Making healthier choices when you eat out

It is possible to eat healthier foods at a restaurant and not feel like you’re missing out. Dr Rick Kausman offers his advice.

When you’ve resolved to follow healthier eating habits, a restaurant can feel like treacherous territory. When everyone around you is digging into parmigianas and pies, ordering a light salad or something less-indulgent can seem like a letdown. So how can you order healthier restaurant dishes without a serious case of food envy?

Dr Rick Kausman – an expert in eating behaviours, weight and body image issues, and author of If Not Dieting Then What? – has strategies to help you order what your body really wants and needs.

Don’t be a copycat

We’re social beings and often mimic those around us without even realising. 

“A number of studies have shown that if we’re with a person who is eating more than we normally would, then we may well be influenced to eat more,” Dr Kausman says. “We tend to follow social etiquette and eat similarly to another person.”

Instead of following the herd, Dr Kausman says we should focus on how we are feeling within our own body.

“So many of us have lost a sense of listening to our body and checking in with our own body about what we feel like and how much.

“If you can do that, chances are you can convince yourself to order a healthier option. It would be great if we ordered balanced meals every time we ate out, but let’s be honest, we’re not robots and sometimes we really crave a sweet or salty treat. 

Let’s be honest, we’re not robots and sometimes we really crave a sweet or salty treat.

“Don’t feel wrong or bad about wanting high-fat or high-sugar foods sometimes. Say to yourself: ‘I can have it if I really want it, but do I really feel like it?’ It reminds you that you are in charge and you should not feel deprived.”

Ditching feelings of deprivation helps reduce desperation for foods in the first place and if you do indulge, the likelihood of stopping eating when you’re full – rather than when the plate is licked clean – is much higher. 

“Eat slowly because it allows the body to recognise how much the right amount to eat is,” Dr Kausman says. “If we rush, it’s harder for the body to recognise you’ve had enough.”

Restaurant meal - mind over menu - body

Take in your surroundings

Not only can people sway how we order, but where we eat may also have an effect. Obesity researcher Professor Brian Wansink from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that where people sit in a restaurant may dictate what they order. His research suggested that sitting at darker tables furthest from the front door tended to lead to unhealthier choices, while those by the window or at a high table ordered healthier foods. 

“The darker it is, the more ‘invisible’ you might feel, the less easy it is to see how much you’re eating, and the less conspicuous or guilty you might feel,” Wansink wrote in his book Slim By Design. 

Dr Kausman agrees our environment has a powerful affect over our behaviour. 

“It’s so easy for external cues to take over. It might be another person eating more, it might be more on the table, it might be more on our plates,” he says. But “it’s most important to be listening to our bodies,” he says.

Sitting at darker tables furthest from the front door tends to lead to unhealthier choices.

With a few tricks up your sleeve such as being aware of your surroundings and the people you’re with, it is possible to make healthier choices when you eat out.

Bupa Health Insurance

Need help in making healthy food choices? A dietitian can provide personalised advice. Depending on your cover, some visits may even be covered under your private health insurance.

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