As much as I like to (humbly) brag that I can make a mean breakfast burrito, cooking is not my forte. So my husband and I end up eating out more than I care to admit. As someone who has lived with Crohn’s disease (think: major gut issues) for the last seven years, eating healthy is not just a lifestyle choice. It’s the difference between feeling good and being chained to the porcelain throne. So out of necessity, I’ve become the queen of asking questions and requesting modifications whenever I dine at a restaurant. (Yes, I’m that person.) The moral of the story? You can eat out, enjoy your food (and your life), and still fuel your body with foods that make you feel your best. Read on for a cheat sheet of tips and tricks healthy women always use when eating out.
1. Do your research
Whether you’re headed to Sunday brunch with the girls or a long-awaited first date, come prepared by doing a quick Google search to check out the restaurant in advance. Giving the menu a once-over will prevent those moments where you panic-order the fried chicken because everyone else did. It will also give you a chance to think about what food you would most enjoy and what would make you feel the best. This way, you’re less susceptible to mindlessly ordering the fries or pancake stack as you get hungry sitting at the restaurant.
If you’ve been tasked with picking the dinner spot (even better), you can take it one step further and look into the practices of the restaurants you’re considering. Where do they source their ingredients from? Are they organic and sustainable? What’s their food philosophy? Then, narrow down your options based on what you value the most.
2. Don’t arrive at the restaurant hungry
We’ve all been there: You get to the restaurant starving, and you can’t help but dive right into the bread basket or chips and salsa. To prevent repeating this all-too-familiar scenario, don’t skip out on your typical meals or snacks ahead of your meal out. Instead, do yourself a favor and eat well-balanced, nourishing meals of protein, healthy fats, fiber, and veggies throughout the day to keep you satisfied and your blood sugar stabilized. And before you head out, reach for a small bite consisting of protein and healthy fats, like veggies and hummus, an apple with almond or peanut butter, or a hard-boiled egg and a handful of almonds.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s, I would always ask to be the last to order. I hoped the others I was dining with would be too enthralled in conversation to notice my endless list of questions and modifications. I’d hide behind my menu, worried about how others and the server would react to said requests. But over the years, I’ve learned to speak up confidently. More often than not, I’m met with patience and kindness when communicating my needs.
So don’t be afraid to (politely) ask how a dish is made, how large the portions are, what types of oils and other ingredients they cook with, etc. And while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to ask if you can sub the mac and cheese or mashed potatoes for extra greens. The more knowledge you’re armed with, the better (read: healthier) choices you can make for yourself.
4. Get in your veggies
A good rule of thumb is to always make vegetables the star of your meal. But the healthiest women know they don’t have to miss out on their favorite foods like pasta, tacos, pizza, or burgers. Instead, they think about adding veggies to their meal. If you’re drooling over that cacio e pepe, don’t force yourself to get steamed chicken and broccoli instead. Order a starter salad and a side of broccoli so you get in some fiber and nutrients. Then, opt for the dish you would enjoy the most. (Food is meant to be pleasurable!)
Most restaurants have a salad section or veggie side selections, making it a no-brainer to get some more veggies in. Whether you order a salad as an appetizer, double up on steamed spinach with your entree, or nurse a green juice throughout your meal, you’ll be adding in nutrients that digest better and make your body feel amazing.
5. Ask for condiments on the side
I hate to break it to you: Most sauces and dressings served at restaurants are laden with sugar, salt, artificial additives, and other hidden ingredients that may include common allergens like soy and gluten. If you’re ordering a salad to get in some more good-for-you nutrients, the added sugar or artificial ingredients in the dressing typically aren’t worth how they make you feel IMO. The good news is getting any sauces or dressings on the side gives you control over how much you use. You can also try asking for healthier alternatives, such as pesto, salsa, guacamole, extra virgin olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
6. Listen to your body on portion size
News flash: Most dishes served at restaurants in the US are at least twice the portion of what would satisfy us and fill us up. If you’ve been taught not to waste food since you were a kid and belonging to the clean plate club is all you’ve known, listen up. Many of us are in the habit of eating whatever is in front of us. So at restaurants with large portions, this means eating until we feel stuffed, uncomfortable, and even sick. Check in with your body frequently to identify when you’re feeling satisfied and no longer enjoying the food in front of you.
Another tip? Try ordering family style to share entrees, appetizers, or dessert when out to dinner with others. Or if you identify with Joey Tribbiani and sharing food is not in your vocabulary, consider asking for a to-go box before you start digging into your meal. Tomorrow’s lunch? Check.
7. Drink more water
Healthy women consider H20 their BFF, so first things first when you get seated at the table: Order a tall glass of water and keep ’em coming. Staying hydrated throughout your meal can also help slow down your eating. This allows you to check in with your hunger and fullness cues to prevent overeating. If you decide to have an alcoholic bevvy with your meal, adopt healthier ways to knock it back. Sip mindfully to fully enjoy the drink. Opt for a cocktail with fresher ingredients instead of sugars and syrups. And don’t forget about your trusty glass of water.
8. Eat mindfully
Let’s face it: With the hustle of everyday life, we’re inundated with distractions. Between work emails, TikTok, and the latest Netflix binge, it’s easy to rush through meals without so much as a pause. The next time you’re dining out, make it a point to use all of your senses to eat with intention. Take in how your food looks (yes, eating with your eyes is a real thing), its aroma, textures, flavors, and how it makes you feel. It’ll force you to slow down, be present, and save the experience with your friends or date. If you find it difficult to practice mindful eating, put your utensil down every few bites to develop an awareness of your food and the moment. Trust me: Your digestion will thank you.