you can take your time planning your best options. If something comes with a rich sauce you can even plan to ask if you can have it without sauce or with the sauce served on the side. As a general rule, don’t go for foods that say they are fried, roasted, breaded, sautéed or creamed. Instead, check for foods that are char-grilled or grilled, baked. Steamed, poached or boiled.

Avoid foods on the menu with the following buzz words:

‘Cream sauce’





‘Au gratin’


‘Battered’ or ‘batter dipped’

‘With gravy’


Being a bit Assertive

When you are the restaurant and making your final choice, be specific about what you want and don’t want. Many people have particular dietary needs for all kind of reasons and so restaurants and hotels are quite used to customers being specific. So if you can, ask about the ingredients used and how they are prepared, and also how large the portions are. A restaurant may be able to make a modified lower calorie option for you.

Remember that little changes in what you choose to have or not have can add up to big results. So remember to use some of these requests:

Please leave off the ….cheese, nuts, croutons, sour cream, skin from the chicken.

Can you use less…..oil, cheese, mayo, salad dressing?

Would you add more….vegetables, salad, fruit?

Managing alcohol

For many people, enjoying a pint of beer or a glass of wine is part of a pleasurable eating out experience. Just remember that over-indulging can lower your inhibitions and often encourage an appetite so that you have no sensible eating restraint! Avoid drinking on an empty stomach as you will get tipsy quicker and lose your resolution to eat sensibly before you even get the food! Alcohol can also be quite heavy on the calories and most alcoholic drinks are not a good source of nutrients. Here are some guidelines regarding alcohol:

  • Try to have no more than two alcoholic drinks a week and count them in as a splurge or offset the calories by increasing your activity level
  • Just think before you drink

Here are the calorie values of some alcoholic drinks:

Drink Calorie content (kcals)
Non-alcoholic 60-70
Larger (Continental) 1 bottle/275mls 115
Bitter, can (440ml) 140
Beer, draught, 1 pint/568mls 180
Stout, 1 pint/568mls 210
Cider, ½ pint 105
Spirits and Fortified Wines
Brandy, Vodka, Gin, Rum, Whisky 1 pub shot/35mls 70-80
Sherry, dry (50ml glass) 60
Port, 50ml glass 80
Champagne/Cava (120mls) 90
Dry White (120mls) 75
Medium white/ rose wine, 120 ml 85
Red wine, 120ml 80
Wine spritzer (125ml) 40
Baileys Irish cream (1 glass/37mls) 130
Bicardi and diet coke (1 glass/275mls) 50

Try these lower-calorie alternatives to traditional drinks:

Virgin Cosmopolitan: cranberry juice with a twist of lime

Diet tonic with lime

Virgin Mary: tomato juice with a dash of Worcester sauce

Wine Spritzer: half and half wine and soda water

Low alcohol beers

Half and half orange juice and low calorie lemonade

Managing Desserts

If you’re a dessert lover, you can have a happy ending when eating out; just plan it

Tips on cutting down the dessert calories:

  • Order one dessert with forks for all to share
  • Plan a light dessert that you can make at home and enjoy after eating out

Healthier alternatives

When eating out in a restaurant or hotel there are usually some choices which will be lower in calories. Below is a list of the higher calorie foods, and what the alternative is:

High calorie Lower calorie option
Breakfasts Fried breakfast Poached egg on toastBeans on Toast

Boiled egg

Grilled mushrooms

Plum tomatoes

Pastries and croissants Breakfast cereals, porridge, wholemeal or granary toast with thin layer spread
Fruit, low fat yogurts
Starters Pate Grilled sardines or some smoked salmon
Prawns cocktail Plain Seafood/Melon/grapefruit
Anything in garlic butter Salads, with no fatty dressing
‘cream’ of soup Clear soup or soup made without lots of cream and butter
Dinner, Main course Fried meats or fish Grilled/Poached/Steamed/stir fried meat or fish with no added fats
Highest fat beef choice: sausages, burgers Best beef choices: fillet, rump, sirloin, roast joint
Highest fat lamb or pork: minced lamb, pork sausages Best lamb and pork choice: roast leg of lamb, lean pork choice
Foods cooked with a cream sauce/pasta with creamy sauces or cheese sauces Foods cooked in a tomato base sauce/pasta with tomato sauces
Accompaniments Chips/roast potato/ Dauphinoise potatoes as a side dish Boiled/Baked potatoes without butter/plain boiled rice or pasta
Garlic bread Plain bread or rolls. If it is moist bread you may nor need extra butter or spread.  Alternatively dip the bread in your soup or sauce.
Regular salad dressing Reduced calorie salad dressing or just some lemon juice/balsamic vinegar
Sour cream Salsa
Dinner, desert Ice cream Sorbet, one scoop ice cream with wafer
Cheesecakes, brownies Fresh fruit salad
Creamy desserts such as crème brulee, trifles Fresh berries, meringue (small amount)
Cream Low fat yogurt (if available!)
Cheese and biscuits Very small piece cheese, with fruit
Liqueur coffee Plain coffee with semi skimmed milk, no cream



Fast foods and take-aways

Fast food is cheap and convenient and for many, tastes so good! But it is very often not the healthiest of options; eating just one fast food meal can provide you with all your fat, calorie and salt allowance for the day! It is probably best to do your homework on fast food take – aways and find out how many calories and fat etc they contain and what the better options might be. See table below for some help with healthier options.

Although you are eating ‘fast-food’ try and savour each mouthful and don’t eat on the run, otherwise you may not realise how many calories you are consuming!

Fast food product Healthier alternative
Pizza Thin crust pizza with lots of vegetables and not   too much cheese. Go for prawn, tuna and chicken rather than bacon, salami and   pepperoni.
Pork pies, sausage rolls, scotch eggs Baguette, roll , pannini , wraps or pitta with   lean filling , salad and no mayo
Sandwich with mayo Sandwich with no mayo
Cake, cookies or chocolate Yogurt or fruit
Burger and fries Chicken or veggie-burger; no sauces and no fires
Salad with creamy or oily dressing Salad with a light or fat free dressing or ask   for dressing on the side and just use a little
Puri bread, burrito Naan bread, chimichanga
Meal with chips Jacket potato (no added butter) with tuna, no   mayo, beans, cottage cheese, chilli,
Deep fried foods, e.g. samosas, spring rolls,   bahji Lightly stir fried meat/ fish and vegetables,   fajitas with grilled chicken filling, grilled chicken satay
Chinese: deep fried anything, fried rice,   anything in batter Stir fry dishes, boiled/steamed rice, Clear soups
Curry/Indian/Tai with added cream or coconut milk   e.g. kormas Sauces/curries with tomato base or ‘dry’ dishes,   e.g. rogan josh
Battered or coated and deep fried meat or fish Take the batter off and any crumb or deep fried   coating on fish or chicken. Just eat the meat underneath.
Full sugar sodas Diet /sugar free drinks
Hidden calories such as mayo, cheese, sour cream,   guacamole Ask for your meals undressed, or for the sauces   and extras to be served on the side so you can choose what and how much you   have
Extras crisps, chips, nachos or tortilla chips on   the side Salad on the side

Further tips on eating fast:

  • If you do want some fast food, then maybe try sharing a portion with someone else to half the calorie load!
  • Fast food is normally quite high in salt. Too much salt in your diet can lead to high blood pressure, so don’t add insult to injury by adding more salt to your take –away meal!
  • If you want to add more flavour to your take away without adding calories then add extra vinegar, mustard, pickles, onions, lettuce and tomato

Avoiding eating out pitfalls

Dilemma Solution
Including alcohol Include alcohol as a splurge. The lowest calorie   drinks are dry wine’s made as a spritzer with soda water or single shot of   spirits made into a long drink with low calorie mixers
Choosing a lower calorie starter Try shellfish or grilled fish (such as sardines)   without sauce or butter, grilled asparagus, char grilled vegetables, melon,   grapefruit , smoked salmon mixed salad with an oil free dressing
Food comes with a sauce/in gravy Ask for these to be served on the side so you can   just add a little.
Managing large portions Consider splitting the main course with your   dinner partner or choose two starters for starter and main course. Fill up   with loads of veg or salads without extra oily or creamy dressings. If you   don’t like wasting food, you can always ask for a doggy bag!
Having a pudding Go for fruit dessert such as fresh fruit salad,   fresh raspberries or strawberries. Sorbets and meringue without cream are a   lower calorie option too.
Choosing a lunchtime sandwich Go for their healthy option or ask for them to   make one up for you using ingredients that don’t push up the calorie count   too high. Don’t forget that your Jenny Craig meal can be transported in a   thermos to work. If you are too rushed to do a packed lunch before you go to   work in the morning, make it up the night before, or get it all ready to heat   up and go!
Too tired to cook If you keep going for a take – away because you   are too tired to cook, then make a list of some really easy but healthy meals   you can throw together in no time, such as beans on toast, a quick stir fry,   some tinned fish, salad and a slice of bread. Alternatively, keep a stack of   some ‘calorie controlled ready meals (most major supermarkets have these   available now) that you can sever up in not time with a salad or some frozen   veg.
All you can eat buffets If you can’t avoid these (they are usually calorie   rich foods and its tempting to feel you want your money’s worth), then just   choose the healthiest options you can from the selection. It is better to   ‘waste’ the food rather than it ending up as fat on your hips and tummy!
Jumbo portioned take – aways Most take – aways come in generous sizes. So   before you tuck in, spoon up excess take away into a container and put out of   sight. You can eat it the next day provided you heat it up properly.


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