5 Rules When Eating Out to Stay Healthy

table food

What is it about eating out at restaurants that can derail months of hard work?

Sure, it’s easy to prepare meals at home when you are in control of your batcave and all of the ingredients that end up on your plate, but once you head out to dinner it’s like a switch is flipped and suddenly we’re eating like Cookie Monster because “we’re eating out.”

If you tend to eat out a lot for whatever reason, making a few key changes to how you order off the menu can drastically contribute to your success in staying (or getting) healthy.

Today, we’re going to provide you with specific things you can do to keep you on track no matter where you are eating.  Before we jump into that, there’s one key piece of advice that I’m going to provide you with that will help you stay on target.  It comes to us from the 26th president of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt:

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Let’s dig in, shall we?

How to Level Up at a Restaurant


Pop quiz hotshot: you’re at a business dinner, out with friends, or stuck eating at the Chili’s across the street from your hotel on a Tuesday, and you want to eat healthy. 

What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO!?

Well, the first rule of eating out is you don’t talk about eating out!  Kidding. I just feel like that’s a requirement to say when you mention “First Rule.”

Use these five techniques to help you eat healthy when you’re out on the town:

1) Choose wisely. Like Indiana Jones trying to select the true Holy Grail, whenever you have the opportunity to select the restaurant where you’ll be eating….take it, but choose wisely! Choosing poorly won’t melt your face off like the false grail, but it can set you up to fail.

We’re fans of keeping things simple and allowing us to stay on target with our goals, so we hate having to use willpower at unhealthy restaurants. For that reason, we encourage you to select restaurants that fit into the following categories:

  • Steakhouse: If there’s a steakhouse nearby, there’s an opportunity to eat a high quality piece of protein and pair it with some amazing vegetables for a great dinner. My go-to at a steakhouse is a filet paired with asparagus.
  • Seafood: If you’re a seafood fan, then it’s quite easy to find a healthy option when it comes to eating things that live in the water. Note: places like Long John Silver’s and Captain D’s don’t qualify 🙂
  • Mexican: Although Mexican food is usually considered unhealthy, Mexican restaurants have some incredible healthy options if you know what you’re looking for. A salad bowl covered in salsa, guacamole, chicken, and sauteed veggies? Sign me up, sucka!
  • “American” food: Okay, maybe not the best choice, but even if you’re stuck at Chili’s or a TGIFridays, there are options that can keep you on target.
  • Breakfast Food: Eggs and bacon. Still hungry? Ask for all of the bacon and eggs they have.

In all of the options above, there are really healthy choices to be made, just as there are really unhealthy choices. Which brings us to Rule #2:

2) Scout the menu first!  If possible, scout the menu for the restaurant online before hand (research FTW), and pre-select your option so you don’t have to spend any willpower points wavering what you’re going to order.  Don’t even look at the menu!

If possible, ask to order first. Whenever the server asks who wants to go first, SPEAK UP! If you are the one person in your group of friends that’s eating healthy, you’re going to some haterade for your healthy order after your friends all order pizza/lasagna/pasta/etc…or you might get influenced into making a worse decision to fit in (and “you know, live at a little”).

If you get to order first though, the reverse could happen – you could end up actually influencing your friends positively! Captain America would be so proud.

3) Enlist the help of your server! See something you like that’s 80% of the way there? Don’t be afraid to ask them to modify the order or ask them what they would choose if they were trying to eat like you – it happens all the time, and the server really won’t mind.  A chicken sandwich or a burger without the bun can easily turn into a plate of meat and vegetables.

99% of the restaurants I’ve ever been to will give you a plate of “chicken and vegetables” if you ask for it, even if it’s not on the menu.  Their goal is to make you happy.

One time, when NF Team Member Staci couldn’t find anything on the menu she could eat, she just talked to the waitress, and ended up with bison, bacon, and sweet potato fries (this was a greasy burger joint and they legitimately didn’t have any vegetables).

4) Ditch the starch! For starters, many restaurants will have a protein and starch/carb option.  Steak and potatoes, fish and rice, etc.  They’ll also have a vegetable option, usually something broccoli, mixed greens, asparagus, spring veggies, etc.

  • If you’re Paleo, simply swap out the starch/carb option with more vegetables.  Aim for grilled, not breaded and fried (duh). DING, victory. If you get two sides – just get double vegetables. They never say no!
  • If you’re not Paleo, and you want a starch with your meal, see if you can get them to swap out regular potatoes for sweet potatoes. Go for baked instead of french fries, and avoid loading it up with sour cream. Just butter!
  • If you order a salad, get the dressing on the side (especially if it’s a Caesar). I don’t know what it is about restaurants, but salad should not be soupy, and your lettuce shouldn’t be floating in dressing.  Get the dressing on the side and add it yourself.  Oil and vinegar is usually the safest bet here.

5) Skip dessert. I have a confession to make – I never order dessert at restaurants. Ever. Rather than having to rely on willpower to make that decision each and every time “I probably shouldn’t, but I might, but maybe I’ll look at the menu,” I’ve conditioned my brain to say “no dessert for me, thanks!” It’s not that I’m depriving myself of it, I simply don’t eat it.

Calories count, and I choose to use mine on foods that help me level up or the occasional adult beverage.

If everybody else at the table is getting dessert, get yourself some coffee and enjoy the company of the people at the table with you. You can do so without stuffing your face 🙂

Tips, Tricks and Hacks


Outlined above are the steps I personally use to stay healthy when I eat out at restaurants. However, if you feel like you need a little more to stay on track, check out these rapid-fire bullet points to keep you on track (which are more fun and helpful than rapid-fire bullets):

  • Always order water instead of soda or other sugary drinks! Sugar is bad news bears. Need something with flavor? Iced tea (unsweet!)
  • When on the road, ditch the fast food and go straight to a grocery store or Wal-Mart instead. Look for hot food items!
  • Avoid fried when possible (duhhh) and get baked, steamed, or grilled.
  • Ask your waitress to NOT bring you chips/bread/popcorn if you know they usually do. Don’t waste your willpower on a battle you can avoid entirely!
  • If it’s a big entree, don’t be afraid to split it – Oftentimes portion sizes are naturally so huge, that a regular meal is 2000+ calories.
  • Eat slowly – It takes a minute for your brain to realize that your stomach is already full. So SLOW DOWN. Enjoy the conversation of the people you’re eating with!
  • Pull a Staci: Explain that you have an “allergy” or “weird reaction” to certain types of foods. They’ll stop hassling you to “live a little” and instead get on your side – it’s a health thing (hey, it is!).
  • You don’t have to eat the whole thing, you know – Depending in the culture you came from, it might be considered rude to not clean your plate, but at certain restaurants that can be a massive undertaking. Put your napkin on your plate, and ask to take it home. Heck, sprinkle a crazy amount of salt on it so that you stop eating.
  • Traveling a LOT? Stuck on the road quite a bit? Here ya go 🙂

Play It Cool


The more you can prepare, the less likely you’ll be to deviate and fall apart.

And most importantly, remember that you’re human. If you decide to eat a bad meal, it’s not a cheat meal and you’re not doing anything wrong. You’re human, schedules get crazy, and sometimes maybe you just want to eat pizza – that’s fine. Remember that it’s not something wrong, it’s a conscious decision you’ve chosen to make. But then get right back on track immediately with the next meal.

One bad meal doesn’t ruin a day, but saying “well I ate a bad lunch so today is ruined so I’ll eat poorly for dinner and try again tomorrow” does.

Keep that in mind, and you’ll stay on target.

What about you?  What are your favorite tips for eating healthy while dining out? What sorts of advice do you have for your fellow road warriors and travelers that eat out more than they eat in?

Let’s hear it in the comments!


PS: Next week we’ll be opening up a small number of early bird spots to Camp Nerd Fitness 2015. Make sure you sign up for the CNF2015 interest list to be among the first to be able to reserve your spot 🙂

PPS: I got a chance to go on Fox Business a few weeks back for a whole 2 minutes (haha!) and represent the Nerd Fitness Rebellion. It was my first time ever on live TV, so I’m just glad I didn’t throw up on myself.  Here’s the footage!


photo source: Vanessa Pike-Russel: Platter, Thomas Hawk: Candle, Kevin Dooley- Pizza, Stephan Geyer: Sushi

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