ask the nutritionist: eating out without gaining weight

Last week, when I posted about all of the Korean BBQ I’ve been eating, I received a question from a reader wondering how to eat out when you are trying to lose weight. I should mention that I’m not actively trying to lose weight, just maintain it, so if you are actively trying to lose weight, limiting meals out may be a good idea.

This is not an easy question to answer because there are so many ways, opinions and answers/suggestions on how to eat out and not gain weight.

Eating out for me is pretty much an obsession/favorite hobby of mine. I love exploring new cuisines and ethnic foods that I’m not familiar with in addition to any old delicious restaurant. I’ll try everything and every place once and so far, I’ve liked pretty much everything. :) I prefer to eat out on a regular basis, so I definitely rely on a few “tricks!”

Here are some of the ways that I enjoy restaurant meals without gaining weight: 

  • Decide what calories are worth it and which ones aren’t.
  • Appetizer or dessert.
  • Share! The Taster and I always share meals, and often just share small plates so we can try more items.
  • Take home some leftovers. When we had breakfast at The Griddle Cafe, the portions were so huge that we had enough leftovers to provide another whole meal.
  • Appreciate and savor delicious meals – having someone cook for you should be luxurious and special, treat it as such!
  • Don’t eat until you are stuffed. Sure, this will happen from time to time, but I make an effort to not leave a restaurant stuffed.
  • If you eat a large meal, don’t feel obligated to eat your normal breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks afterwards – listen to your body! Some meals we’ll eat a little more, and some we’ll eat a little less.
  • Eat the types of meals that you would typically eat at home. I often look for seafood or other protein and will usually request all non-starchy vegetable sides. Potatoes are not worth it to me, so I’ll typically skip them and ask for something else. (If I’m eating a burger, that is a different story).
  • Workout! Restaurant fare is typically a little higher in calories than a meal at home so it is just another reason to workout regularly. :)

Everyone has their own tips and tricks – please share yours! (Even if your tip is not eating out!) :)


  1. says

    These are great tips! My personal policy is to order something fun whenever I eat out {I’d rather not pay $$$ for something I can easily make at home, like a basic salad}, although I do try to be conscious of the nutritional value. Eating out all week while I was moving definitely led to some bloat – even though I tried to keep things fairly healthy, there was probably a LOT of sugar and sodium in the stuff I was eating. Your portion control tip is key – I try to bring half of my food home and then make it into its own meal by re-bulking it up with fresh veggies of my own.

  2. says

    This is so great and helpful Emily! I so often leave a restaurant miserably stuffed and I think it is really difficult to train our brains to be conscious of when we are satisfied and don’t need to eat anymore. Especially if the meal is particularly delicious, you just want one more bite! Magazines always say to ask for half of your meal to be boxed as soon as it arrives, but that seems so awkward to me! Have you ever done that?

    • Emily says

      I have not done that, but it might be worth trying. Or asking for it when they come back to check on the food and just setting some of the meal aside right away. I know it is easier said than done….

      • says

        sometimes if restaurants have appetizer plates on the table when you arrive i try to save the plate (because we rarely order appetizers/desserts out). then when my meal arrives i put what i want to save to take home on it. that usually works pretty well for me, and avoids a little awkwardness. :)

  3. says

    Andy and I share meals a lot. We also try to have leftovers when we don’t share. I love restaurant leftovers so it’s worth it to me to not over-indulge. I also always make sure I drink a ton of water when dining out.

  4. mary beth says

    This obviously depends on the restaurant but sometimes I’ll only allow myself a vegetarian option. It immediately limits my options and derails me from picking something too rich or indulgent. And since I enjoy veggies it usually always ends up being just as satisfying.

    • Emily says

      Yes! I always tell my husband that if we are still hungry, we can order something else! (Usually he goes along with that) :)

  5. Nicole Navratil says

    I’ve done pretty well maintaining my weight. Whenever I’m unhappy with it, I do more of the following:

    1) Increase veggie intake
    2) Eat more meals at home

    That’s about it. :)

  6. says

    I rarely eat out, so I definitely look at restaurant meals as more of a special occasion. Like you guys, my boyfriend and I tend to split often — we might share a small appetizer, a small salad, an entree, and sometimes a dessert!

  7. says

    Great tips!! I eat out more than I’d like to lately, most put of convenience. It’s not always easy, but I try to really limit my portion sizes when I eat out- either order an app or just eat only a small portion of my huge restaurant meal.

  8. says

    I love these tips! Also that picture of you just demolishing that taco is fabulous! When I eat out I will always ask for dressings on the side – dipping your fork in dressing and then stabbing some goods tastes just the same as if you dump the entire dressing on the salad! Plus you end up with half the dressing left!

  9. says

    These are great tips! I follow every single one, especially because I like eating out as much as you do. I still feel as though there are so many restaurants I have yet to explore here in Chicago!

    Love the picture of you and the taco!

  10. says

    Fabulous tips! Couldn’t agree more. I’m Italian (so I LOVE food), but I’m allergic to wheat and cow’s milk. So a couple other things I do to help prepare for food outings are:

    1. Check the menu online so I have time to really study the ingredients. That way I know what I’m going to get ahead of time and less likely to delve into something less healthy.

    2. If I’m going somewhere that I don’t have a menu, I’ll eat something healthy at home. That way, I’m not starving when I arrive, I’m sure to get good food in me, and I won’t overindulge in the less healthy stuff. Like chips!

    Thanks for the post! :)

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