One of the hardest things when you are dieting or trying to eat better is going out to eat. You are always served SO MUCH FOOD and I usually eat way too much chips and salsa. One of my favorite friends from college, Caryn, is now a clinical dietitian. I asked if she would share some tips for mindful eating when dining out. She’s not only super smart; she’s a great friend and loves dogs too!
Caryn Fields MS, RD, LD, CNSC grew up in Dallas ,Texas. She attended Oklahoma State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Sciences. She completed her Master’s in 2012 with a thesis involving increasing fruit and vegetable intake with middle school aged children. She became a registered, licensed dietitian in 2012 and currently works for the Methodist Health system as a clinical dietitian. She recently became a certified nutrition support clinician and works in critical care.
So many factors affect what and how much we eat. This is especially true when we decide to meet friends for dinner. Knowing what you are up against before you walk in the door will help you make better choices so you can skip the guilt but still have a great experience.
That’s right, our meal choices directly relate to our emotions and mental health. One study showed participants with higher anxiety, depression, and distress scores reported significantly lower intake of vegetables and higher intake of sugary/fattening foods when compared to others.
It’s true even at the movies. Another study found people ate 28% more popcorn while watching a sad movie then when they watched a happy movie.
Tip 1: Get Happy! Release any stressors and cast out anxiety before you go to the restaurant. You make healthier choices when you are relaxed and without stress.
Tip 2: Don’t go out to eat starving! Have a small snack thirty minutes before leaving the house. You will make healthier choices when your body is not stressed or famished!
Tip 3: Socialites Be Ware: Studies show that those with others eat more than those who eat alone. Don’t get distracted with conversation, pay attention to how much you have eaten.
We all know that portion size is a HUGE problem in America but why are our portions so big? Studies show the container/plate has a lot to do with it. Movie theatre goers were given either a large or a small container of stale popcorn. Those with large containers ate 45.3% more popcorn than the others.
Similar to a restaurant, the bigger the plate/container the more you will eat regardless of taste.
Tip 4: Split the Entrée: Most restaurants use over-sized plates with portions that can feed two, so partner up!
Tip 5: Eat with the kids! Many restaurants allow you to order from the kids menu, which has portions that are more appropriate.
We believe our eyes not our stomach
It amazing how often we don’t listen to hunger and fullness cues. Sometimes we rely on what we see to tell us when we are done eating. Researchers created an experiment involving participants eating soup. Half of the soup bowls were secretly attached to tubes underneath the table that slowly refilled the bowl as the person ate. Those with the “bottomless bowls” ate 73% more soup compared to the others!
Tip 6: Cleaning your plate is out! Stop eating when your stomach says you’re full, not when the bowl is empty.
Tip 7: Ask for a doggie bag. Before the meal, tell yourself you are taking half the meal home. You will still get full and not over indulge.
Tip 8: Manage the “Pre-dinner Dinner.” Skip the bread and chips before your meal. If you have to have it, don’t let the waiter refill the bread basket or the chip bowl.
Tip 9: Buffets are a trap! If you find yourself at a buffet style restaurant, stick to this rule: You can go back as often as you like, but you can only have two different items on your plate at a time. This helps you listen to your stomach instead of going crazy with all the choices.
Keep it Colorful
Just because you dine out does not mean basic healthy eating goes out the window. Make sure your plate has all the parts of the MyPlate set up which helps you get all your vitamins, fiber, and food groups. It is important to still have a variety of color on your plate. No, a garnish of cilantro does not count as something green!
Tip 10: Stick with Sides. If you eat with someone else, let them get the entrée with meat and starch. You can choose green vegetables or side salad. This is cost effective and allows you to eat a variety of foods!
Tip 11: Lighter options are always a great place to start! Try to choose from the “Light” menu options. Don’t be afraid to make requests such as side exchanges, no added salt, or no butter on foods.
Believe it or not, the restaurant environment can influence how much you eat. Dark tabletops and dim lighting increase customer length of stay, which means ordering more food and staying for dessert, so watch out!
Tip 12: Choose your seat wisely. People tend to order higher fat, fried and salty foods when sitting in view of a television. Those who sit at raised tables or on stools tend to order healthier choices. No surprise here, more alcohol is ordered when sitting in view of the bar.
Tip 13: Look at the whole menu. Restaurant designers know that our eyes are directed to bold print or boxed items so they place their bestselling (often high calorie/high fat) items here. Healthier options can be found when reading the entire/regular print menu.
Healthy dining out is possible! Remember to practice these mindful eating tips for guilt free enjoyment!