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I Can't Come Out To Dinner, I'm On A Diet!

I Can't Come Out To Dinner, I'm On A Diet!

Tuesday 28th February 2017

Ugh, I've come across this statement many times over the years. I've heard it from clients and friends, felt the anxiety myself and I've worked in that restaurant kitchen, fully understanding why you'd be a little concerned about calories!

Food can't and shouldn't always be functional and sometimes it's social, fun and interactive. It would be such a shame to shy away from such events, dreading them and worse still, starving yourself for days prior to allow for the expected calorie loading; feeling wretched for days after. So, how can we arm ourselves with the tools to allow ourselves to embark on healthy eating but still look forward to these social consumable get togethers?

Number 1

The Moderation Tool
Yep, it's that good old fashioned phrase "all things in moderation". Are you going out EVERY day for food and drink? Most of us go out from time to time, when other restraints give way (money, time, responsibilities, babysitter, etc.). If you are in the minority of folk who are out every day and undertake a series of meals back to back, that would each feed a family of 4, I would recommend going to the Number 4 Tool.

By minimising the foods we are told could be harmful, sticking to advice about portions, types of food and ratios MOST of the time, we should have that confidence to go out for a social meal, giving the calorie concern and disappointing self control a night off.

My Note - all things in moderation should allow you to give in to guilt free treats from time to time, without you losing the momentum to get back on with the usual, healthy way of eating the following day.

Number 2

The Trip Advisor Tool
If you're going out and have been left to choose the venue, choose wisely! If you're going to be consuming food you won't be cooking and it's a treat to go out, don't settle for disorganised restaurants with poor quality ingredients. Look for establishments that pride themselves in "local" and "seasonal". Small menus, made of fresh ingredients, prepared recently - if there are pages of dishes to choose from, it can be a sign that there will be some rummaging through a chest freezer out the back! Restaurants with attentive waiting staff that don't make you feel anxious and cross, tables set up in imaginative and well thought out design. Carefully considered decoration and background music can all be a sign the food may also have similar thought given to it.

My Note - if you can't book straight away, you could to be on to a winner! Use Trip Advisor for the real low down!

Number 3

The Preparation Tool
You know you're off out for a big three course meal and you want to enjoy it! I could suggest a real winner here - wear an elasticated waistband, ha! Well you could, but my tool is not really about that - how about making sure you're well hydrated before you go? Drinking plenty of water to ward off any dehydration later and to keep your stomach feeling a little less empty before you leave would help your night out.

Keep the meals the following day light and easy. For example, just because you always have half a leg of lamb on a Sunday, doesn't mean you need to have the same meal the day after a Saturday Night Food Bender! So, how about slow roasting the lamb the following day, and serving it up without the roast potatoes? A refreshing salad of lemon dressed, crunchy vegetables with mint, to aid digestion?

A "fast" day can help some after a big night out (those without underlying medical conditions that this can effect). Giving the body and stomach a chance to digest the extra food from the previous day, can sometimes help restore the balance of the good bacteria in our gut, resulting in the stomach feeling less bloated and strained. Drink lots of water, light meals, go for a walk and give the food no more thought than that!

My Note - Quantity does not equal quality here. If the portions are notoriously large at an establishment, ask for a smaller portion or find dishes on the menu that aren't so heavy.

Number 4

The Knowledge Tool
This is the insider knowledge, from the chef in the kitchen, watching and learning. Some options on the menu can seem to be "healthier choices" but don't be fooled!

It isn't always necessary to fill up for the day if you're out for light lunch with a friend. You may still have a family dinner planned later or you have 1001 things to do that afternoon and feeling food-induced-tiredness may not be very helpful! However, it's just a lunch, it will be fun catching up with your friend and you don't want to dread it.

"Good choices" are what the Knowledge Tool will give you. Look through the menu and see if there are any descriptions available; if not, ask your Waiter/waitress to describe the dish. I tend to look at the Starters for a light lunch. A good restaurant will have a great choice of perfectly matched flavours and interesting ingredients - choose something a bit different, comforted by the knowledge that whatever you choose, the portion will be smaller.

Soups are sometimes a good place to start with for a light lunch and you can always ask for this to be served as a main course. However, ask your waiter if there is added cream if you are really "trying to be good" and be weary that there is usually very little protein in a bowl of soup. There are normally better options!

If you have a busy afternoon following your lunch, avoid alcohol, have plenty of water and try and find something with some quality protein - is there a dish there with oily fish? Are grilled, poached or steamed cooking methods listed on the menu? A good dose of protein at lunchtime will keep your energy levels up until your evening meal.


You may eat more at a dinner sitting than a lunch one and of course there are alcoholic options to to look at. You still don't need to go mad though and could even look forward to these evenings out, equipped with the curiosity to try something different, something you would not normally prepare at home.

Vegetarian Options are not always the best way to go as many restaurants can go quite heavy on cheese and cream to make up for the lack of animal protein. I have witnessed many conversations "on the pass" in the kitchens about how a customer is on a diet and would like the Vegetarian or the Gluten-Free option, thinking that was the better choice! With the fantastic up and coming, trendy, modern Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants popping up around, I know there is a massive switch to healthier options in these Menus, but there are still many places that are still not sure how to put a good "meat free" dish together. Approach with some caution if you're not sure.

Many restaurants use butter as their "flavor maker". Come on, I don't think I've met anyone who isn't slightly comforted by a plate of risotto, pasta, mashed potato, gratin or sauce, that has been enriched with the addition of a proper fat! These may be dishes you'd like to avoid if you were hoping for eating well, but not "that well". Portions of vegetables are notoriously bathed in a creamy ghee, allowing the stalks and leaves to glisten luxuriously in the perfectly managed restaurant lighting. An undressed salad (with dressing on the side if you'd like to control the amount added) would be a good choice for a side dish or ask for the vegetables to come without butter.

Again, the same as the lunch knowledge, look for grilled, steamed or poached options if you're really trying to keep up with eating as well as possible. Avoid the carbohydrates that are deep fried or cooked/served with butter. I look for a good, hearty portion of protein, one served with flavours and ingredients that appeals to me.

My Note - Ultimately, whether you are out for breakfast, lunch or dinner, the main ingredients served up at the table should be "relaxation", "socializing" and "fun". Equipped with confidence to ask waiters questions about dishes, asking for swops to be made with sides, or requests for dressings/sauces to be served separately, you are the customer and your reasonable requests will always be respected. It could just take the anxiety out of the question "do you want to meet for lunch?"

Fuelled with the Momentum Of Good Practice (see a further Blog!), don't be put off going out to eat - take the 4 tools with you, relax, enjoy the company and food, and get back on the usual way of eating the next day - simple!