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How do you eat out often and maintain your weight?

this was inspired by a post on the LA board where several chowhounds stated that they had lost weight by eating most of their meals out at restaurants. My experience has been the opposite where I find that it's easiest to maintain my weight when I eat lots of lean proteins, vegetables and some fruit that I've all prepared myself for most of my meals and then order conscientiously when going out. I find that it's hard to eat out at restaurants for most meals and still be aware of caloric intake because, unless it's at someplace that's required to post caloric information, it's impossible to know how many added calories are in the food. But, if others have had the same experience of the chowhounds I mentioned above, I'd be very interested to hear about it. I'd especially be interested to know what you were eating for meals at home prior to switching to eating out for most meals.

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  1. mostly what i was cooking at home was a meat and poultry based diet because they were so easy to cook and store and because they didn't make the whole house smell like fish.
    when i go out, i order vegetarian and fish dishes. good vegetarian food is, in imho, more labor-intensive to make, and requires more ingredients per dish (thereby increasing the waste factor), and so this type of food is perfect for restaurant meals.

    now, sometimes i'll do a hybrid: i'll get some very flavorful indian food to go(i.e. the bhindi at BAWARCHI, or the curried mustard greens at BOMBAY GROCERY) , take the stuff home and mix in some steamed tofu, and i have a high protein, highly satisfying, very flavorful, and much less calorically dense dish.

    1. I don't eat smart when I go out but I have to give my brother major props. I would guess on a slow week he eats out four nights. A couple of years ago he committed to taking half his meal home. With that diet he lost over 20 pounds and he's happy as a clam.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Cameraman

        Portion control is definitely key, whether eating at home or out. I tend to eat about half the portion when I'm going out and am unembarrassed about taking the other half home for leftover lunch the next day. I also tend to stick to wines instead of cocktails and avoid the bread basket. But the most important thing is exercise. Exercising will help you burn those calories!

        1. re: CreativeFoodie42

          I actually think that portion control is far more important than exercise. I think exercise is important, but if you consume, say, an extra 1000 calories at a meal because of imprudent portion control, that's a freaking ton of time on the stairmaster to burn that off and probably time that most people don't have in the day to devote to exercise.

          1. re: mollyomormon

            This is totally true. It is much easier to not eat 100 calories than it is to burn it off.

            1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

              Bravo! I was asking a friend a while back..."what do you think would be easier to do, keep your mouth closed and not eat that cookie, or go out jogging for 20 minutes? I'll take not eating the cookie!"

            2. re: mollyomormon

              An extra 1000 calories at one meal is a lot. I burn around 450 calories in 45 minutes on the stairmaster, which to me is time very well spent over worrying about portion sizes. Portion control to me means stopping eating when I just begin to feel full, not cutting my meal off halfway through regardless. Exercise gives me this freedom, and clears my mind and energizes me to boot.

              1. re: Frosty Melon

                An extra 1000 calories at a meal is indeed a lot, but certainly not too much of a stretch when eating out. A slice of carrot cake at Cheesecake Factory is 1500 calories alone, so I don't think that it's unthinkable that someone who has a couple of cocktails and dessert with dinner could easily consume an extra 1000 calories in a meal out. I am with you, though. I stop eating when I get full and that approach seems to work for me.

        2. My method for not gaining weight, whether I eat at home or in restaurants, is 1) to exercise regularly (which also just makes me feel better all-around), and 2) not to order things or cook things (very often, anyway) that are obvious calorie bombs. So, I almost never order creamed things or cheesecake or deep-fried things. But when I really want them, I do. And that's where all the exercise comes in!

          1. I never intended, as it was my post that seemed to spark the discussion, to say that one cannot eat out and maintain a healthy weight. I do it all the time. Hamburgers and greasy fries are great. But the point I was trying to make is that when individuals start to learn at home first as to what food they are eating, weight control is much easier. Sure you can always do things like order dressing on the side for a salad, but what's in that dressing? Was it made with soybean oil which is terrible for your omega-6 to omega-3 fat intake ratio or EVOO? Also, when we prepare foods ourselves, we have better control over the amount of food we eat. It's much harder to make a huge meal than at a restaurant where you can order something that's very calorie dense. Restaurants also tend to have a heavy hand with salt. Relying on a program to structure your meals for you does not teach good eating habits.

            2 Replies
            1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

              actually, i find it to be easier to manage my weight and health when eating out.

              having a fridge full of leftovers is negative for me.
              i know for sure, that the kind of healthful, low cal food that i need to eat is not going to be consumed by anyone else in the household, so unless i want to cook one meal at a time (think, homemade pasta sauce for one, etc), home cooking is fraught with hazard.

              by having a regular rotation of restaurants it gets clear really fast which restaurants/dishes are packing the hidden calories and which ones aren't. (at this point in the game, i can practically work backward from looking at the scale every morning to figuring out what the calorie count was for the prior two days.)

              as an example, i know, that for vegetarian/hippie food, i can go to THE SPOT in hermosa beach and order their super burrito (which is huge), divide that burrito in half and eat half of it there, and presuming i've been reasonable the other two meals of the day, i will not gain weight. it's not important to me to know the calorie count, if i know the CONSEQUENCES. on the other hand, i would NEVER try this with an unknown, untested restaurant.

              i know that the dressing at 26 beach is probably about 60calories a TBL.
              i use 1 Tbl of the dressing and at least 2 TBL of lemon juice from the lemon wedges that i have them bring.
              i KNOW that if i've been reasonable with my other two meals of the day, i will not gain weight by having this dish for dinner.

              i NEVER eat hamburgers, period. when i worked in a hot dog stand in college our staff befriended the staff of the hamburger stand across the street. burgers that taste good are basically all fat.

              french fries are NEVER on my plate, but i'll sometimes steal a fry or two from my daughter.

              because i eat in restaurants, doesn't mean i am forced to order unhealthful things.

              also, i respectfully disagree with your statement, "Relying on a program to structure your meals for you does not teach good eating habits"
              imho, there are TONS of ways to learn good eating habits. what works for you isn't necessarily the end-all, it is just the approach that works for you.

              my approach has worked for me. i lost the weight, my blood panels are unbelievably good, my blood pressure is phenomenal, and i've kept the weight off for 6 years now, eating out more meals than not.

              did i mention that i love the social benefits of going out to eat as well? eating out with a bunch of friends is one of my favorite things. life would be a lot less fun if i had to give that up.

              1. re: westsidegal

                I cook for myself in a house full of guys. I often make food ahead of time that I can heat up later. For example, chicken breasts. I cook a bunch of these at once and can use them for future meals in a variety of ways. I know exactly what's going into it. The majority of the food that needs refrigeration and not frozen fits in a mini fridge. I eat something like 90% of what I buy and rarely have leftovers.

                I'm glad you're in a situation where you've found a rotation of restaurants that works for you. Bravo. The problem is, not everyone has great food options nearby. More often than not, people just grab what's quickest and easiest. That's my warning. People who train themselves to rely on outside sources to provide healthful meals without understanding what they're eating is problematic in the long run. The original poster had problems with portion control. How does ordering a salad that's hundreds of calories more than something they can make at home teaching them portion control? The problem is that if they train themselves into thinking that as long as they eat this one item, it's going to help them maintain a healthy diet, they can easily be duped when they dine elsewhere where the options are not so healthful. I only know what to pick because I spent many years working on getting my heath in check.

                When it comes to dieting, I'm a bigger proponent of nutrition more so than just straight calories. Sure that dressing is just 60 calories per TBL. But what type of calories? Is it made with soybean oil? How many grams of salt is in it? Cutting calories will definitely help you lose weight, but there's more to health than just losing weight.

                I eat burgers and fries because I know that if I do, I have to reduce my intake elsewhere. I can better dial down the calories on one end to help compensate when I make food myself.

                We will have to agree to disagree on the approach to good eating habits. It's my belief that relying on other people to provide you healthful meals, which is what the other OP was asking for, does not teach you why the things you are eating are good for you. This makes it difficult for when people have to make choices outside the box. Sure, you'll eventually have to learn some time. My point is these kinds of lessons should be learned inside your own kitchen before you jump into the wild world of eating out. My approach definitely worked and continues to work for me. 70 pounds of weight loss is no laughing matter. I use to have high cholesterol at the young age of 18. I no longer do so and even my doctor is amazed at what I've been able to accomplish.

                I love eating out don't get me wrong. It just takes time to get into the habit of eating well and eating healthy at the same time when not at home. Did I mention that's it's also cheaper to make your own meals, and you can also have dinner parties in your home?

            2. When I am away from home for extended periods of time and eating in restaurants I always lose weight.

              At home there seems to be constant snacking, especially at late night and I usually bake fresh bread every day, how do you not eat at least some of it. I think for me it’s because I consume more calories at home because the food is better and easier to get to, while away can’t really get a snack at 10PM that is worthy of eating so I just go without.

              As far as what we eat at home, it runs the gamut, my wife, although she is a little biased, says the food I make at home is just much better than you “everyday” restaurant food so it’s hard not to eat more of it.

              1 Reply
              1. re: RetiredChef

                Simple solution; stop baking!:) I know it's hard if you love to do it. Sincey hubby has been trying to lose weight I almost never bake anymore; not even healthy breads because theyre just too tempting. When he's back to a healthy week I'll limit myself to once a week; it will be something to really appreciate.