Sticking to a pound-shedding, get-all-ripped-up plan can be challenging enough, without the temptations of 12-ounce porterhouse steaks, fettuccini alfredos, and bottomless bread baskets. Still, you can’t (and shouldn’t) stop being social just because you want to drop a few. Here’s how to order smartly—without making a big deal about it.
If the menu is available online, choose what you’ll eat before you even set foot in the restaurant. Call in advance to ask about ingredients if you need to. That will save you the "embarassment" of asking whether the veggies are cooked in oil or butter in front of your girlfriend (though, she may actually be impressed that you care!) "When it’s your time to order, you won’t need to ask questions or stumble over the menu," says Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, author of The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition.
Eat a small healthy snack at home, so you won’t be famished and therefore more likely to be tempted to nibble on appetizers or to change your order to something less virtuous. “A protein-plus-carb snack beforehand, such as a handful of nuts or a small protein bar, will keep you from diving into the 500-calorie basket of chips,” says Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and a fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
It may not be the most chivalrous, but it’s diet-smart to be the first one at the table to order. “If you wait to hear what everyone else is eating, you might be swayed to ‘follow along’ and order something you hadn’t intended,” Bowerman says.
Weight-concious words to live by when it comes to soups and salad dressing, according to Kathryn Bloxsom, RD and blogger at HaveFruitWillTravel.com: If it is opaque, take a pass. “Opaque dressings tend to be mayonnaise-based and creamy, opaque soups are usually loaded with heavy cream,” she says. “These pack serious calories and fat in tiny packages.” Opt for vinaigrette or your own portioned-out oil and vinegar on salads and clear, broth based soups.
You know to hold the mayo, but you should probably also say no to any special sauces, which are often mayonnaise-based. “Use any type of mustard or vinegar instead, or try seafood cocktail sauce, ketchup, BBQ sauce and other lower calorie sauces,” says Hope Warshaw, RD, author of Eat Out, Eat Well. Request sauces and dressings, and even cheese, on the side so you can control the amount you put on.
Good news for carnivores: Chicken breast or fish don’t have to be your default, unless you want them to be. “Lean cuts of beef can be found on menus by looking for the keywords ‘choice’ or ‘select,’” Bloxsom says. “‘Round’ is also usually a leaner cut as well. No matter the protein, you also should consider its preparation: grilled, steamed, or poached beat sauted, smothered, and (naturally) deep-fried in the calorie-counting game.
For your meal accompaniment, steamed veggies trump all when it comes to watching your waistline. “They’ll fill up your plate and stomach without filling you out,” says Bloxsom. If you must have your spuds, go for plain baked over mashed (because of its added butter and milk and even sour cream) or french fries (because, duh).
Sipping beverages laden with sugar and alcohol is an all-too-easy way to stagnate weight loss. Water, seltzer, and unsweetened tea are your best picks. “If you’re having an alcoholic drink, know that a glass of wine or a bottle of beer has fewer calories than a shot of anything, Bowerman says. “And once you get into mixed drinks with sodas, fruit juices, etc., you’re looking at hundreds of calories.”
And yes, there should be leftovers. Don’t trust yourself? Ask for the box at the beginning of the meal to sock away half the portion size—or ask the waiter to have the chef box half to go before it’s even on the plate.