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Living Well : Nutrition

Tips for Choosing a Meal When Eating Out

Dining out is a great way to socialize with family and friends. Learn how to have fun and still stay on track


Eating out can be full of temptation. The best intentions can vanish at a delicious meal with friends, so it’s important to be aware of 2 pitfalls: how much you eat (something you can learn to control) and how you respond to the event.

It can be hard to hold back at restaurants. This can be a big challenge for people whose work or lifestyle includes eating out a lot.

What can you do when dessert comes with the meal? What if the kitchen pours gobs of dressing on your salad? How do you deal with a basket of hot bread that comes before the meal even begins? What do you do with huge portions? How can you turn down a dessert cart filled with sweet treats? Let’s look at some strategies that 
may help:


  • Engage your partner. A restaurant is a place where your partner can help, before you even walk in the door. Some people decide with their partners what to order in advance, before the aroma of different foods weakens their will. Some ask their partner to order for them or to keep the breadbasket in a safe place. Your partner can also help by not pushing you to have drinks or desserts
  • Choose well. Give some thought about where to eat. A place with a wide range of foods is a good choice. Try to avoid buffets


  • Read the menu with care. Some menus have sections of healthy choices; you may want to look for words like baked, braised, broiled, grilled, poached, roasted, and steamed. Try to avoid items that are fried, buttered, creamed, crispy, au gratin, and breaded. You can also use a food planner and tracker to look up information on the menu items
  • Order from the front of the menu. Try to choose a healthy appetizer or salad for your meal. It may be enough food to fill you up and still make you feel like you had a nice meal out
  • Order à la carte. Sometimes a full meal costs less than it would if you added up everything that comes with it. This can tempt you to order more food than you need—the “value” meals at fast-food restaurants are a classic example. Don’t let them trick you. It’s only a deal if you want the extra food; if you don’t, save money by ordering only what you want
  • Watch the salad dressing. Salad dressing is high in fat, so you may want to ask for a low-fat dressing or for the dressing “on the side.” This lets you choose how much you want—better yet, try to leave it off completely. You can also order salad dressing on the side, and just dip your fork into the dressing before putting salad on your fork. You may be surprised how much of this small bit of dressing you can taste
  • Have it your way. It’s OK to ask for one or 2 menu substitutions that make sense, such as ordering a baked potato or salad instead of fries. If you order a sandwich, you could choose one that has one or 2 vegetables on it
  • Watch for hidden calories. Many foods have hidden calories that can add up, such as rich sauces, oils, and breading. If you can’t guess what’s in a dish, you could ask your server


  • Watch the alcohol. Alcohol is loaded with empty calories. Plus, you may find yourself drinking more than you plan, just to be social. A drink can be tempting while you sit at the bar waiting for your table and can weaken your will when you order and eat. You could order low-calorie drinks like water or seltzer instead
  • Beware of the bread. Try to keep an eye out for that wonderful breadbasket that comes when you’re hungry and excited about eating out. Try to turn it down. If the server brings you one anyway, you can move it across the table and let it stay there. Some people, however, may benefit from the breadbasket. They eat one piece of bread (with no butter) to take the edge off their hunger, which can help them resist richer foods later in the meal. You could try to see if this works for you; but, beware of using it as an excuse to gorge on bread and then eat what you would have anyway. Bread is not all that bad; breads and cereals are an important part of your diet. But the breadbasket can tempt you to eat more bread than you need just because it’s there


  • You may split your meal. Sharing a meal with a friend can be a great idea, especially since there is often enough food for 2 people. This can be worth it even if the restaurant charges for the extra plate. If you have no one to share with, you can ask for a doggie bag in advance and put part of your meal in it when the food arrives. This keeps the food out of sight where it won’t tempt you
  • Try to eat the greens first. You may want to start with the foods that are low in calories, like salad. If you fill up with salad or vegetables, you can be less tempted to overeat


  • Be wise about dessert. Do you deserve dessert when you eat out? You don’t get special desserts often, so why not enjoy yourself? Try to ignore this temptation. You may want to adopt a strategy where you get dessert only under 2 conditions: if you are still hungry or if you have planned it in your day’s calories in line with your healthcare provider’s recommendations. You could order fresh fruit or sorbet; both taste good and have far fewer calories than the usual dessert choices. Or, you can order one dessert for a group to share


  • Watch your emotional response. If you end up eating more than you planned, don't think of it as a disaster. The calories in one meal eaten out never shattered any weight management program. A huge meal of 5000 calories would only make you gain 1½ pounds, but how you respond to yourself and those calories could lead to trouble if you overreact. Your attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs can be just as important as what you eat. One 200-calorie donut doesn’t have to mean a 3000-calorie day, but try to be prepared to make up for that donut by eating less, not more. Try not to use this as an excuse to overdo it. Try to keep your cool by seeing these events as a small part of a bigger picture and use them as a reminder to do better the next meal or the next day

You could use these techniques to control your eating in restaurants, as well as other tactics you discover. For example, you might drink extra water to fill up before the meal comes. Try carrying a list with you of the challenges you face and the techniques you can use when you eat out. When you eat out, review your list before even entering a restaurant. If you find more challenges, write them down and then list some ways to overcome these challenges that you can discuss with your healthcare provider. Have fun, but stay in control!

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Do not take Qsymia if you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or become pregnant during Qsymia treatment; have glaucoma; have thyroid problems (hyperthyroidism); are taking certain medicines called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) or have taken MAOIs in the past 14 days; are allergic to topiramate, sympathomimetic amines such as phentermine, or any of the ingredients in Qsymia. See the end of the Medication Guide for a complete list of ingredients in Qsymia.