“To have…or to have not”
For almost everyone, “eating out” at restaurants has become such an important part of everyday life. You name it – fast-food, slow-food, sit-down, take-away, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, American, French – no matter what the need or taste, there is almost certain to be a restaurant that caters for it
So when trying to lose weight, how do we navigate around restaurants safely?… How can we still manage to enjoy the many different restaurant offerings without gaining weight?
The obvious answer is to simply avoid restaurants – or at least those that we view as “unsafe” from a weight-gain point of view – Pizzeria’s and Burger deli’s spring to mind here. But even everyday restaurants can pose a potential weigh-gain risk given that most restaurant food is geared more towards taste and not necessarily health. When it comes to menu appeal, most restaurants focus on the presentation, quality and taste of their dishes, as opposed to the weight-loss aspect.
So instead of avoiding restaurants, a better solution is perhaps to devise a strategy or set of guidelines to follow so that we can enjoy the full spectrum offered by most restaurants, and yet still maintain a relatively good level of health – and also not gain weight.
“Always think of the big picture”
When eating out at restaurants, due to the social context mostly associated with eating out, we often consume lots of extra calories without thinking. We usually always order drinks, have pre-meal snacks, pick at the bread in the bread-basket, try a taste of somebody else’s food, and so on. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as food should always be enjoyed, and most social occasions, gatherings and events are usually always “lubricated” with some form of food and drink.
However, for the weight-conscious individual, eating out regularly requires a “defensive eating strategy” to ensure that weight is not steadily – but surely – gained.
The first rule when viewing the restaurant outing is…always think of the big picture.
Before you set foot into the restaurant, you should have a fairly good idea of what kind of food you will find on the menu. The key is to have a broad idea of what you intend eating and plan the “big picture” in advance, as opposed to just eating and ordering meal courses spontaneously. By broadly pre-planning your overall meal, you have taken the first step to ensuring some control over what is eaten…and more importantly, what is not.
However, although you should broadly pre-plan your meal, this should not be taken to an extreme – all meals should ultimately always be enjoyed, and you should not become obsessive in this pre-planning process.
Once you have a broad idea of what you intend eating, the next step is to look at the actual foods or meal courses that will make up the meal-plan
“When is a carb not a carb?”
There is much controversy today about which diet is best for losing weight and maintaining weight loss. Low-fat; Low-Carb; High-Protein; Low Calorie…the list of different diets is almost endless.
Many dieters do seem to lose weight when carbs are reduced, however, for many, it isn’t necessarily a diet low in carbs that helps, but instead, a diet that limits starch – particularly starch derived from refined flours and grains.
This makes sense in that processed flour and grain is relatively new to the human diet when compared to other more natural foods. Also, if we link global weight-gain with the rise of the “fast-food” culture, then we can see that almost every fast food staple has a high-starch component – burger buns; pizza bases; pasta’s; fries; noodles; processed rice to name just a few.
So if we intend eating out regularly, a smart strategy may be to look at ways of limiting the starch component of the overall meal…not necessarily the carbs.
“After planning comes balance”
So when approaching a restaurant, we now know to think of the whole meal plan, and broadly “pre-plan” the whole meal ahead. By pre-planning, one really thinks about what aspect of the meal we feel like the most…do we feel like a hearty main course or are we really in the mood for a sweet dessert…or do we feel like both?
Once we know what we feel like, the next step is to balance out the “starch ratio”.
Let’s use an Italian restaurant as an example:
A typical meal out at an Italian eatery may look something like this:
Drinks & snacks
Italian bread rolls/Bread basket
Pasta or Pizza
Cheescake or another slice of cake
Coffee & Italian Biscuits
Now in light of what we have discussed earlier, this meal is relatively high in starch, with practically every course of the meal being rich in a refined, flour-based starch.
Now, assuming that we want to literally “have our cake and eat it” and enjoy a full course meal, a smart strategy might look like this:
Drinks – no snacks
Italian salad – no bread rolls
Half portion pasta Or small pizza
Sorbet Or ice cream Or chocolate mousse
Coffee – no biscuits
The above menu plan alternative only includes starch for only one course, thus reducing the amount refined flour-based starch in the overall meal.
If in the pre-planning phase, a slice of cake was preferred for dessert then the overall menu plan could have looked as follows:
Italian or other green salad
Fish with mixed vegetables (no starch)
Slice of cheesecake or any other cake
Coffee – no biscuits
Again, the meal plan above limits starch to only one course, shifting it from the main course, to dessert.
“When not in Rome…”
The same “starch ratio” rule can apply to all other types of food when eating out – the key is to remember to just limit the starch component (especially flour-based starch) of the overall meal. Allowing starch or flour-rich products to dominate a meal can have a significant effect on weight gain.
Burgers & Fries are another classic example where there is a double-whammy of starch in the burger bun and fries. Of course, if this is followed by a flour-based dessert, the starch component just increases.
An alternative menu would be to either replace the burger bun with a salad and reduce the portion of fries – Or replace the fries with a salad and have half the burger bun.
Similarly, when eating Chinese, it’s the noodles, rice and fried batter that needs to be considered, balancing these out with soups, sweet & sour meats and vegetables (ideally steamed) would be the best bet here.
“The Last word”
Food is all around us…and great-tasting food too. Wherever we look there are exciting new restaurants tempting us with new flavors or enticing us with new versions of old classics, its no wonder that diets that force us to “avoid” our favorite foods usually cannot be sustained for the long term.
The key is to look at imaginative ways of incorporating the foods we love into our everyday lifestyles, without losing control of our weight.
To summarize the 2 key points…
When eating out at restaurants,
1) Always pre-plan, thinking of the big picture of the overall meal.
2) Think of the “starch ratio” of the meal – look at ways of limiting or balancing the starch component of the overall meal (particularly flour or grain-based starch)
For many, this approach has been the answer to eating out and maintaining or even losing weight.
Ted Frazer is a Wellness Expert with 20 years experience in weight loss and fitness counselling. Those interested in receiving Ted’s e-book “The Ultimate Diet Solution” for FREE – mail Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org – Put “Free Book” in subject box