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  • Jane Buscemi

Strategies for Dining Out and Not Losing Control of Your Waistline

One of the worst pieces of advice I’ve heard from people advocating a weight loss or even vegan diet is just don’t eat out. According to them, have your meals at home instead! Personally, I enjoy socializing over a meal at a restaurant and applaud all the restaurants who are adding vegan dishes or will thoughtfully accommodate. An increasing number of restaurants understand that vegans in a party can be the veto vote that keep larger numbers of possible patrons away. The secret to dieting while dining out is not to expect that a restaurant is going to know how to rewrite their recipes but to use some thoughtful questions, a little bit of dish education and your best judgement to try and maintain or even lose weight. In these strategies I am still following the low-fat vegan and whole food plant-based methodologies, I am simply compromising some of the health principles.

There are two major strategy schools of thought for dining out. The first is portion control and the second involves choices of food. They do not have to be mutually exclusive!

We all know what portion control is and we all know someone who follows this methodology. The people who draw little circles on their plates and eat only within those circles or those that take that one 1/2 teaspoon of dessert and no more are examples of this approach. It doesn’t matter to most portion control advocates how fatty, greasy, slimy or caloric, its just the deliciousness that counts. The problem with this style of eating strictly from a weight maintenance perspective is if you make poor choices and effectively use portion control you land up feeling hungry and food deprived, which can lead to cheating or abandoning a diet.

The second is choosing the right foods prepared in the right way without severely limiting quantity. One can go into a restaurant and order a plate of steamed vegetables in water (no oil used) and I can guarantee that it will be low fat, contain lots of satiating whole food fiber, and that you’ll need to exercise no portion control.

However, if you’re like me, depending on type of restaurant, you’ll feel deprived of the tastes and flavors that the cuisine might have otherwise offered you with only a plate of steamed vegetables. You might even start to feel that a healthy diet is not for you. Now, I rarely order plain steamed vegetables. I prefer to use a few tools and my learned experiences to make better choices. However, at the same time, I understand the waistline risks of choosing foods that I have not personally prepared or the practices I follow at home.

If you’re reading this, you have electronic access, perhaps even portable access like on a smart phone. Accessing reliable data on the web or from an app can be a teaching tool and help you learn how to make better menu choices. Although I don’t count grams of fat or percentage of fat on a menu and individual chefs will have different variations and fat content when preparing a sauce that goes by many different names, you can still use the data you find on reputable websites to choose a relatively lower calorie food.

Yes, I used the c word. I said calorie. However, that is only because fat has more calories per gram (9) than Protein or Carbohydrates (which both have 4). There fore there is often a relation between high fat foods and high caloric foods. Knowing this, one can pretty much take an educated guess and determine that by eating 1/2 cup of marinara sauce, one is consuming less fat than consuming 1/2 cup of oil, which is 100% fat, as a sauce or dressing. Therefore, using a caloric guess to learn how to make better choices is an effective tool for counting fat, although certainly not a perfect tool.

Another tool for making better choices is looking at the method of preparation of the food in question. Lets take a potato for example, obviously a raw, steamed, or boiled in plain water potato with no additions or a plain baked potato have no added fat calories but a pan sautéed or deep fried potato all contain oil or some other high fat choice. However, the lovely thing about cooking is there are many ways to prepare a raw ingredient. Therefore, depending on cooking method and how long the exposure to fat, the final food will have a different fat content. Different styles of cooking and different cuisine types may be prepared differently and will be discussed in future blogs by type of cuisine.

Always try to choose lower fat foods. I love nuts, but I won’t order dishes containing large quantities of them. They are simply too high in fat.

Another consideration is how whole or unprocessed a menu item appears to be. In this measurement, I am frequently surprised at the difference in the way a food is described versus the way it is served. Experience is the best teacher! One thing I recommend before ordering is reading the menu, asking questions, and looking at various dishes as they come out of the kitchen. In general, the firmer, more intact and richer colored the vegetable, the less processed.

These are my basic strategies. Specific examples and some common dish analysis are used to explain how to make better choices in later blog posts. Blogs covering dining experiences by cuisine type will make these strategies clearer.

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