February 1·6 min read

The eight steps to enjoy dining out while losing weight

With a mindful approach, weight loss doesn’t have to limit the menu.

When starting the weight loss journey, it’s all too easy to fixate on everything besides weight that you’re also losing in the process. It’s easy to assume getting healthier means giving up your favorite foods, sacrificing control over what you eat, and saying goodbye to dining out the way you’re used to. 

Achieving any meaningful change requires you to abandon your old habits and assumptions, at least a little bit. But that kind of all-or-nothing thinking (that fixates primarily on the “nothing”) will make your experience with weight loss both unenjoyable and unsustainable. 

Most importantly, those negative assumptions just aren’t true. Losing weight doesn’t require you to sit at home by yourself eating a bland dinner of boiled chicken and veggies night after night while your friends all dine at your favorite taco truck or the best restaurant in town. Keeping weight off for the long haul requires an approach that keeps your sanity intact by saving room for the things you love. That’s why one of the best strategies for weight loss isn’t to fixate on certain “good” or “bad” foods. Instead, it’s about following a broad set of nutritional guidelines that are compatible with both your goals and your taste buds while applying certain mealtime strategies that create balance and enjoyment. That’s totally doable no matter where you eat. 

So without further ado, here’s an eight step process that can help you keep your weight loss efforts on track while dining out. With this approach, you can have your cake and eat it too — literally.

1. Plan ahead. 

Assuming your plans aren’t the product of a last-second invite, work backwards from the “main event” to set yourself up for success. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to complete a strenuous workout to “earn” a tasty meal if that’s not what your training plan calls for. And definitely don’t starve your body of the food it needs to function just so you can make room for those special calories. Instead, keep your other meals a bit lighter, ensuring you consume enough protein throughout the day. What that looks like is up to you, but snacks like almonds work wonders when it comes to staving off hunger without spoiling your appetite. With a little foresight, you can deftly walk the line between feeling hangry leading up to your dining plans and feeling guilty about overindulging after it’s over. 

2. Stay Hydrated. 

Just because water is complimentary doesn’t make it any less valuable. Yet all too often, those glasses are ignored once the first round of “real” drinks arrives. That’s a shame, because water isn’t just the best way to stay hydrated: it can also help you feel fuller and consume fewer calories when consumed before a meal.

Over the course of the meal, keep drinking that water for hydration, and drink any other beverage you ordered for the taste. After you take a bite, use water as a palate cleanser that gives you space to more fully appreciate the wine, cocktail, or anything else you’re sipping on. If alcohol is in the mix, finish at least one glass of water per every adult beverage. You’ll thank yourself in the morning. 

3. Imbibe intelligently. 

While those alcoholic beverages sure can be fun, they aren’t very functional from a nutritional standpoint. You don’t need to be a teetotaler to lose weight, you just have to make some substitutions to cut back on the empty calories. For example, choose a dry wine over sweet wine. Go for cocktails with soda water or without sweet additives, like a dry martini with very little vermouth. Swap out your usual IPA for a lighter beer. And if you’re keeping the ABV at 0.0%, diet soda and seltzer are always good alternatives to sweeter soft drinks. Just think of it this way: the fewer calories you drink, the more calories you can eat. 

4. Escape the “see food diet”. 

Just because you see food in front of you doesn’t mean you have to eat all of it. Munching on appetizers, bread, chips and salsa, or anything else that shows up before the main course may satisfy your hunger when it’s at its greatest, but that can be exactly what makes it so difficult to keep your consumption in check.

Instead of accidentally filling up on your first course just because you don’t know what to do with your hands, try snacking more mindfully. Plan a set intake ahead of time, and limit your consumption. Aim for one piece of bread, or a specific number of chips — just enough to wake up your taste buds. Not only will you avoid filling yourself up with relatively emptier calories, you’ll have more room for the main course that you really came for.

5. Dip deliberately. 

A life without bold flavors is not a life worth living. What would fries be without ketchup, or wings without blue cheese? Whether it be BBQ, honey mustard, or any other sauce, dressing, or vinaigrette, the condiments that elevate appetizers and meals come at a hefty caloric cost. Instead of drenching, consider a quick dip or a dab instead. That will help you save room for more nutrient-dense elements of the meal — and reduce your likelihood of staining your new favorite shirt. 

6. Pile your plate with protein and veggies.

When it comes time to order that entree, choose one that centers on a protein (which usually comes in the form of meat) flanked by plenty of veggies. Protein plays a crucial role in keeping your body in tip-top shape, and vegetables are full of complex carbs, not to mention a key source of micronutrients and fiber. Carbs aren’t something to fear, but be aware of the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. A whole wheat pasta dish can be a decent option, but if you’re feeling torn between a “white” pasta and a more protein-rich dish, maybe opt to order the latter. 

No matter what meal you choose, it’s important to fill up on what your body needs first. If your entree features a carb-rich side like fries, eat them intermittently, or save them as a treat at the end. That way, you’ll have more room for the nutrient-rich components of your meal, and will be eating those carbs because you’re actually still hungry — not just because they’re there.

7. Join the slow food movement.  

Whether you’re entranced by the arrival of that dish you’ve been dreaming about all week or you’re engrossed in a friend’s story, it’s easy to lose sight of how quickly you’re devouring your meal. When you consider that it takes roughly 20 minutes for your brain to realize that your stomach’s full, it’s easy to see how overeager eating can push you to ingest more calories than you need.  

While the actual “slow food” movement has more to do with how food is produced than how it’s eaten, recalling that phrase can pay dividends if you want to eat well while losing weight. So eat mindfully, and take the time to savor what’s in front of you. Chew your food completely. Put your utensils down between bites. If you’ve cleaned your plate and feel like having seconds, sit and digest for ten minutes before making a decision. 

8. Don’t skip dessert, but don’t go it alone. 

If you’ve internalized any assumptions about the relationship between food and weight loss, it’s probably the notion that dessert is definitely off-limits. Not so! In fact, the dessert course is an excellent way to cap off some quality time spent sharing good food and great company. 

The important thing to remember when ordering dessert is that you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Splitting that brownie sundae or piece of pie can be just as fun, and it can also give you an excuse to sneak some bites of what others have ordered. Even if nobody wants to team up on some tiramisu, getting your dessert doggie bagged is the perfect way to exercise portion control while extending the experience of your memorable meal into another day. And if nothing on the dessert menu is jumping out at you, don’t feel obligated to order something just because everyone else is. A coffee or tea can make an excellent, lower-calorie nightcap that keeps you from feeling left out. 

Bring mindfulness to every meal. 

These eight steps aren’t a rigid doctrine of what to eat, they’re advice on how to eat. Everyone has a unique palate, and following an inflexible meal plan would quickly turn chewing into a chore. They’re not about forcing you to make automatic choices, but instilling a patient approach to eating that can help you break unconscious habits. 

So when in doubt while dining out, take a beat to think before you take a bite. If you keep this mindful eating (and drinking) manifesto in mind, you’ll soon find that it’s 100% possible to eat out — and eat well — while still making choices that support your weight loss journey.

If you want an easier way to take a holistic approach to weight loss and make the most of every meal, join forces with a Future coach. Our modern approach to personal training gives you a vast menu of enthusiastic, expert coaches to choose from, including registered dietitians and certified nutritionists. No matter which coach you’ll work with, you’ll get customized workouts and tailored nutrition advice that’s flexible enough to handle anything life throws at you, plus all the motivation and accountability you need to pursue your goals with gusto. And instead of reserving one hour a week at a specific gym, you can make progress whenever and wherever you want. Think of Future as a delivery app that lets you order exercise endorphins and real weight loss results with no tipping required. 

Let’s help get you started by splitting the check. Pay just $19 for your first month of on-demand, dedicated coaching, saving $130 you can spend on your next night out. Join today, cancel any time.

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