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Weekly Diet News Digest

by John McGran, Columnist

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Dining out is no longer a luxury or treat. It's a fact of our busy life.

When pressed for nutritional information, some servers at your favorite eateries will begrudgingly serve up a few numbers. The sad fact is many sit-down restaurants simply do not have that info available.

So what's a determined dieter to do? Stick with boring old baked chicken and steamed veggies or throw caution to the wind and order whatever you want with the hopes that "it can't be that bad."

Sorry, but it can be that bad... and even worse than you imagined.

Making the Best Choices

Diet.com wants you to be prepared the next time you dine out. That's why we turned to nationally-known dietitian and diabetes expert Hope Warshaw, author of Eat Out, Eat Right.

Hope's mission is to educate us on the best choices available at our favorite fast food joints and sit-down restaurants.

"More and more, restaurant eating is simply a part of our daily life," Hope tells Diet.com. "The numbers show that on average we eat five meals a week in restaurants... with lunch the most common meal out.

"We now get a third of our calories from restaurant food."

Hope, a future blogger here at Diet.com, has whipped up 10 skills and strategies the health-conscious consumer can use to fare better when dining out.

"It's all about making better choices," she says. "You don’t have to throw your hands up and do nothing about it but pack on pounds.

"If you have the will, you can do it. You simply need to develop a healthy mindset and healthy attitude about eating."

Hope says the two main issues facing diners are portion control and hidden fats. Like cheese on French onion soup, Eat Out, Eat Right thoroughly covers both.

Hope, who stands just 4’10” and strives to maintain a healthy 100-pound weight, practices what she preaches when dining out with her husband and 11-year-old daughter. A bread basket ban and a sharing of entrees are two proven tactics.

While Asian cuisine is her personal favorite, Hope has been known to frequent McDonald's on occasion. She notes that splitting a single order of fries is a great way to cut the cost in calories and fat.

Now, exclusively for Diet.com readers, here is an abridged excerpt from Eat Out, Eat Right.

Chapter 4: Skills and Strategies for Healthier Eating Out

These general skills and strategies can be applied to just about any restaurant eating situation " whether eating in or taking out.

1. Develop a healthy mindset and a can-do attitude
Developing a healthy mindset and having a can-do attitude about eating healthier restaurant meals is your critical first step. Until you accomplish this first step, you’ll have a difficult time putting the other nine skills and strategies, which follow here, into action.

Think about steps you can take to develop a healthier mindset about restaurant meals. Ask yourself what changes you need to make to find a balance between continuing to enjoy restaurant dining while you order and eat healthier foods. Be kind to yourself. These changes will take some time and a repertoire of positive experiences.

2. Assess the whens, whys, wheres, and whats of your restaurant meals
Get to know your restaurant eating habits. Raising your awareness about your behaviors is the first step to changing behaviors.

3. Select restaurant with care
Choose restaurants that make it easier for you to eat healthfully. Reality is that you can choose to eat healthfully in 95 percent of restaurants. Some menus just make it easier than others. Steer clear of some of your favorite restaurants in which you typically ate unhealthy meals and the healthy pickings are slim. Take for example a fried chicken or fish-and-chips restaurant.

4. Think through your action plan
Think before you act should be your modus operandi. If you are familiar with the menu offerings from a particular restaurant you frequent, pre-plan what you might order before you cross the restaurant’s threshold. Be the first of your party to order. This strategy eliminates your time to ponder changes as you wait for your dining partners to place their orders. If you want to split and/or share menu items, bring it up as people peruse the menu. More often than not, people will be pleased you made the offer.

5. Be an avid fat detector
Dodging the fats in restaurants is a big challenge. Fat adds significant calories without adding any food volume (or “bites”). A great example is a medium baked potato containing about 100 calories. Add to that one teaspoon of regular butter or margarine at 50 calories or two tablespoons of regular sour cream at 50 calories. You’ve added another 100 calories without adding any bites.

Certain preparation methods simply mean drenched in fat, such as deep-fried, smothered, or covered with a cream-based sauce. Particular menu items, by definition, mean loaded with fat, such as pasta with Alfredo sauce or chimichangas, a fried burrito. Become acquainted with the high-fat items and learn the ingredients, preparation methods, and menu descriptions that signal low fat and healthy in each cuisine. Don’t forget: feel free to ask questions about unfamiliar ingredients, preparations, and menu descriptions.

6. Order with healthy eating goals top of mind
You are introduced to the nine keys to healthy eating in Chapter 2. Review these on occasion and keep them in mind as you select restaurant meals. More than likely you’ll be looking to integrate more fruits and vegetables and lighten up on the portion of meat and fats.

7. Practice portion control from the get-go
Large portions are a fact of restaurant dining. You’ll need to “outsmart” the menu to cut portions down to a healthy size. A successful strategy is to control portions from the point of ordering. This means less food will be in front of you and you’ll eat less. Think of this as the “out of sight, out of mind (or mouth)” technique. It’s a lot more difficult to control the amount you eat if food is just a forkful away.

Steer clear of menu descriptions that mean large portions " jumbo, grande, supreme, extra large, king size, double, triple, feast, or combo.

8. Practice menu creativity
To eat healthfully and to eat reasonable portions, you’ll need to be creative with menus. For example, no rule says you must order an entrée. Mix and match items from the soups, salads, appetizers and side dishes. There are countless ways to combine these to eat smaller portions. Another winner: Split portions with your dining partner. Go ahead, order from soup to dessert, but split everything down the middle.

9. Order foods as you need and want them
Special requests are a key to being served dishes as you like (and want or need) them. A special request might mean asking for an ingredient to be left off, such as cheese, bacon, or sour cream. Or it may be a substitution: baked potato rather than French fries or potato chips; or to spread mustard rather than mayonnaise on a sandwich. It’s important to take the attitude that there’s no harm in asking and the worst someone can say is NO.

10. Know when to say ‘enough’
You already know that portion control is a key to healthier restaurant ...    Continue

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@ 12:44pm ET on April 27, 2008
I've read many comments on this and all are very positive. Hope has done a great job covering all of the important points of dining out. We have worked with so many people to help them reduce their body fat and simply to become more healthy. What we have found is that we are not going to change every bad habit a person has. That is why they are called habits...our society doesn't allow us to make habits in which it makes a 180 degree swing in daily activities and the one that makes the biggest impact is our need to dine out. Not just socially, but our careers include networking lunches and business dinners. We have worked very hard to provide our users with the right tools to make the best choices possible when dinning out. We also have over 10,000 national and regional franchise meals to choose from. The best part is that it's free. If you need help with making the right choice at your favorite restaurant, then look at menucoachdotcom and choose for yourself. Good luck everyone in your search for the right answers to help you reach your health and fitness goals.

@ 12:24pm ET on May 12, 2008
These tips are so incredibly helpful. I have just recently got into the mind of healthy eating (2 months ago). That in and of itself is so essential for me!

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