How to Eat Out at Restaurants Without Messing Up Your Diet

steak and veggies

When trying to lose fat, it’s hard to stay on track while still having a social life. Dining out can get in the way with you making progress. As someone who’s big in the food scene here in Los Angeles and coach clients who are self-proclaimed foodies, I get it. It’s a fine balance between getting closer to your fitness goals, and enjoying tasty food by yourself or with good company.

It’s easy to overeat when you’re out at a restaurant, especially when you’re with others. You’ve got appetizers, drinks, shared plates, and big entrées. Let’s not forget about dessert as well.

Before you know it, if you taste everything that was on the table then chances are you’re going to be over your food intake for the day. This is going to potentially offset any sort of calorie deficit which you’ve created during the week.

There are usually two camps that people fall into when it comes to eating out. The first are the ones who tend to get stressed out about going out and dining when they’re on their fitness journey.

They feel like they have no control on how many calories they’re eating.  Because of this, they just don’t go out at all, avoiding socializing with friends and family and go into monk mode.

The second camp says screw it, go full #treatyoself and #livingmybestlife and eat out anyway without a plan. They eat and drink whatever they want and gain a couple of pounds in the process. They end up spending all week “burning it off,” only to repeat it again week in and week out, spinning their wheels and never making any progress.

Now this doesn’t mean you should stop eating out completely and be in camp number one. But if that’s what you want to do and just stick with home cooked meals, awesome. You can control what you eat and there are very few things that can beat a nice home cooked meal.

But fitness should be something that enhances your life, instead of consuming it. Dining out and building a great body doesn’t have to be at odds with each other, you just have to be strategic about it and plan ahead of time.

The goal here is to prevent overeating and practice mindfulness and willpower. Let’s break down what you need to do:

1. Look Up The Menu Ahead of Time

The biggest thing you can do to prepare is to read the menu ahead of time. Check out the restaurant’s website, look at what you want and order the items which best fits your diet. When in doubt, keep it simple and pick a dish that has a serving of lean protein and veggies.

By looking at what your options are in advance, you already have a gameplan and will be more likely to stick with it. If you’re unsure on what to order or the menu isn’t available, you can also call the restaurant or ask your server for their recommendations for healthy options.

2. Eat Less During The Day

Once you’ve decided on what you want to order, give yourself a bit of a calorie buffer during the day. With all of your other meals leading up to the restaurant, have one serving of lean protein and veggies (size of palm for both). They’re going to be lower in calories, keeps you satiated and allows you to have a bit more wiggle room with the amount of food you’ll be eating later in the evening.

3. Work Out Before

Along with eating less during the day as stated above, you can create more of a calorie buffer AND make the most out of the food you’re eating by getting in a solid workout.

My favorite types of workouts to do before dining out is either lower body or full body. They’re more challenging, uses more muscle groups, and can burn a lot more calories than just doing some cardio or upper body work. Here are two which I’ve used before with success:

Full Body Workout

A1. Trap Bar Deadlift – 3x10
A2. Flat DB Bench Press – 3x10

Perform A1 and A2 back to back with no rest.

B1. Lat Pulldowns – 3x10-12
B2. Dumbbell Step Ups – 3x10 each leg
B3. Pushups – 3xAMRAP (as many reps as possible)

Perform B1, B2, and B3 back to back with no rest.

C1. Cable Row – 3x10
C2. Dumbbell Lateral Raise – 3x15
C3. Rope Triceps Extensions – 3x12-15

Perform C1, C2, and C3 back to back with no rest.

Lower Body Workout (aka Your Wheels before Meals)

A. Machine Leg Curl – 4x8

B. Barbell Back Squat – 4x8

C. Dumbbell Walking Lunges – 4x12 each leg

D. Leg Press – 3x25

E. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift – 3x10

4. Replace Sides with Steamed Veggies or Salads

If your dish comes with a big serving of starches, whether it’s in the form of rice, potatoes, or pasta, ask your server to swap it out with steamed veggies or a side salad instead. This will fill you up, and you’re going to get some of your veggie intake for the day.

Also, sauces and dressings can add up to at least 200-300 extra calories to your dish. For whatever items you choose to order, ask for any sauces or dressings that comes along with it to be put on the side.

Now if an entrée you order comes with vegetables that aren’t steamed, ask how it’s cooked. Sometimes they can be prepared with extra oil.

One of my clients is a regular at a nice restaurant here in Los Angeles. He usually orders an appetizer that looks relatively healthy (sautéed and roasted vegetables). However, he just found out recently after talking to the server that they cook the entire dish in pure butter. Although it may be tasty, it doesn’t do his waistline any good.

5. Pick Only One Indulgence

Many restaurants have numerous courses: bread with butter, chips and salsa, appetizers, entrées, and dessert. If you’re going to having something else besides your main entrée, pick only one indulgence for the night. It could be the bread, a glass of wine, or dessert, but not all three. That way you can still have some variety while controlling your calorie intake.

Take for example, one of my meals that I had recently:

bone marrow.jpg
dry aged ribeye steak.jpg

My appetizer was bone marrow with bread along with mixed nuts and capers in olive oil. I only ate the marrow with one slice of bread. For my main meal, it was a 100 day dry aged ribeye steak with nothing else.

Although ribeyes are a fattier cut, I trimmed some of the fat and asked for the Béarnaise sauce on the side. I got to enjoy a really good meal without overeating.

6. Don’t Finish All of Your Food

Believe it or not, you don’t need to finish all of your food. Depending on how you were raised and what your cultural background is, you may have been taught to clean your plate. But for many people like myself, those same behaviors carry into adulthood and leads us to overeating. I even wrote about it in my 30 Day Last Bite Challenge.

So what you can do is to not finish your food and get it in a to-go box and save it for another meal instead. You just got yourself some breakfast for the next morning, voila.

Bon Appétit

When it comes to any sort of event which can get in the way of your fitness goals, whether it’s traveling, or dining out, all you need to do is prepare ahead of time.

Sticking to your fitness goals shouldn’t have to be difficult. Simply follow the guidelines I’ve laid out and you can still enjoy a nice meal out with your friends and family without losing progress.