Embracing the Restaurant Experience

By Brooke Parker –

I can’t tell you the number of times one of my clients has made the statement, “Everything was great until I went out to eat.”  I find it sad that our culture has linked restaurants with an all-or-nothing mentality.  Most of us feel overwhelmed with restaurant food choices and portions, inevitably leading to a decision of “Oh well, if I’m going to be bad, I may as well live it up while I’m here.”  My goal for this article is to help you create a system for including MODERATION and BALANCE in your restaurant experiences.

Tips that Really Work

1. Do not enter the building ravenous.  Plan your day’s eating schedule to allow for moderate hunger while walking into a restaurant.  If you enter extremely hungry I can nearly guarantee you will overeat.  The concept of saving most of your calories for evening can backfire terribly once the body becomes ravenous.

2. Eat wisely when handling the “Freebies.”  Many problems arise from the bread bowl, chips and salsa, biscuits, rolls, popcorn, etc.  The need for moderation with food offered before your meal is paramount.  If applicable, ask for such foods to be brought with the meal.  Another trick is to slide away from the table a little bit once you have had a moderate portion.  This makes it awkward and possibly messy to continue grabbing for the food.

3. Ask for dressings on the side.  The benefits of salads can be negated by all the dressing poured over them.  Salads are the perfect solution for high-volume/ low-calorie choices.  They enable you to chew and swallow a lot without adding a substantial amount of calories.  This fact holds true only if the dressing is kept to a moderate portion.  Dipping your fork into the small container of dressing and then picking up the vegetables is the best technique.

4. Choose the entrée that fits your mood and needs.  If I am in the mood to eat a lot of foods I would choose a large salad topped with protein items.  If I want a traditional entrée I would choose the one that sounds the best, acknowledging some choices may fill me up faster than others; thus, I will need to adjust the portion size I eat.  Most importantly–take the time to SAVOR each bite.  Begin practicing slower-eating techniques that work for you.

5. Ask for a to-go box early on in the meal, allowing for you to easily act on your fullness cue.  So many good intentions are defeated if the food is left in front of you too long.  If you do not plan on taking the food home, find a way to sabotage it once you feel comfortably full.  This can actually be quite fun!  Over salt or pepper your food or add a condiment (ketchup, sugar packets, syrup, etc.) that does not compliment the food. 

The most important thing to remember is to live in the moment.  Enjoy the atmosphere, the people, the conversation and, of course, the food.  Living in the moment also allows you to check in with your body signals to determine fullness.  Come prepared with a game plan of what to do once you reach this point, and your restaurant experience will no longer hinder your health but enhance your life!

Brooke Parker is a registered dietitian currently working for Utah State University.  Her specialty is eating disorders. She is the author of Love Your Reflection, recently published by Leatherwood Press.  Love Your Reflection focuses on the connection between a non-diet approach to eating and techniques for a positive body image. Brooke is a wife and mother of three. © 2010

About Brooke Parker

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