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Dining out on a diet

How to enjoy eating at restaurants, while watching what you eat. Nutritionist Lisa Drayer offers some advice about dining out in her book, “Strong, Slim, and 30!” Read an excerpt.
/ Source: Weekend Today

If you're trying to watch what you eat, the weekends can often be a tough time to stick with your diet, especially if you're heading out to eat or going out for a few cocktails. Nutritionist Lisa Drayer offers some advice about dining out in her book, “Strong, Slim, and 30!” Read an excerpt:

Now it’s time to address how to stick to an eating plan while you’re enjoying life and all the culinary enticements it serves up. Well, I’m here to tell you that you can be loyal to the principles of the plan during business dinners, social events, parties, and other fun nights out. It does take a little bit of planning, however, as Robin learned.

Robin’s StoryRobin’s lifestyle is not exactly “diet friendly.” As a recently married publishing professional, she said that, for her, food was something she typically encountered between meetings during long, exhausting days at the office. And she’s not talking about health food. Robin would get so ravenously hungry that she would turn to the chips, cookies, or whatever else was commonly available in the workplace to satiate her appetite. Plus, as is the story with many other New Yorkers, Robin lived with another impediment to eating well: a kitchen way too small for comfort. Then, enter her husband, and the obstacles to maintaining a healthy weight just started piling up. “The second I met my husband, I started to put on weight,” she says.

Typical of many couples, the newlyweds centered much of their social lives on food. Calendar activities would encompass dining out with friends, meeting for drinks during weeknights, and attending family events involving “child-friendly” fare such as pizza and ice cream. Robin’s food-frenzy lifestyle became a problem. “When I socialize, I lose control over what I eat and what I order,” she admitted.

As a consequence, dieting became a fixture in Robin’s life. Atkins came first. Then Jenny Craig. She took a stab at Weight Watchers when she got engaged, and again after the wedding. Nothing had staying power. Whereas she’d never really had to “work” to keep in shape before her mid-20s, now her body was being less cooperative. “Once I hit my 30s, my body completely changed,” she states.

Robin and I first reviewed some of her goals. She wanted to take off enough weight to permanently retire her “fat clothes,” get and stay healthy, and prepare her body for pregnancy. Robin’s father had a heart attack at the age of 34 and recently underwent a triple bypass. She also has a family history of high cholesterol.

I explained the concept of making a third of her plate protein, a third vegetables, and a third grains at each meal. “A” snacks were unappealing to Robin, but she gave high marks to the combo of dried cranberries and peanuts.

Because her job and her social life were solid obstacles, Robin’s success would depend on good planning. She would have to allot time each week to plan out her meals so she could avoid such pitfalls as bingeing after all-day meetings and overindulging at a friend’s birthday dinner.

Robin’s strategies included taking yogurt and fruit to her work meetings. This allowed her to get her “A” and “B” snacks in during the day without sabotaging her weight-loss efforts by grabbing cookies and candy. At restaurants, she sticks with her plan by ordering two appetizers—maybe a shrimp cocktail and a salad—instead of a main course. She also frequently logs on to her computer before heading out to a restaurant and peruses the menu in advance, so she can get a jump start on what to order. For family gatherings, Robin fills up ahead of time on her snacks so she doesn’t succumb to the attraction of hamburgers and desserts. She learned that by adopting this routine, she was less inclined to cheat and waste her efforts.

Thanks to her commitment, Robin lost nine pounds by week 10 of the plan. “The plan has fit in nicely to my lifestyle. It has made me a better eater, and mentally, that makes me feel better because I know I am making better decisions for my health.”

Robin emphasizes that she was able to stick with it not only because she is meticulous about planning meals but also because whenever she’s at a restaurant, party, business meeting, or other event, she thinks about what she’s eating and savors every bite. And, she points out, the plan is simple enough for anyone to master: “Picturing your plate in thirds is so easy. If I can stick with it, anyone can.”

Stay Slim and Healthy When Dining Out and About
Eating healthfully when dining out and socializing is probably one of the most imposing challenges for 30-something women. With so many tantalizing food choices and, at the same time, so many culinary unknowns—such as how the food is prepared, or even the ingredients used—it can be tough going. And, of course, that doesn’t take into account the lure of drinks and dessert. It’s not impossible to stay slim and healthy when you are dining out and enjoying social events, but as with your weekly meals, you need to think it through ahead of time.

Salad Strategy
You can enjoy a restaurant meal without doing damage to your diet and waistline. In fact, research from Penn State University suggests you can dine out and still lose weight, especially if you order a low-calorie salad as an appetizer. In the study, a group of women were required to eat an entire low-calorie salad before eating a pasta meal of cheese tortellini with tomato sauce (they could eat as much pasta as they liked). The salad comprised iceberg and romaine lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, fat-free dressing, and light mozzarella cheese.

When women ate one and a half cups of the salad (which provided 50 calories), they ate 7 percent (64) fewer calories for the whole meal compared to when they skipped the salad. When they ate three cups of salad before having their pasta (for a total of 100 calories), they ate even less for the entire meal (12 percent, or 107 fewer calories), compared with their consumption when they skipped the salad.

I love this study, because it illustrates how you can dine out, order an appetizer, and still limit your overall calorie intake! While adding an appetizer usually increases the total amount of calories consumed at a meal, this study shows that when the first course is a large portion of a low-calorie salad, with lots of fiber-rich vegetables, you feel less hungry when the meal arrives and eat fewer calories for the entire meal.

Keep in mind here that only a low-calorie salad will do the trick. When women ate a small, high-calorie salad (200 calories) with more cheese and higher-fat dressing, they ate more at the meal (8 percent, or 71 more calories overall) than they ate when not having salad at all. And when they ate a large, high-calorie salad, they ate 17 percent, or 145 calories, more at the meal, versus no salad. So, clearly, the type of salad is the determinant, and according to this study, it must be low in calories.

Low-calorie salads don’t have to be unappealing. According to Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., lead author of the study, the subjects were not very sensitive to changes in the fat content of the salads (they guessed the same fat content for both low and higher-calorie salads, even though fat ranged from 14 to 65 percent), and the lower-calorie, lower-fat salads were well liked.

When eating salads, choosing low-fat or fat-free dressings is the ideal approach. If you opt for high-fat varieties, have your dressing on the side and use no more than one tablespoon.

Two-Appetizer Strategy
The portions you receive at restaurants are usually huge, and you don’t always know how the food is prepared. In these situations, my number one strategy is to order two appetizers: a low-calorie salad (or vegetable) and a protein-rich dish. As you now know, eating a low-calorie salad is beneficial for weight loss, as it can help you to consume fewer calories for the entire meal. In addition, having a protein-rich appetizer instead of an entree will help you keep your portions as close to your plan as possible. If you prefer soup to salad, you can go that route as long as you order one that is broth based (not made with cream).

Examples of appetizer combos are tuna tartar with a salad; grilled chicken skewers with edamame or seaweed salad; and shrimp cocktail with grilled vegetables. If you are not keen on the appetizer selections, or you’re swayed by other menu offerings, you can share an entree and order a side salad. By heeding this advice, you will succeed at keeping your calories in check when you have limited control over what’s set before you.

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Excerpted from “Strong, Slim, and 30! Eat Right, Stay Young, Feel Great, and Look Fabulous,” by Lisa Drayer. Copyright 2006, Lisa Drayer. All rights reserved. Published by McGraw-Hill. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.