Eating out is something many enjoy as it takes you away from the kitchen and into a different environment – and after all, everything tastes better when you don't have to cook it yourself. The downside is that the reason it tastes so good isn't always because you didn't slave over it. The cause could be due to the cooks preparing your food in an unhealthy manner which improves the flavor and increases the calorie count. Unfortunately, unless you're standing in their kitchen (which is usually not allowed for safety and sanitation reasons), you have no idea how they are preparing your meal.
Therefore, it's important to understand several things that are taking place when you are eating out and how you can minimize the risk of not only overeating but also getting sick. Below are 11 reasons why eating out is unhealthy and how to fix these common issues so you don't fall victim.
The Portion Sizes Are HUGE
When eating out, our eyes are generally bigger than our stomachs. Unfortunately, when your meal is placed in front of you, it's at least double the size it should be from a portion standpoint.
There's an overabundance of every macronutrient, and should you consume the entire dish, you're probably going to find yourself 1,000+ calories deep just from that one plate of food. If you're on a bulk and need the calories, it may not be a bad thing, but for most, you're going to put yourself in a caloric surplus for the day and risk putting on weight.
The best thing you can do is ask for a to-go bag as soon as your meal comes out. Cut everything on your plate in half and place half of each item in your to-go bag. While this can feel somewhat deflating, what you did was just created a second delicious meal you can have the following day (you cut your bill for the meal in half, essentially by making one meal into two).
Many Items Are Fried
Face it, eating out provides you with an endless amount of food that is fried. Fried chicken, French fries, fried fish, wings, the list goes on and on. It should go without saying, but you want to avoid fried foods like the plague. There is absolutely nothing healthy about fried food that anyone would recommend consuming it.
A better plan would be to ask for the item to be grilled rather than fried. Many times, assuming you aren't talking about French fries or wings, they'll be able to take your protein sources and grill them instead. This will prevent you from consuming all of those added calories and artery-clogging fats.
Most Items Are Cooked Using Butter and Oil
Have you ever gone out to a nice restaurant and were excited to get out of your own kitchen? Many people experience this when eating out. A negative is that you aren't standing there making sure your meal is made how you want it. Back in the kitchen, the cooks are generally adding butter and oil to everything you ordered, from your protein sources all the way down to your vegetables. Everything tastes better with slabs of butter added to it, right?
It's not uncommon to order something such as steamed broccoli, only to find out when it shows up on your plate, it's sitting in a pile of butter. That's a great way to take a healthy fibrous vegetable and turn it into an unhealthy food option.
What you should do is ask your waitress how they prepare the meal. If she mentions they use butter and oil, ask them to please not use any when preparing your items. This is generally not a problem, and they are happy to prepare your meal however you prefer.
You Have No Idea What the Correct Portion Size Is
On top of knowing the portions are already going to be more than what you need, it's difficult to gauge precisely how much of something you should be consuming. Should you consume all of this item, half of that one, only a few fork-fulls of another? Who knows? If you are used to weighing out your food, unless you brought a scale with you (awkward), you'd never know if you are eating enough to align with your calories and macro intake for the day.
The key to estimating portions is by using your hand. You want to consume a protein source that is the size of your palm. For green leafy vegetables, you want to consume about as much as the size of your closed fist. This is a simple tip you can take anywhere you go when eating out.
Free Refills on Beverages
Calories from beverages are as sneaky as they come. When eating out, it's normal to want to treat yourself to an iced tea or maybe even a soda. There's nothing wrong with that in moderation. However, when "free refills" come into play, many people conveniently forget just how many glasses they've consumed. If the waitress sees you're out of your drink, she may simply bring you another. And another. And another. And another. Before you know it, you drank five or more glasses of soda and enough sugar to turn an elephant hyperglycemic.
Your best bet will always be to get a glass of water when eating out. It's hard to beat a beverage that will help keep you hydrated, and that contains zero calories. However, if you want to splurge a little, tell yourself you'll only have one glass of your beverage of choice and then switch over to water. It'll save you a ton of empty calories and a bunch of sugar.
Skip the Lemon in Your Beverage
When eating out, do you ask for a lemon in your drink? Maybe you got a nice cold glass of water, a diet soda, or even an unsweetened tea? Unfortunately, researchers published a study in the Journal of Environmental Health that showed 70% of lemons tested in 21 different restaurants were contaminated with bacteria.
This is actually quite disgusting when you think about it. Out of all the things you'd think would contain bacteria, it's the lemon in your drink that is teeming with it. It's due to workers using knives that aren't clean and handling the lemons without gloves when putting them in your drink or on your cup.
To skip the cooties, pass on the offer for lemons in your drink. Just thinking about a bunch of bacteria in your beverage is enough to have you lose your appetite when eating out.
There Are No Calories or Macronutrients Shown
Unless you're a walking, talking, MyFitnessPal software, you have absolutely no clue how many calories you are consuming or what macronutrients make up your meal when eating out. While some restaurants are publishing this information on their menus, most do not – and for a good reason, they don't want you to know your meal is unhealthy and contains a ton of calories.
Going back to MyFitnessPal, their software has many common restaurants that are found from city to city. Do a search on their free app and type in the restaurant you plan on eating out at (or if you're already there) and check to see if your meal is listed. If it is, you're in luck and have a decent idea of what you're taking in. If it doesn't, you may need to manually put each item into MyFitnessPal to see where your calories and macros may fall. Remember, it's only an estimate and not 100% spot on.
Calories from Sauces and Gravy Add Up Quickly
Some restaurants are known for their sauces. Maybe it's a particular pizza sauce, alfredo sauce, meat sauce,
The same can be said about gravy added on top of your meals. You simply don't know what the calorie content of it is – and more than likely, neither does the staff.
Go light on any sauces or gravy you include with your meal when eating out. Remember, everything you put in your mouth when eating out needs to be accounted for. Just because you want to enjoy some time away from your house does not mean it's a free-for-all where you let yourself go and inhale everything on the menu. You still need to show some self-control.
Before the Meal, You Are Given Bread or Rolls
Who doesn't love the bread or rolls when you are eating out? You sit down, and before you can even acknowledge the waitress, she's greeting you with some bread or rolls. It's hard not to have your mouth water just thinking about it. The unfortunate part is that many of those rolls are over 100 calories apiece. Slam down six of them before your meal even is placed in front of you, and you're already sitting at over 600 calories for the meal. Add in the fact that you're going to eat your meal (or half like what's recommended), and you could already be close to or over 1,500 calories.
While no one wants to have the fun police harp down on them and crash their party, be mindful of what you're eating. One or two won't kill you. But adding on slabs of butter could put you over the edge quite quickly.
If you can, skip the bread and rolls. If you must try them, limit yourself to one or two so you don't overdo it on the calories, carbohydrates, and fat from the butter hidden inside, as well as what you spread on top.
People Are Afraid to Ask About Meal Prep Changes
For some reason, when people are eating out, they let their guard down and eat the meal however it is prepared. While you can possibly get away with it here and there depending on your food intake throughout the day as well as the amount of time spent exercising, you shouldn't be afraid or bashful to ask the waitress to have the cook prepare your food a certain way.
There's nothing wrong with you asking to have your steak prepared without butter or oil. It's ok to ask for your vegetables steamed without the use of any sprays, oils, or butter. It's fine to ask for your salad dressing on the side so you can determine how much is used. It's ok… it's ok… it's ok.
The bottom line is that YOU are the customer, and any good restaurant will do whatever they can to accommodate your needs within reason. They want your experience to be memorable so that you'll come back and tell all of your friends about the fantastic time and meal you had at their restaurant. Eating out doesn't mean you are a slave to whatever the cook throws on your plate. Ask questions and make changes to how your food is cooked and prepared if it's not to your liking or preferences. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
It's Hard to Pass on Those Yummy Desserts They Show You
Let's face it, your waitress has taken some secret ninja sales classes, and as soon as you finish your meal, she swoops in with those delicious dessert samples to present to you. You look at them and tell yourself no. Then she gets into the juicy details of each, and your walls come crumbling down, and you give in.
Here's the good news, get the dessert. Wait, what? Sure, get the dessert. But here's the caveat. You need to split it with someone or take half of it home with you. You don't need to eat the whole thing yourself or all at one sitting. But since you're eating out and it's probably not something you often do, enjoy yourself with a nice dessert.
If you don't want to feel so bad about your dessert choice and possibly regret it later, make sure you exercise earlier in the day and have burned off a bunch of calories to make up for the dessert you'll devour.
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