By Dr. Emil Tompkins, a family chiropractor with a passion for family health and wellness.
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I hate Cheesecake factory. Not because I don’t like the food, the cheesecake, the atmosphere. Those things are actually really good. But I don’t like any visit to Cheesecake factory because it appears as though I have no willpower. Every visit to Cheesecake Factory ends the same way. With Linda’s fudge cake.
Now in case you didn’t know Linda’s fudge cake is this 7 layer super duper chocolatey experience. Yes. Tasty but dangerous. Dangerous because I know how I’m going to feel that night. It’s dangerous because I know about the problems I have with sugar and wheat and I don’t tend to listen to my (literal) gut. It’s a problem.
Now it’s not cheesecake factory’s fault. They are just working to provide food that people want to eat over and over again and yes, it worked. At least it works on me.
Other restaurants follow suit and offer us things like: A milk shake that has a slice of apple pie blended in (Johnny Rockets)
- Country fried steak served with pancakes, potatoes, gravy and syrup (nearly a days’ worth of calories in one meal, thanks to IHOP)
- A massive portion of macaroni and cheese that has two days’ worth of sodium (Uno Chicago Grill)
- A slice of chocolate cake that weighs nearly one pound and contains 26 teaspoons of added sugar (Maggiano’s Little Italy)1… and the list goes on and on
But it’s super important that we take some steps to ensure that you don’t make the same steps I used to make so here are 22 tips to eat healthier in your favorite restaurants.
So let’s give it a shot here.
- Check the menu online: Most—if not all—popular restaurants now post their menus online. Take a quick peek at what they have to offer before you decide which restaurant is right for tonight’s meal. This has two benefits: You can see if they have any healthy options and then pre-plan your meal to avoid temptation. And if they have a lot of fattening, fried foods? Just move on to the next restaurant. But don’t just assume a delicious sounding salad is a sure win; even those can be loaded with more sugar than you’d ever expect.
- Choose restaurants with a low calorie menu: Now, I’m not one to recommend a bunch of low fat, low calorie foods, however restaurants with a low calorie menu are paying attention to what they’re offering and are likely to have healthier options. Besides, a paleo friendly grass fed burger with roasted veggies will taste amazing even though it has less calories than the personal pizza option. V for low cal when in doubt.
- Get a table FAR from the kitchen: It’s one thing to read about the calorie-laden entrees on the menu, but it’s another to see them in all their plated glory. Sitting at a table by the kitchen gives you the perfect view of every dish as they’re served to the table. This is a temptation that you just don’t want, especially if you’re already really hungry.
- Find the nearest mirror: Believe it or not, eating in restaurants that are lined with mirrors will actually make you want to eat less. Researchers at the University of Central Florida recently observed 185 students eating either fruit salad or a piece of chocolate cake. Some were placed in a room with a mirror; some ate in a mirrorless room. The subjects who ate the chocolate cake in the mirror-lined room actually said the cake didn’t taste very good while those in the non-mirrored room didn’t have any complaints. The reason? Researchers believe looking in a mirror makes people judge themselves more harshly because they’re able to watch themselves eat. Go ahead a hang a mirror in your dining room; it’s incredible findings like these that show why there are 20 Reasons It’s Easier Than Ever to Lose Weight!
- Start with the salad: Loading up on healthy fiber at the beginning of a meal sets a good tone for the rest of the experience. A study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that volunteers who ate a large vegetable salad before their main dish ate fewer calories than those who didn’t. Just make sure you keep it simple by foregoing creamy (read: fattening) dressings for simple oil and vinegar. And skip the cheese and croutons, too. Not in the mood for salad? Pick a meal that’s very veggie-heavy; the “half-plate rule”—filling half your plate with veggies—is one of the 10 Genius Tips to Lose 10 Pounds in 2016!
- Beware OF GLUTEN FREE: The term “gluten-free” has a health halo around it, meaning that many people assume that foods are healthy if they’re labeled as gluten-free. The truth? Gluten-free just means that there’s no gluten in the food, not that it’s in any way healthy for you. Sometimes the gluten-free options are even more caloric because the recipe requires extra ingredients in order to make up for the lack of gluten. Also the food is completely full of grains even if it’s gluten free grains and will eventually have a negative impact on your body and your health.
- Double up on appetizers instead of a main dish. Many times restaurants offer seafood- or vegetable-based options on the appetizer menu that can serve as a healthy option. Order a portion (or two) and eat it as your main meal. Just make sure you stay away from the breaded or sauced versions of the appetizers to keep it from becoming a calorie bomb. Besides, those fried sticks of something cheesy or decadent tartare might be one of your 23 Foods That Ruin Date Night!
- You might be asking why is a chiropractor who obviously has some food challenges writing articles about healthy eating. It’s because like you I realize the need to do better. I understand that if I’m going to live long and healthy. If I’m going to be active enough to play with my kids for as long as they want to play with their father. Then I must take great care of myself. I need to eat in a way that is going to fuel my body well instead of tearing it down. This is why I offer this to you. I bet you have your own unique struggles with food. You likely have your own challenges with eating heathy and I want you to experience greater health. Schedule an appointment with our health coach Kalisha and she can help guide you in a direction of true health with nutrition.
- Ask for TRIPLE the veggies: Vegetables are an afterthought on many restaurant entrees, so ask your server to add extra portions of vegetables—either in place of less healthy sides or in addition. You might get a small upcharge, but many times they’ll be happy to swap it out without it costing more. Either way, fueling your body well is worth the extral.
- What do soda and alcoholic drinks have in common? They’re both bad for your health—and your waistline. You could always stick with water for your mealtime beverage or unsweetened iced tea if you need a little taste. But if you just have to have a little alcohol? Stay away from sugary margaritas and pina coladas because they’ll just add hundreds—or even thousands—of extra calories. Instead, get a glass of red wine (for the antioxidant benefits) or a vodka with a splash of club soda and a lime, like Mark Langowski.
- Look for Key Healthy TErms: What do the words grilled, broiled and baked have it common? They’re all words that indicate that the food was cooked in the healthiest way possible. Of course, there’s always a chance the restaurant could use butter or sauces in the prep process, but you know to request that they leave it off.
- Ask for it your way. Dining out is no time to be a meek consumer, notes Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and coauthor of the book Restaurant Confidential. “You need to be an assertive consumer by asking for changes on the menu,” he says. For instance, if an item is fried, ask for it grilled. If it comes with french fries, ask for a side of veggies instead. Ask for a smaller portion of the meat and a larger portion of the salad; for salad instead of coleslaw; baked potato instead of fried. “Just assume you can have the food prepared the way you want it,” says Dr. Jacobson. “Very often, the restaurant will cooperate.”
- Ask how the food was prepared; don’t go by the menu. For instance, cholesterol-free does not mean fat-free; the dish could still be filled with calorie-dense oil. Neither does “lite” necessarily mean light in calories
- Seafood is almost always a good choice, as long as it’s not fried, sauteed, or on our “Worst” list in our exclusive report of 40+ Popular Types of Fish—Ranked for Nutrition. Ask for your seafood option to be cooked without any sauces or butter.
- A side of fruit can add a little sweetness and zing to your meal without adding a lot of extra calories. Many restaurants offer a mixed fruit side; but if you can choose, go for superfoods like raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries; they’re chock full of antioxidants and vitamins without a lot of sugar.
- Skip the bread basket: Ask the waiter to skip the bread basket. If you must have something to munch on while you wait for your order, ask for a plate of raw vegetables or some breadsticks.
- Always dress up to go out. Even if it’s just a regular family restaurant. If you view eating out as an event or a treat, rather than a way to get an everyday dinner, you won’t eat out as often. And that’s good from both a health and a cost standpoint.
- Drink water throughout the meal. It will slow you down, help you enjoy the food more, and let the message get to your brain that you’re full—before your plate is empty.
There you go 18 tips for eating healthy when you eat out. Now here are some reasons why you may want to avoid eating out in the first place, because once you know what’s in restaurant food, you may just want to think twice about eating out.
- Eating the food at nearly every fast food chain (except maybe Chipotle and a few other restaurants committed to sustainable, organic suppliers) and even most sit-down restaurants means you are likely consuming feedlot animal meat – flesh that comes from animals raised in crowded unsanitary conditions, fed massive doses of antibiotics and unnatural “frankenfeed” full of genetically modified (GM) crops and some other truly disturbing ingredients
- Order first so you;re not influenced by your companion’s choices
- Avoid entrees described as crispy, breaded, fried, or smothered.
- Ask your server to put half of your order in a to go box to keep you from eating too much
- Split an entire with a friend.
So you now have 23 ways to eat healthier in restaurants. So you don’t have to fear when you eat out, you now have strategies. And you may want to consider not eating out at all when you know how these things are prepared.
Restaurants get their food primarily from CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) You put LOTS of animals in one area and because it’s not healthy for them, they are injected with incredibly high amounts of antibiotics, so they don’t die of all the bacteria and disease in the facility.
They are also injected with lots of growth hormone so that they provide lots of meat per animal. These things increase yield, but they are potentially a dangerous additive to the foods we eat.
Here are a couple of disturbing things in animal feed at these CAFO’s concentrated animal feeding operation:
Meat from animals in the same species (ew)
It’s normal that our food would be chemical laden these days. These chemicals are toxic in higher doses.
It’s also been shown that fest food eaten only 2 times per week will cause a 10lb increase in weight.
Ok after all that you may not want to eat out at all but if you still do then you’ll want to check out our freebie which is our list of the Healthiest Dishes at 10 of Your Favorite Restaurants. Click here to get that checklist.
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