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How to Track at a Restaurant

Do you struggle going out to eat and staying on track?

You’re not alone. This is one of the biggest struggles most people have…and trust me, it’s a valid struggle. I am 100% adherent to a diet or a plan until I go out to eat. If I never ate out, then I’d never have a struggle in my life…but unfortunately, that’s not realistic.

The biggest problem with dining out is that the chefs and cooks don’t care about your macros. They’re not going to weigh out the butter or oil they use. They’re not going to weigh the protein to 6oz exactly. I mean…why should they? They’re there to make the food good to keep you coming back.

For dining out, there are a ton of things you can do to stay on track, but first before I dive into those strategies, there are some things to consider.

1. What is your current goal and required level of adherence?

If you are seriously cutting, doing contest prep, or an in-season competitive athlete (think CrossFit Games/comps, sports athletes, Olympic athletes, etc.), then your level of adherence is a lot higher and is a lot more important. You are going to have to track your food and prioritize what you’re ordering IF you’re even going out to eat.

If you are a non-competitive individual in a weight loss phase, your adherence is still important, but not as crucial. Eating out won’t ruin your progress but should be monitored or taken into account. Here, you’ll likely want to do a modified form of tracking.

If you are an off-season athlete or non-competitive individual maintaining, gaining, or simply learning healthy lifestyle practices and eating habits, then you have a lot more wiggle room. Eating out doesn’t have to be as strict, and tracking is optional.

2. Are you tracking currently?

If the answer is yes, then the next answer is #3. If you’re currently tracking, then you’ll likely be able to track while eating out at a restaurant and should be learning some of the awareness into portion sizes through your daily tracking.

If the answer is no, then you don’t need to track your food when you go out to eat because those numbers will be arbitrary. Instead, you’ll prioritize certain foods when you dine out.

3. How long have you been tracking?

If you’ve been tracking for a while, you should have a good idea about portion sizes and macro/calorie amounts from different foods. You won’t be exact but you will have a general idea.

If you haven’t been tracking for a while, then you likely won’t have any idea what 1 cup of rice looks like or what 6oz of steak is. This means that 1. you should start practicing awareness and portion control while you track daily and 2. that you won’t be able to successfully track your intake at a restaurant and instead will aim to order simple, whole foods.

4. What is your current mindset?

Are you nearing fatigue or burnout? Are you confident or scared to eat out? Have you been dieting forever and near a breaking point where one wrong turn is going to send you over the deep end? My first suggestion is to immediately look at your diet and strongly consider a reverse diet to give your body and mind a break from the constant dieting. You also will probably want to track your food to ensure not going off the deep end. If you’re just in a place where you’ve dieted for a bit (not too long, <12 weeks) and the mental motivation is slightly lower, you may want to consider tracking so you can guarantee progress.

5. Is eating out going to ruin your progress?

If the answer is yes, then don’t go out to eat. THEN evaluate your diet. Why can’t you go out to eat? Is your diet too restrictive? Is this something you can sustain long term? If the answer is no, sign up for a consultation call to start a plan that is.

6. Why are you here?

Are you here to avoid eating out to eat or are you here to find a sustainable, life-long plan? If the answer is the former, then I’m not your resource. I encourage eating out to eat. I preach sustainability.

Now for the part you’ve been waiting for. Keep the first 6 questions in mind to decide whether each step is appropriate for you or not. Not all may suit you, especially if you’re not tracking your intake.

There are a number of strategies to implement when dining out. This blog is going to teach you all of them regardless of your goal and priority.

#1. Look up the restaurant beforehand

I recommend this for everyone. Get a game plan in mind before you go. This reduces the “I had a long day, fuck it, I’m getting everything” mentality or the “I’m so hungry I need the most unhealthy option here” thoughts or the “I’ve earned it dammit” statement we’ve all said. You make healthier options outside of the restaurant, so make the decision before you go and stick to it. If you’re tracking, pre-log the food you’re going to order so you can structure the rest of the day and hold yourself accountable when the time comes.

#3. Simple ordering

Unless you’re out for a big celebration (anniversary, birthday, etc.) which usually comes 1-2x a year, then order simpler meals that can be deconstructed. Choose meals with a protein, veggie, and optional carb. The more complex meals you order, the more impossible it will be to track. For example, if you order a 7oz steak and broccoli, that’s pretty simple and easy to track. There also is very little chance for secret ingredients. Now if you’re ordering pasta, casseroles, etc. then there’s the likelihood that you now have to take into account butter, oils, and sugars which are impossible to know with certainty. I’m not saying you have to eat boring foods when you go out. This was an extreme example, but gets the point across.

#4. Prioritize calories and protein

If you’re tracking macros, you’re likely going to do a modified tracking. Most of the people that follow me are non-competitive individuals who are practicing good eating habits and generally aiming for weight loss. There is not a huge reason to track all 3 macros to a T. For starters, it likely won’t be accurate. Secondly, it’s just not necessary. Instead, you’ll aim to get within + or – 100 calories of your target calorie goal and within 10g of protein for the day. Let fats and carbs be whatever they end up being to still stay within your calorie/protein goal.

#5. Borrowing macros

You can take up to 20% of the macros/calories on one day and give it to another. You can also determine your weekly calories/macros using an Excel sheet and change up the day you’re going out to eat by adding a certain number of calories/macros and taking a balance from one, some or all of the other days. Say your daily intake is 2000 calories. This would total up to be 14,000/week. If you’re going out to eat on Saturday, then you can bump calories to 2600 Saturday and eat 1900 calories every other day during that one week. Say you’re never hungry the day after you go out to eat or mentally, you know you will struggle ‘getting back to the plan’. In this case, you could take a decent portion of your calories from the day after by giving yourself 2500 calories the day you go out, and 1500 calories the day after…or maybe 1750 the day before and the day after if 1500 isn’t enough.

#6. The Day Of

Hydrate. Exercise. Reduce the number of meals. Eat a breakfast and/or lunch full of protein and veggies. This will ensure you’re getting your micronutrients, reaching your veggie/protein goal (hardest to achieve when dining out), help keep you full and satiated during the day, and will give you a ton of carb/fat wiggle room when going out.

#7. Practice daily/handful diet

This is why you should be tracking your macros and daily intake. Tracking your intake is the tool that teaches you awareness and portion sizing. You should be paying attention to the food you’re weighing and measuring out daily. As you get proficient at counting macros and tracking your intake, start testing your skills. Guess how much protein should be 4oz then see what the scale says. Is it over or lower? Repeat this with all of your food. This is how you actually learn how to intuitively eat. You can also follow the handful diet which is the starting point on eyeballing food correctly.

Now the final question…How many times should you eat out?

This comes back to your goals.

If you are doing contest prep or in a serious cut or prepping for some kind of competition, you want to limit how many times you’re going out to eat. For competitive athletes (especially those doing contest prep), you want to almost never eat out and when you do, limit to as simple of a meal as possible so the margin of error is low and you’re able to track fairly accurate.

If you are in a cut, but aren’t competitive, just generally going through a weight-loss phase, you’ll want to eat out 1-2x/week. Still choose simpler meals to ensure accuracy, but you can be a bit more loose because we still want to keep adherence up. This shouldn’t be a huge deal…why? Because you should have a periodized nutrition plan that includes periods of time where you can go out to eat stress free.

If you’re not in a cut and simply maintaining, or even gaining weight, and practicing general healthy options, eating out is completely fine and even encouraged if that’s something you enjoy.

Remember, this is YOUR diet and YOUR life. You know your why, your priorities, your mindset. These are simply tools that you can implement in your day to day life to maximize your success and get you to your results easier.

This is just one of the many things I do for my clients. If a client is going out to eat, whether it is in their home city or while traveling, I will search the restaurant and offer feedback and suggestions and teach them how to log in what they’re ordering to stay successful. This eases their worries and stress and teaches them just how to apply balance to their lives. If this is something you need in your life, apply for coaching here.

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