Something odd happened to me in America around ten years ago. I started getting fat. At that point in my life, I was thin as a rake, and could seemingly eat whatever I wanted with no effect on my waistline. Until I spent 6 weeks on a tour bus schlepping around the dive bars and indie venues littered across the states from Boston to Sacramento. Eating in truck stops, drive-throughs, and the nearest restaurant to the venue we were playing in that night; nothing about my eating habits seemed to have changed. It didn’t seem like I’d turned into a junk guzzling binge monster, and I didn’t feel stuffed all the time. As far as I was concerned I was eating normally.
In reality, my food choices were ludicrous. Eating until you feel full as a method of keeping Calories under control is all well and good when you’re chowing down on chicken and broccoli, but an American odyssey of deep-fried, beige, mystery foodstuffs washed down with beer was a sure fire way to take me from champ to chubs in one tour. Since then, I’ve learned a thing or two about food choices. Knowing how to navigate the potential pitfalls of the work lunch or evening out while still losing the right amount of weight by the end of the week is important for anyone who wants to maintain their sanity while on a diet.
We eat out a lot. From 1978 to 1995, the number of Calories consumed from eating out increased by 89%. Here in London, it seems like we’re never less than a few seconds away from the new trendy restaurant or bar. We like eating out, and why not? With a world of amazing meals within reach, it’d be rude not to. But, with tasty food, as always, excess Calories come along for the ride.
Recently, a study compared the energy consumed from eating out and compared it to peoples overall energy needs. The study found that meals from restaurants provided 55% of an average woman’s daily energy intake, and 44% of a man’s. What’s more, in the same study, the Calorie content of meals averaged out to 1,205 kcal and went as high as 3,008 kcal. Did you think the meal you just wolfed down contained 500 Calories? It almost certainly didn’t, and even if you try to guess how many Calories are in the food that you eat when you’re out, you will likely still be off.
- Studies have shown people to underestimate their Calorie intake by as much as 2,000 kcal
- Even trained dieticians are at least 200 Calories out in their guesswork
Plus, the Calorie counts of the foods you eat while out are rarely available, and as helpful as nutrition information on their website is, you can’t eat at Nando’s all the time. Chefs aren’t there to help you hit your macros, they’re there to make your food taste amazing, and a liberal hand with the butter or olive oil can add 200 extra cals to any meal without you being able to notice.
Eating out is also a social event, it’s not just you and the food, but throwing friends and booze into the mix makes it even easier to overdo it.
- If you eat out with 6 or more friends, you consume almost twice as many Calories than if you ate by yourself
- Drinking booze before a meal increases how fast you eat, makes you consume more Calories, and causes you to keep eating after you’re full
It might seem like the only solution is to lock the door and stay in with your broccoli forever, but these facts are meant to make you aware that the odds of keeping Calories low when you’re out are stacked against you. However, all is not lost. With some forward planning, you can still go out and eat your favourite foods without messing up your plans to get lean for the beach.
The key to weight loss is to consume fewer Calories than you burn, but that doesn’t mean you have to do that every day. It doesn’t matter if you hit the same number of Calories every day or have a week of lower and higher days if the average is the same by the end of the week. This allows you to plan ahead for eating out by making one day higher and dropping the Calories on the rest of the days to keep the average the same. Below is an example of how you might make a 2,000 kcal daily average work to allow you to live a little on Saturday.
Here’s another version for the same 2,000 kcal average allowing for more food on training days, and two big days at the weekend by making use of two lower Calorie days on rest days from the gym.
Lastly, a protocol for someone who likes to have it large on Thursday, as well as two days on the weekend.
Not everybody benefits from that level of planning, and it’s often easy to just set Calories the same every day and have done with it. Also, not everyone has the kind of life that allows planning for one big day on a weekend. If you’re busy, have work lunches that pop up out of nowhere, or socialise a lot, you need the flexibility to manage eating out at the drop of a hat. Dropping Calories to accommodate a larger meal on the day is actually pretty simple. Try one of the following next time:
- Eat foods very high in protein and very low in everything else in place of normal meals during the day. Lean meats, low-fat dairy, and whey shakes work well.
- Fasting to drop Calories during the day is also a no-brainer. Skipping breakfast, lunch, or both obviously frees things up to fill your boots in the evening.
- Drinking a pint of water immediately before eating decreases the number of Calories you consume during the meal, so loading up on water before you eat is a good call.
Rocking up to a restaurant with your Tupperware and eating your “clean” dinner in the car park before going in and ordering a bottle or Perrier is not a strategy I’m on board with. I also think that unless you’re dieting for something extreme like an actual bodybuilding show, or you’re making weight for the IPF world championships, that you should seriously consider just eating what you want. Your anniversary dinner is more important than your six pack. However, if you eat out regularly, it’s perfectly possible to save yourself a lot of cals by employing any of the following strategies.
- Stay away from high-carb/ high-fat options like pizzas, chips, anything deep fried, or creamy pasta dishes. Staying with a higher carb/lower fat option like a chicken stir fry and rice, or a lower-carb higher fat meal like salmon and veggies is a good way to keep overall Calories down.
- Drink sparkling water or Diet Coke with the meal. The fizz will help to fill you up.
- Try to skip the bread basket. I know I know, easier said than done. You can always try asking the server to not bring it out. Out of sight, out of mind, can be a winner here.
- Have a think about what type of meat you’re ordering. A chicken breast will have fewer Calories than chicken thigh, a sirloin steak will have fewer Calories than a fatty ribeye.
- Change your order to swap whatever carbs you might get for extra vegetables, or get the salad side and steer clear of the chips.
- Order a starter and a main course rather than a main and a desert. Deserts are yummy for a reason, and that reason is normally an absolute shit load of fat, sugar, and Calorie-laden greatness.
- Unless your table eats for free if you win the triple burger, chips, and milkshake in under 10 minutes challenge, then you don’t always have to overdo it when you eat out.
- Ordering a salad always sounds like a good idea, but if it’s covered in a blue cheese dressing and littered with croutons it might backfire. Try to order the dressing on the side, add enough for the food to taste good, and save yourself a few hundred Calories.
- Steamed or grilled fish will contain a lot fewer Calories than breaded, battered, and deep-fried fish.
- If you’re drinking, stick to clear spirits and drinks with zero Calorie mixers. A sugary cocktail or a few pints can easily add 400 Calories to the meal.
Trying to get shredded while still having a life don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Eating out is totally doable. With planning, you actually can have your cake and eat it too.
Build a roadmap to your physique and health goals now and learn the skills to stay on the path forever: