The likelihood of completely avoiding popular restaurant chains these days is pretty low. You would have to be extremely vigilant, somewhat anti-social, and carry meals around with you everywhere to never step foot in a place like Cheesecake Factory, Chipotle, or any number of other branded alternatives. I’m not saying you seek these places out, but when you travel for work as much as I do, sometimes you need to eat and the only options aren’t exactly your first choice. So I’ve compiled some tips for making sure you don’t stray too far off your meal plan and can walk out of a common food chain head held high and waistline in tact.
- Cancel the Combo: One of the easiest traps to fall into in a fast food chain is the “combo” deals. Usually, this means extra fries and a soda. However, that can skyrocket your meal’s calorie count with the press of button and leave you facing over 1,200 calories in most cases. Your best bet is to create your own meal and try for a healthy veg side or none at all, combined with water. That will lighten the load on your stomach AND your wallet.
- Up the Veg: Most restaurants, yes even BJ’s and Applebee’s, offer the option to add vegetables to a meal rather than heavy starches. You may have to ask specifically for it but substituting those mash potatoes for steamed broccoli or grilled asparagus will boost your meal’s nutrition.
- Chug Water to Start: Going into any place with food, be it a restaurant or grocery store, when you’re starving is a bad idea. One of the easiest ways to combat this, and research backed solution, is to drink 1-2 cups of water before ordering. Water fills the stomach making you less hungry and more level headed about ordering your food.
- Cancel Out Handouts: A lot of restaurants from Italian to Mexican put freebies like bread or chips on the table without you saying a word. It is clever trickery to have you pack in a few hundred useless calories from refined carbohydrates. Not ideal. Best to just say no to the basket of dinner rolls.
- Do the Numbers: Most major restaurant chains have the calorie count for each dish right there on the menu. In fact, it is soon going into law in the US that all restaurants will have to put calorie counts on their products. Now, simple calorie count doesn’t mean everything but I’d definitely think twice about a dish that says right there on the menu it has over 1,700 calories (like the Creamy Alfredo Penne at Cheesecake Factory).
- **It’s Just a Meal!**: This is probably the one we all fall victim to most often. We make excuses with ourselves like, “oh well it’s our anniversary so we will just get whatever we want!” or maybe “I never go to places like this so I’ll just pig out.” This is so dangerous because one meal can ruin all the work you do everyday. The extra fats, saturates, refined carbs, and calories all matter and don’t care whether it’s your best friend’s birthday or not.
- KISS It (Keep It Simple Silly): This is probably the second most important tip for staying on track in a chain restaurant. We are all tempted by the added words in descriptions of a meal, but usually added words mean added naughtiness. Point in case; think about cheesecake. It is delicious but we all know it certainly is not healthy. However, what do you think happens when you go from eating Cheesecake to Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cheesecake or Khalua Cocoa Coffee Cheesecake. About 400 calories or more is what happens.
- Avoid Peer Pressure: Stay strong! Don’t cave into ordering in line with your friends. It can be hard I know but often times, you go out for meals with people that aren’t on the same meal plan or fitness plan as you. The key is to not listen or think about what other people are ordering, find what works for you and your nutrition and order it. Period.
- Trust Your Gut: This is more of a lifestyle tip rather than specifically for restaurants. When your stomach feels full, stop eating. A lot of people feel pressure to overeat at a restaurant because they paid for their meal and want to finish it to feel they are getting their monies worth. However, leaving some food on your plate means you save calories, even if you are saying full price.
Use these tips to stay vigilant in any situation, whether it’s a night out with the girls or Thanksgiving dinner. You can do it!