By Daniel G. Amen, MD

Eating out doesn’t mean eating bad. When you decide to enjoy a meal at a restaurant, be aware of the little lies we tell ourselves, and follow the rules to live by for a happier, healthier life.

Little Lies

We often tell ourselves little lies that are total non-sense. They are lies that fool us into a trap of eating unhealthy types of food. Ask yourself if these sound familiar:

  • Eat the bread before the meal because it’s on the table.
  • Order a salad to lose weight and be healthy.
  • I’m eating out. I can cheat.
  • I can’t order it a special way, because they won’t do it.
  • I don’t want to be an annoying customer.
  • If I don’t order what I want I’m depriving myself.
  • I have to have dessert because it would be wasteful not to eat it.

Here are a few rules to live by. Adopt them and enjoy yourself!

Rules to Dining Out

Take Control You are in control of the choices you make regarding what you eat. It doesn’t matter what’s on the menu, what the waiter says, how you feel, or what the situation is. You are still in control of choosing to eat right.

Salads Don’t Always Equal Health Salads can seem harmless—helpful even. But calories can soar into the thousands if you’re not careful. Skip the ranch dressing, fried chicken, croutons, and bacon. Look for “Daniel Plan Friendly” ingredients and always ask for the dressing on the side.

Ask for the Nutritional Guide Pay attention to the nutritional guide. Most restaurants that have more than 19 locations offer a printed overview of the nutritional profiles on their menus. Review it and make a smart decision.

Don’t Drink Your Calories Just because you’re out, doesn’t mean you have to drink a sugary alcohol drink. The alcohol will fool you into thinking you are hungry and the dessert tray will be more appealing. Opt for a sparkling water or hot green or herbal tea.

Get the Sauce on the Side Whether it’s meat, salad or any other dish, get the sauce and dressing on the side. Foods grilled or prepared without sauces are delicious and the sauces can just add a twist. You want to be in control of your nutrition at all times.

The Waiter (and Restaurant) is There to Serve You Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, even if it’s not on the menu. The restaurant wants your business and repeat visits. The waiter wants a big tip and will do almost anything to help you feel completely satisfied with your meal. Also, the waiter has inside knowledge of the menu items, so ask what’s the healthiest and best items that day.

Appetizers: Start with Protein The worst is bread or fried items. Instead, start with appetizers that are protein rich. A few examples are: Ahi tuna, hummus with vegetables or shrimp cocktail (with very little sauce).

When Asked, Just Say No Would you like a drink? Can I supersize it for less money? Do you want bread? Can I bring you more bread? Can I get you another? These are typical questions every waiter is instructed to ask. The general rule is if it is not on your plan, SAY NO.

Desert Desserts Don’t feel like you have to deprive yourself of dessert. You can choose healthy and delicious alternatives. Strawberries or blueberries are sweet delicacies and totally healthy. If you absolutely must eat a high-calorie dessert, order one and split it.

Beware of “Healthy” Places Just because a restaurant may promote itself as healthy on the outside, it doesn’t always mean it’s healthy on the inside. Look at the nutritional guide.

Fast Foods in a Pinch Sometimes there are only a few options and fast food restaurants fit the bill. Here are my personal fast foods when I have no other choice:

  • Jack-in-the-Box — Chicken Fajita Pita
  • Carl’s Jr. — BBQ Chicken Sandwich: Order without BBQ sauce, add mustard.
  • McDonald’s – Grilled Salad Southwest with no tortilla strips, no cheese, Paul Newman low-calorie vinaigrette dressing.
  • Wendy’s — Cup or bowl of chili. It has way too much salt, but if you’re stuck, it’s a decent alternative with a salad.