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Evidence-based articles & blogs to help with making training more effective, nutrition more flexible & life more enjoyable.
Not quite sure how to go about eating something that you haven't prepared yourself? Fear not - your friendly neighbourhood flexible dieting man is here to the rescue.
You hear the words.
Suddenly, sweat's dripping from your brow.
Your hands start to shake, as you fear mortal peril.
"Let's go out to eat."
It may sound like something so mundane, so ordinary, and so inconsequential, that the average person wouldn't understand the fear it brings, but to many a flexible dieter, eating out at a restaurant still throws them into a panic.
Sure, we might not be as bad as the clean eaters, who can't eat anywhere they don't know how the food's been prepared, but still, there's a mental barrier to cross when it comes to eating on the go.
In our clean eating days, many of us simply abstained from non-clean foods, then went and binged as soon as we got the chance to, hence, restaurant eating is not always easy from a psychological standpoint.
This can be overcome though.
In this article, we'll look at two approaches –
One approach for those who want to keep their diet as on point as possible while eating out.
And another for people happy to have a little more leeway and freedom, but still don't want to fall back into the habit of binging.
Option #1 – The "Strict" Approach
"Strict" in this sense doesn't mean having to stick to your meal plan, only ordering chicken breast or lean steak, along with grilled veggies, or sitting there sipping on a Diet Coke or mineral water while everyone around you eats delicious food.
Rather, it means going for a meal, but doing your best to hit your prescribed macros.
This approach is for those who are coming towards the end of a cut (maybe just for a holiday, vacation or photo shoot) or anyone in contest prep mode.
The first step to take here, is to plan the rest of your day's nutrition around your meal out.
If you know, for instance, that you'll be going to somewhere like an Italian, then chances are your meal will be pretty carb-heavy, with pizza, pasta or bread, so you're best served to make the rest of your day's food a little lower carb.
Likewise, it's difficult to find low-fat options at a burger bar (even if you go bun-less and skip the fries, you'll still have a fatty burger, maybe some cheese, or sauces) so keep your fat lower during the day.
The bottom line is that you should leave plenty of macros (mainly from carbs and fat) for your meal out without being too drastic about it.
The next step is to turn to My Fitness Pal.
So many chain restaurants now have their data either on their website, or on MFP, that if staying on track is your goal, you'd be mad not to check.
Your best bet is to pick out a couple of potential dishes before heading out, so that you know exactly what you're going to have, and don't get tempted by higher-calorie items when you're there.
A final pointer, is that if no macros or calorie counts are given, or you're going to an independent place, then have a look at the menu before you go, just to get an idea of the types of food they serve, and be prepared to ask for dressing on the side, or to have things cooked in a specific way. You are the customer after all.
Option #2 – The Not-So-Strict Approach
The above tips all work well, and if you want to go with those, then be my guest.
However, unless you're in one of the stages listed there, you can be a lot more flexible. This is "flexible" dieting after all.
Any bulkers, those in a maintenance phase, reverse dieting, people aiming for slow, steady fat loss, or those who are just looking after their health, should stick firmly to the tips I'm about to go through.
Firstly – be calorie conscious.
That doesn't mean you have to precisely count every single calorie you eat, or scour menus and websites before going out, but look for easy ways you can save calories.
Perhaps you skip the bread that's put on the table when everyone sits down.
Maybe you go for two courses instead of three, order low-fat cheese on your pizza, or a chicken burger instead of beef. Or you weigh up whether you have a couple of beers OR a dessert OR an extra side of onion rings.
The key is to enjoy yourself, and have flexibility, without going overboard and indulging for the sake of it.
Another top tip is to always pick something with protein in it.
Let's face it, as a lover of iron, you're hardly going to pick the tofu stir fry or veggie lasagne when there's steak or ribs on the menu (unless you're a vegetarian!) but basing your meal out around lean proteins and veggies is a great way to fill you up and save a few calories.
Eating mindfully is a big one too – do you really need to gorge as much as everyone else, or are you better off eating what you fancy, but stopping when you're full? i.e. eating with your stomach, not your eyes.
Additionally, go a bit more moderate during the day, perhaps by cutting your carbs a little, skipping your first meal of the day, or even burning off a few extra calories with a short interval session at some point before going out.
Exercise shouldn't be seen as a punishment in exchange for food, but there's no harm in doing a little more to off-set extra calorie consumption.
Weighing It All Up
The crucial point in deciding what you do when eating out is weighing up your actions versus your goals.
Can you have a lot more flexibility and freedom, and still get where you want to be, or do you need to be a little firmer with your choices and keep on track?
Only you can make that decision.
But whatever you choose, you've got the tools here at your disposal to ensure you have fun, don't binge, and keep on getting bigger, stronger and leaner, without feeling like you're being a restricted dieter.