Best Options If You Must Eat Out

You’re on a roll, baby; NOTHING can stop you now!  Back-to-back weeks of sticking to your plan. Not that there hasn’t been temptation, but you’re super proud of yourself control and ability to stick to your goals. You’ve passed up the birthday cake, turned down popcorn at the movies, and even brought that salad for lunch (knowing it was pizza day at work). 

And then it happens. It’s the weekend. Time for friends, time for family, time to let someone else cook your food, while you relax.  The fun of going out to eat with people you love will only be matched by the guilt you’ll feel the next day.  But it’s so hard to pass up the appetizers, beverages, AND entrees.  Not to mention the unlimited baskets of fresh bread, accompanied with butter. Dare we even mention the dessert that followed?! 

Anyone who’s working to improve their health, performance, or appearance (or all three) has dealt with the anxiety of “staying the course” when going out to eat.  There’s an element of social pressure to just relax and enjoy yourself, no doubt.  Not to mention, it’s easy to justify going off your nutrition plan for “just one meal.”  Silly as it may feel, going out to eat can be a big deal for those of us working on our nutrition. 

Hopefully, I can provide some wisdom and insight, as to how to better deal with this scenario, both from a psychological and a nutritional perspective. Personally, I believe simpler is usually better.  I’ve had many, many conversations with clients regarding this subject. So, here are two thoughts to keep in mind for the next time you’re going out to eat. 

Thought Number 1:

“Order something that resembles what you’d normally be eating”

Kind of underwhelming, isn’t it?  You were sitting there reading this, waiting for some ingenious, psychological tactic that would save you from having to be disciplined when eating at a restaurant.  Well, nope.   The simplest, most effective way dine out and not backpedal on your fitness goals is to order a dish that closely resembles what you’d be eating if you were at home. 

Does your meal plan call for chicken and veggies for dinner?  Well, next time you visit a restaurant, look for an entrée made up of mostly chicken and veggies.  Italian, Japanese, Mexican, American, Chinese, German, and almost every other culture, has one or more dishes that are a simple combination of protein, vegetables, and whole grains.  No matter what kind of dining establishment you go to, 9 out of 10 will serve a few dishes within striking distance of what you’re supposed to be eating.

To go a step further, nearly every restaurant in the world will let you modify a dish as you see fit.  For example, my wife’s favorite place to eat is a little sports bar down the street from our house.  The staff know what we like, remember our name, know where we like to sit and so forth.  They also serve an AMAZING chicken salad, which my wife orders religiously.  The hang up is, they use a heavily breaded chicken, with lots of extra fat and carbohydrates that my wife simply doesn’t want.  So, she asks them to use grilled chicken instead, which they’re happy to do, and… Voila, everyone’s happy!

Thought Number 2:

“Plan to go off your plan, and enjoy yourself.”

Developing food discipline, and sticking to a nutrition plan (or having great nutritional habits) is essential to your lifelong health. Exercise can only take you so far.  Learning about different foods, and being conscientious about what you eat every day must be a priority if you want a long, active, healthy life. On the flip side, but almost equally important, is maintaining some balance and fun.  

Going out to eat can sometimes be used as a reward, or mental “reset” from your normal nutrition habits.  Instead of feeling guilty for having some pizza, or a nice bowl of pasta, you can look forward to eating some “fun food” you wouldn’t typically indulge in.  This is an especially good idea for those who only go out to eat a few times a month.  If you’re eating your healthy foods Sunday to Friday, it’s probably OK to go out Saturday night and simply enjoy yourself without guilt.

For many, planning to “go off the plan” makes staying disciplined easier.  While I’m no psychologist, I like to think this is because there’s light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. I’m happy to have my Tuna and green veggies for lunch on Monday, because I know I’m going out for a burger Friday night with my wife. Personally speaking, knowing ahead of time that I’ll get to go out and eat what I want (within reason) makes both eating my regular meals easier, and my “off the plan” meal more enjoyable. 

If going out to eat still makes you feel uneasy, allow me to make one final suggestion:  If I know I’m going to a restaurant, and ordering whatever sounds good, I’ll often do some extra activity beforehand.  It’s often as simple as taking a brisk 30-40 minute walk (which has the added benefit of making me hungry).  I burn a few hundred extra calories, and can then really enjoy my meal! 


To summarize, different approaches will work for different people and situations.  Those whose jobs or social lives require them dining out multiple times per week, should focus on the first method, and order meals that closely mimic what they’d normally make themselves at home.  For others who visit restaurants less frequently (once a week or less) and otherwise stick to healthy foods and quantities, enjoying an “off the plan” meal is a good, relaxing reward.

So, think about your lifestyle, your habits, and find your own balance between discipline and fun!


Written by: By Jake Hopkins, B.S Corporate Wellness, N.A.S.M Certified Personal Trainer, Wildwood Family YMCA


All opinions expressed here are those of their authors and/or contributors and not of their employer.
Any questions or concerns regarding the content found here may be sent to