You name a potential dietary-disaster situation, and I’ve probably experienced it. Stuck with relatives who think a healthy breakfast involves low-fat French toast drowned in “lite” syrup with bananas? Been there.
Stranded at a roadside diner where every deep-fried Frankenfood on the menu came out of a famous butter-loving chef’s recipe book? Check.
I get it: finding grass-fed beef or quinoa pasta isn’t always easy. Okay, sometimes it’s darn near impossible when you travel or engage in social functions as much as I do.
In fact, odds are you’ll have an easier time finding an authentic Prada clutch on Canal Street than getting wild-caught salmon at even the best hotel or airport restaurant.
Related: 7 Healthy Takeout Options
To complicate matters, food intolerances lurk everywhere in restaurant food. Chefs are notorious for slipping eggs into that innocuous-sounding chicken dish or gluten in, well, just about everything.
But once you get the hang of it, making smart choices while navigating restaurants and social situations becomes second nature. To help you out, I’ve provided ten strategies to make those decisions easier.
How To Eat Healthy and Lose Fat, Anywhere
1. Mix and match.
Survey the entire menu when you sit down. Let’s say you want salmon, but it comes with garlic-cheddar risotto. The filet, on the other hand, comes with sautéed spinach and garlic. Politely ask your server to switch sides. Make eating an adventure. Maybe you’re traveling in the South and never tried collard greens. Go for them.
Related: Top Ten Healthiest Foods
2. Start your meal with a salad.
Keep it simple and top it with olive oil and vinegar. One study showed people who started with a salad ate less food during their subsequent meal.
3. Bypass the gargantuan dinner salads.
Candied walnuts, bacon, taco strips, dried fruit, rice noodles, and wantons atop entrée salads are red alerts for fat bombs. Likewise, skip the sugary vinaigrettes and creamy dressings. Customize your salad with avocado or guacamole, salsa, chicken, and black beans. Ask for oil and vinegar on the side.
Related: Why Size Matters…For Your Salad
4. Beware of red flags.
Any entrée described as breaded, fried, crunchy, crispy, glazed, or creamy translates into a fast fat loss obstacle. Order your lean protein and non-starchy veggies grilled, baked, or broiled.
5. You know what assuming does…
Politely ask your server any questions before you order, and remember—you’re in charge here. Ignorance doesn’t cut it. If you fail to ask, and your chicken dish comes drowning in a syrupy soy glaze (even though your menu didn’t say so), you’re responsible if you eat it.
Related: 12 Ways to Make Healthy Choices While Eating Out
6. Don’t invite the enemy to the table.
Banish the breadbasket before your server even sets it down. (If your dining companions insist, warn them about gluten’s dangers and stare judgmentally as they eat bread. Kidding. Kidding!) If you need something to munch on before your salad, ask for a small bowl of olives.
7. Double up.
Two appetizers as your main course provide better portion control than a gigantic entrée. You might order hummus with veggies, for instance, alongside grilled chicken kabobs with salsa.
Related: 5 Ways to Avoid Overeating
8. Share or cut it in half.
Split that enormous broccoli-garlic stuffed chicken breast in half and share with your dining partner, or get it to go before you even dive in. You’ll save money and calories.
9. Three bites of dessert and fork down.
Your business date insists you must try the pistachio chocolate upside-down cake, and who are you to argue since you’re trying to score his 6-figure account?
Related: 5 Simple Steps to Eating Healthy
Rather than demurely declining, have three polite bites – we’re talking bites you would eat on The Rachael Ray Show, not during an 11 p.m. fridge raid – and ask your server to remove the fork. Trust me: your date will have no problem finishing that cake.
10. Get ideas, not absolutes, from the menu.
Why let your menu dictate what you’ll eat? Use it as a guide, not an ultimatum, about how you should enjoy your dinner.
Maybe you want the wild salmon sautéed in olive oil instead of sticky soy glaze. Or you want that grass-fed burger on a big plate of Romaine rather than a bun (and hold the fries, please). Don’t be afraid to ask, since many restaurants are eager to accommodate your requests.
Celebrity nutrition and fitness expert JJ Virgin is the author of The New York Times Bestseller The Virgin Diet.
Photo by Ed Yourdon