How To “Eat Out” When In Doubt

You don’t have to hit pause on social interactions due to some measly “diet” you have to stick to.


It’s Friday night and your group of friends have organized a fun get together at one of your favorite restaurants. Initial excitement is overshadowed by the hesitation that’s quickly creeping in. Thoughts start to cross (then flood) your mind: Will tonight mess up your hard work with your personal training that week? Is it going to set you back? How far will it set you back? Are you ever going to indulge again?

Whether it’s a bite to eat with family, catching up with friends, or attending a special event, it’s practically inevitable that you’ll be eating out at some point during your meal prep and training program. Who doesn’t fancy having a deliciously cooked meal made for you, minus all the groceries, prep work, and clean-up afterwards? If you feel that way, there’s no condemnation in it. At the end of the day, we’re human and we have cravings – for both food and convenience!

It’s okay to enjoy yourself!

As you should!

If you’re trying to eat “healthy” or create healthier habits in general, there will still be moments when you want to eat, eat, eat to your heart’s content. Not only is that perfectly fine, but it’s normal. Yes, you heard that right – it’s natural and normal to want to indulge. Food ultimately has two equal purposes: nourishment and enjoyment.

However, what happens when those two objectives are out of balance – when it comes to feeling like you can’t or shouldn’t indulge because you’re worried that all of your efforts and progress will be thrown out the window – what do you do? Generally, the anxious thoughts and reservations are masked with some form of “whatever, I’ll do better tomorrow” or “this one time won’t hurt”, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a better way.

Oftentimes, it’s instantly assumed that sticking to a meal plan or sustaining healthy habits at a restaurant is virtually impossible, so it’s either: go and mess it all up or don’t go at all and have major FOMO. Ring any bells? Well, whenever you decide that you want to eat out (or it’s in your future for any reason), it doesn’t need to be a *go big or go home* ordeal. A fact that has taken myself, along with innumerable others, a long time to realize – so you’re certainly not alone and this is written from experience in hopes of shortening and hastening your journey to realization and true balance.

So start by scratching that mentality because wouldn’t you rather make the most of these precious moments with friends and family? You can, and at the same time, let those fears and worries go. All it takes is a little creative thinking ahead and an adaptive approach.

Before you eat out

It’s time to get ready – in more ways than one. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably already familiar with meal prepping or programs or some semi-structured way of eating. So now is when you apply a fraction of that planning and preparedness so you can enjoy yourself to the maximum!

How much have you eaten?

Eat as you ordinarily would that day, and be sure to eat a couple hours before you go to prevent an *eyes bigger than your stomach* scenario. That and you probably want to pass on having a post-Thanksgiving-full moment at the restaurant, as well.

With this in mind, steer clear of buffets!

Be decisive

No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it; you’re entering your decision-making era! Even if you’re self-proclaimed as the worst decision-maker ever, with the right questions comes a more confident outlook. Reflect and ask yourself:

  • Do I want to treat myself or not?
  • How have my recent eating habits been?
  • How have I been feeling about myself and my body image lately?
  • If I were to indulge, how would I feel – content or regretful? It’s just as okay to treat yourself as it is to weigh the pros and cons of not treating yourself. If you think you may feel guilty afterwards – even in the slightest – maybe hold off until a time where you feel more confident.

Plan ahead

Plans will always contribute to how surefooted and assured you are in these situations. To keep any rash decisions or overwhelming, intrusive thoughts from rearing their ugly heads, scour or at least skim the restaurant’s menu prior to arriving. In doing so, you’ll know what to expect and be less likely to feel flustered or rushed. It’s not a bad idea to pick out a few potential backup meals just in case the restaurant happens to be out of an ingredient (been there, done that) or the menu has since changed.

Not to mention that many restaurants, particularly big chains, have all of their dishes’ nutrition facts listed online now. So, depending on how precise you want to be when you eat out (especially if you track macronutrients), this too could serve as a way to ease your concerns.

Appetizers + Drinks: What to do?

Because you can’t really dodge these at restaurants, right?


Drinks are like dressings, sauces, and spreads: sneaky. But even more so, honestly because at least the latter may offer some nutritional benefits whereas drinks are usually empty, sugar-laden calories. Other options aside from water are sparkling water, unsweetened tea, or a healthier substitute to what you typically enjoy. It’s incredible what brands come up with these days.


Those yummy chips, finger foods, or buttery breads and rolls that come around before the main course are super tempting. And that’s not to say don’t eat them if you want to – rather to remember that even if everyone else is eating them, that doesn’t mean you have to, especially if you don’t want to. There’s never any shame in saying no and passing on the apps to save room for your entrée if that’s what you’d prefer!

A reminder that appetizers are exactly as they sound: appetizing, and delectably so at that. Moreover, they’re typically quite filling and unhealthy. For more healthful alternatives, you could consider:

  • A nutrient-dense salad or vegetable dish for fiber, vitamins, and minerals
  • Split an appetizer with the able or ask if smaller portions are available
  • Ask for other possible cooking methods, such as grilling in place of frying

Investigating the menu

Now for the main event: the menu! Perhaps the most daunting and worrisome part of your dining experience when following a consistent meal regimen, but that perspective can be changed (thankfully).

Modify + Adapt

Never be afraid to ask for what you want; from ordering food to the bigger picture moments in life. Restaurants (hopefully) strive to be known for their tip-top service, so more often than not, the waitstaff are happy to oblige with any requests.

Take a deep breath and imagine you’re at a good friend’s house. They’re preparing dinner for the two of you and you’re just telling your friend about the tweaks you’d like made to your meal. Or an alternate route could be to preface your modifications with a short, considerate apology and a friendly smile to express your empathy. It’ll show that you’re aware of having an order that’s more elaborate that it is straightforward and how picky you might come across because of it; we’re all picky in our own way, after all. Communicating that will not only convey your gratitude for the restaurant’s willingness to accommodate your requests, but will no doubt be well-received and appreciated by your waiter or waitress.

Politely picky

While asking if an item can be grilled is acceptable, grilling your server is not. There’s no need to go into detective mode, but you should feel comfortable asking your server questions that will make you feel more relaxed and reassured in your order. Here are some ideas:

  • Are there any healthier options that they’d recommend?
  • How is the dish prepared? Is it battered, pan-fried, baked?
  • What exactly is in the dish?
  • Are they able to ask the chef if they can modify how the dish is cooked, such as with less butter or in olive oil instead?

You deserve to know what goes into your body; you have every right to ask questions and be informed. This is exceptionally crucial for those with food intolerances or allergies, so you could treat your health-conscious lifestyle in a similar manner!

Practice a keen eye

There are some universal terms that you can come to look for and shy away from. Keep your eye out for words like steamed, baked, broiled, grilled, poached, roasted, braised, or seared. Meanwhile, hold off on regularly going for dishes described as fried, buttery, breaded, stuffed, smothered, or loaded – or ask if it can be prepped a different way.

The Menu: What to eat?

Besides something you actually want to eat, what are you supposed to get at a restaurant when you’re eating healthier? If you have no clue, continue on for some guidelines and tips.

Balance is k e y

When deciding on what to order, a reliable rule of thumb is to aim for a balance of:

  • Lean protein: white fish, chicken, turkey, tofu, seitan, lean beef and cuts of steak (sirloin tip side, top round, eye of round, bottom round, top sirloin, NY strip when excess fat is trimmed, filet mignon)
  • Complex carbohydrates: quinoa, sweet potatoes, rice (brown, wild, red, black), amaranth, buckwheat, whole wheat pasta
  • Healthy (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fats: avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil and other low-inflammatory oils, some fattier protein sources such as salmon and tuna

And always try to add vegetables into your meal somehow; which isn’t difficult seeing as it’s customary for meals to come with a side of fries that can normally be swapped with seasonal veggies or a small salad. Or if two sides are an option, make one of the two some sort of vegetable.

To soup, or not to soup? How saucy is too saucy?

As far as soups and sauces go, opt for tomato, vegetable, or broth-based soups in lieu of creamy, cheesy, heavier bases. Dressings and toppings can be ordered on the side so you can control the amount going on your dish (and avoid soggy, overdressed salads) – a resourceful way to keep track. With that, a clever trick is to dip your fork into the dressing rather than pouring it directly onto your food. You’re guaranteed to have flavorful dressing with every single bite while also using significantly less of it!

An additional possibility is to try out healthier sauces and dressings: salsa, mustard, sriracha, pasta sauce, vinegar and vinaigrettes, and Greek yogurt based sauces such as ranch or avocado mayo.

Do you “desert” the dessert?

Seriously, if the way to eating healthier way through ditching dessert, 0.001% of the population would willingly and joyfully eat healthier.

For desserts, as mentioned with the other courses, get an idea of what’s offered beforehand, familiarize yourself with the ingredients and preparation, and ask to make an adjustment or replacement (topped with fresh fruit in favor of ice cream, for example) if needed.

Another idea could be to split dessert with friends or bring one home to enjoy later on!

Know your plate size

Over the last 20 years, food portions have doubled and sometimes even tripled at restaurants, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

If the establishment you’re dining at has super-sized plates, be mindful of the portions and think about splitting and sharing with the table or having the remainder of your dish wrapped up to bring home for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner.

For further information on how to eyeball portion sizes and a helpful list of healthier meals at over 50 popular restaurants and chains, the Simply Understand Nutrition eBook will surely become a handy new tool in your health journey.

So, now what?

Go forth and eat! But in all seriousness, after savoring the final bites of your meal and saying see you later to your friends, the rest is simple. Head home feeling guilt-free with zero regrets for eating out and genuinely enjoying it. You carefully assessed how you would tackle eating at a restaurant and successfully and consciously made better choices without sacrificing the tasty food or fun with friends. Talk about a win-win!

You can feel content in knowing that you didn’t and don’t have to cancel meet-ups or hit pause on social interactions due to some measly “diet” you have to stick to. One meal outside of your meal prep routine won’t drastically spin you off course or set you leaps and bounds back from your goals.

It’s these special moments with loved ones that make life so remarkable. In 5, 10, or 30 years, you’ll be able to look back fondly knowing you made the most of each moment instead of regretting the loaded vegan nachos or that dreamy deep dish pizza you had at your favorite little hole in the wall. Because that’s what a truly healthy, balanced lifestyle does – allows you to live your life to the fullest, in more ways than one.

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