Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In. Wellness Dines Out

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Living in New York City, I am lucky to have so many incredible restaurants around me. Much of my social life revolves around going out to dinner.
Earlier this week I went with some friends to Roberta's Pizzeria in Bushwick. (

Yum! The pizzas were really thin and included interesting toppings like brined kale. One of our favorites had thinly sliced onion, guanciale (bacon) and jalapeno peppers. They have a rooftop greenhouse outside where they grow many of the vegetables they use.

We were all really hungry and ended up splitting 4 pizzas between the four of us. (They're thin, people.)

This meal is what I like to categorize as an "indulgent" meal. I go, I eat, I enjoy. I like to have indulgent meals once in a while. We only live once. I believe that enjoying food is healthy. My rule is that when I indulge, I walk out guilt free.

However, I usually go out for dinner a few times a week, and if I ate like this at each of these meals I wouldn't fit into my jeans by the end of the month. So, when I am not eating "indulgently" I try to eat "healthfully".

When I speak to friends, clients and participants at workshops, there seems to be a real need for more information about how to do this.

Here are some simple tips that I use:

1. When people eat out they tend to order an appetizer, main course, drink and dessert. Try to choose a main course (which can be an appetizer), and then just choose just 2/3 from the rest of list. Want a drink? Skip dessert.

2. Soups are a great healthy and low calorie appetizer or meal. A hearty soup can really fill you up! Cream-based soups are higher in fat and calories than broth-based soups. Remember, just because you are ordering light doesn’t mean you should have extra servings of bread or dessert.

3. Look for items on the menu that are baked, grilled, dry-sauteed, broiled, poached, or steamed. These cooking techniques use less fat in the food preparation and are generally lower in calories.

4. Think veggie. Stay healthy by selecting items with vegetables as key ingredients, it
will ensure your meal is full of dietary fiber and nutrients. A salad is typicallya good choice, but be aware that cream based dressings and toppings like cheese and croutons can add fat
and calories. The Chicken Caesar Salad can have up 48 grams of fat! That’s 75% of your recommended fat intake for the day.

5. Portion control. One of the simplest and easiest ways to make your dining out experience healthier for you, is to simply cut down on your portions. Go ahead and treat yourself to your favorites, just eat less of them. Here are some tips on how to do this:
  • Order a la carte (i.e. two enchiladas instead of three).
  • Take a slice of bread and then give the basket back to the server.
  • Ask for an extra plate with your dinner. When your food arrives, cut it into a half-portion and place it on the other plate and immediately ask for it to be wrapped up. If it looks like you don’t have enough food to fill you up, ask for a side of steamed vegetables or salad.
  • Use chopsticks. Using them slows down your pace of eating so you feel fuller while eating less.
  • If you are full and you don’t have enough on your plate to take the rest home, eliminate the temptation to keep nibbling and salt the rest of your dinner heavily or pour on the hot sauce.
6. Ask for it on the side. Restaurants often drench dishes and salads in high fat dressings and sauces. As a rule, if the sauce or dressing is cream based, ask for it on the side. Dip your fork in the sauce and then stab your food (not the other way around).

7. Alcoholic beverages can be very high in calories. Here is a sampling of some popular drinks and their calories:
a. Margarita = 450 calories
b. Mojito = 240 calories
c. Beer = 100 for a light beer up to 200/250 for darker heavier beers
d. Wine = most red and white hover around 100 calories/glass

Tip: Go ahead and have a drink, but try to alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of sparkling water with lime. This will keep you hydrated as well.

8. Calorie Price Tag. Overall, try to think of your food as having a “calorie price tag”. You wouldn’t order the filet mignon on just an average night of the week, same goes for those high calorie options, save them for a special occasion. Did you know?
  • A large cinnamon roll has over 800 calories and more than a half a stick of butter?
  • One "loaded" nacho has more than 100 calories?
  • A mocha coffee contains more than 300 calories?
  • A large fountain drink has 300 calories?
-Healthy Dining Guide, Dr. Lichten

9. Being Difficult: Many people have a hard time asking for special requests when dining out. Remember this scene from When Harry Met Sally?

But there are ways of doing it well. Try saying to your waiter, “I really hate to be difficult but I am trying to be health conscious and I would be so appreciative if the chef would make some slight modifications to help me. Would it be possible…” And then ask for whatever it is you need (no extra butter on the bun, sauce on side, substitute mustard for mayo, etc.).

10. Handling social pressures around food. There is nothing better than enjoying a good meal with friends. These days, most people’s social life is totally entwined with food. If you give up going out for dinner, you might never see your friends. Enjoying food with other people can both help and hurt us. Sometimes it keeps us accountable – you might finish that carton of ice cream if you were alone in your apt. where as you wouldn’t in front of friends. But sometimes eating with friends can harm our eating. We are more prone to break our diet for fear of being seen as difficult or picky. We may also worry that friends will feel personally judged if we opt not to share the nachos appetizer with them… Plus, studies show that we sub-consciously match our eating habits to those around us, and tend to eat more in groups then we would alone. (Herman CP, Roth DA, Polivy J., Effects of the presence of others on food intake: a normative interpretation.)

So, how do you navigate these social pressures? A good rule is to tell your friends that you want to make the dinner health conscious before you sit down with them. Letting them know ahead of time that you aren’t eating bread, or drinking alcohol will allow them to manage their own expectations of the night, and they will be more apt to support you when you sit down at the table. Plus, letting them know ahead of time increases your own accountability and makes you less likely to be tempted astray.

Taking it IN...

Spend a moment thinking about your dining out habits. What's your dining out personality?

Are you someone who obsesses over your order and it's calorie content? Perhaps to the point where you don't even enjoy your food?

Or, are you someone who eats out most nights of the week and never even thinks about it?!

Whichever personality you are, try this week to change it up. Obsessing type? Go out and order whatever you want form the menu and enjoy it. Never think about it type? Make an attempt at eating "healthfully" during one of your dining experiences. Study the menu and figure out what you think might be the healthiest option. See if you can find a way to enjoy this way of eating as well, knowing that you are caring for your body.

Want to Watch Calories When Dining Out?
By Sheila Weiss, R.D.

Healthy Dining Guide
Dr. Jo Lichten

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