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Healthy Tips for Dining Out

As part of our Healthy Living Blog Series, we’re partnering with local experts to bring health and fitness advice, tips and articles directly to you. Keep an eye on this space for everything from motivational musings on nutrition to the latest trends in fitness. Discover a happier, healthier you with DiscoverNEPA.

Don’t Sabotage Your Progress When Dining Out


Keep up the healthy eating habits and enjoy NEPA’s great restaurants all the same.

Long gone are the days of healthy eating being relegated to the confines of your own kitchen. Conscious eating has clearly made its way into the mainstream. Whether it involves food allergies, health concerns or just good old dieting, restaurants have been quick to answer the call.

Menus are changing for the better. Sure, you can still get a half pound burger and a side of onion rings, but you certainly don’t have to. Many local restaurants and even national chains have responded to a noticeable change in dining habits. We’re eating better, and they’d rather we didn’t stay home to do it.

Going out to a restaurant is a social experience. Don’t be boxed in by your eating habits. There are many ways to enjoy a pleasant meal without straying from your particular healthy eating plan. And I’m here to give you some simple tips on just how to do that.


#1: Before You Leave the House, Have a Good Look at the Menu



If the venue is your choice, see my suggestions below for local restaurants with incredible healthy menu options. If you’re not picking the place this time, be sure to take a quick peek at the menu. Get an idea of the cuisine and find options that look like good choices (more info to come on how to do that). The more of a plan you have, the better.

Just a quick look at the menu can help you develop this plan of attack. Then, when the peer pressure sets in and everyone begins chanting, cheese fries, cheese fries, cheese fries – you’ll be prepared. Wait, do your friends not do that? That’s so nice. Good for you.


#2: Decide what kind of experience you are going for


State Street Grill - Clarks Summit - Places to Eat - DiscoverNEPA


Whether you are trying to lose weight or simply trying to make healthier decisions, it’s imperative to align yourself with a plan of attack. We all have higher level thinking and lower level thinking.

Our higher-level thinking says, “Pick the healthy option. It’ll help us lose those last 20 lbs.” This thinking is very logical and keeps our long-term goals in mind.

Our lower-level thinking says, “Forget your diet,” or “Wings and fries are so much cheaper than salmon and broccoli.” This level of thinking is based almost entirely on emotion.

Decide ahead of time that your plan is to stay on track, and make only healthy choices. Such thinking is a way of training the brain to overcome its occasional penchant for indulgence. Every time you give in to lower-level, or sabotage thinking, you open the door to extreme feelings of guilt and a lowered self-esteem. This, in turn, can lead to justifying a slacker mentality.

A quick word about “cheat” meals:

Now there are reasons, even while watching what you eat, you may decide to enjoy a “refeed” or “cheat” meal. It can actually be beneficial when placed at the right time. This, however, still needs to be planned out ahead of time. Making a poor nutrition choice and then rationalizing it by saying, “I needed a cheat meal anyway” is sabotage. Your higher-level thinking ain’t got time for that.


#3: Ordering Right – That’s the Key



In a world where everyone follows a different diet, it’s hard to give universal strategies for dining out. Whether you like to eat low carb, low fat, vegetarian or just want to eat healthier, here are a few universal guidelines:

Skip the fried foods: Many people underestimate how truly terrible this stuff is for you. It’s thought of as being worse for you than cigarettes.

Bad words: breaded, creamy, dipped, alfredo

Good words: broiled, steamed, grilled, baked, and roasted

Ask for substitutions: Most restaurants will honor your requests. Don’t worry about being a pain. Ask for a baked potato instead of mashed potatoes, steamed veggies instead of sauteed, a side salad instead of fries, etc.

Do not be afraid to ask for more information: Servers are often really good at redirecting you toward healthier choices.


And if you’re currently trying to lose weight, and concerned about your total calorie intake, here are a few sure-fire tips to follow:

Order a salad first: Opt for the dressing on the side — extra credit for getting olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Don’t drink your calories: Avoid sodas, juices and alcoholic beverages.

Know your highest calorie items: pastas, fatty meats such as prime rib, and anything stuffed, fried or pan seared

The perfect plate: 1/3 Lean Protein — 1/3 Steamed Veggies — 1/3 Plain Starch

Pregame: Have a quick, healthy snack before going out such as a yogurt or trail mix. You’ll be satiated faster.

Drink wisely: Having water or tea throughout your meal will take up space and add almost zero calories.

Sneak in a Fit AF Meal: Okay, I promise this is the only shameless Fit AF plug.

Leave one or two bites on your plate: It’s a great exercise in self-discipline.


A Few Things to Remember



Have fun. The point of dining out is (usually) to spend time with people whose company you enjoy. It’s certainly not to be anxious about making the right choices. If you’re that worried about it, eat beforehand and just grab a water. I’ve had to do this in the past when prepping for physique shows. The server gives you a funny look on occasion. I’ll sometimes respond with, “I’m just here to be great company.” They just pretend to laugh and don’t bother you for the rest of the night.

Don’t forget: low calorie does not always equal healthy, neither does gluten free or any other buzzword. And you don’t have to finish everything!

You’re human. And as humans we don’t take kindly to self-sabotage. If you do “screw up” and let yourself be swooned by the gravitational pull of lower level thinking, shake it off! Beating yourself up over it literally does absolutely nothing, and often makes it worse.

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