ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Selecting Restaurants while Trying to Lose Weight

Updated on August 24, 2014

Blowing Your Diet Doesn't Have to be On the Menu

In my review of Eat This, Not That! , I noted that ordering food in a restaurant can be a dietary disaster. Restaurants need to satisfy customers while making a profit, and frequently use sugar, various breadings, and fats to make their food taste good. The result is oversized portions of calorie-laden food, served at prices that encourage customers to make eating out a habit, not a treat.

The best way to ensure that food meets your dietary needs is to make it yourself. Can't cook? You can learn! Many grocery stores and gourmet markets host free cooking classes, and some professional cooking schools teach classes (for about the cost of a nice restaurant meal) to home cooks. When you do go out to eat, figure out a dietary strategy that allows you to enjoy your food while maintaining healthy eating habits.

Pick the Right Restaurant

There are few things more frustrating than showing up at a restaurant and learning that there is little on the menu that's compatible with your diet. Doing some online research, and even calling the place before your visit, can help insure that your meal is both healthy and enjoyable.

1. Is the restaurant flexible about special requests and substitutions?

Some restaurants refuse to make adjustments in cooking methods or side dishes. Find out their policy before making a visit.

2. Does the restaurant menu include a number of selections that will meet your dietary needs?

Part of the fun of eating out is being able to pick and choose from a number of tasty dishes. If you are on a low carb diet, don't go to a restaurant that specializes in battered and deep fried foods. Yes, you could have a salad, but why not go to a restaurant that offers you plenty of choices?

3. What are the portion sizes like?

If you are still learning to control your portion sizes, you might want to pick out a restaurant that offers smaller portions (tapas bars can be a good option), a buffet restaurant (which will let you select as much or as little as you want of a dish), or a place that has a number of good sides and starters which you can eat instead of an entrée.

4. Question assumptions about the relative healthiness of certain cuisines

Many people assume that Asian food is inherently "healthier" than western food. But as the authors of Eat This, Not That!, point out, the average entrée at a Chinese restaurant (in America) contains over 1000 calories. Many Chinese restaurants cook with a significant amount of oil, white rice is surprisingly high in calories and low in nutritional value, and battered/deep fried foods, sticky sweet sauces and heavy gravies are commonplace. Yes, there are low-calorie, nutritious items available in Asian restaurants, but the same is also true of your local corner diner.

5. Do Your Research

If a restaurant doesn't provide nutritional information, a free calorie counter such as can be used to estimate the calories in your favorite dishes.

Incidentally, chain restaurants are more likely than independently owned eateries to provide nutritional information on their websites. Look this information up before choosing a restaurant, then take a printed copy to the restaurant to guide you through the menu. If you are very concerned with calorie/fat/carb counts, you might want to only patronize restaurants that can provide this information.

Beware the Menu

Menus are written to sell food, not to educate consumers on its nutritional content. If you want to avoid ingesting more calories than you've bargained for, be on your guard against clever ad copy.

When reading a menu, keep these principles in mind:

1. Labels can Lie: If a restaurant touts itself as specializing in "healthy" or "natural" food, you need to be especially wary. The very fact that a restaurant brands itself as healthy may lull you into not counting calories. Secondly, while a restaurant may well serve food made from organic ingredients, this doesn't mean that the food isn't high in calories or carbs.

2. Don't Rely on Menu Descriptions: Be careful of choosing a food based on cooking method. Just because an item is described as "broiled", "baked", "grilled" or "steamed" does not mean that the cook isn't adding fat to the dish. A "fat free" or "low fat" sauce or salad dressing may be packed with sugar. In both cases, you will be consuming more calories than you realize.

3. "Vegetarian" Doesn't Equal "Low-Calorie": Don't assume that vegetarian options are less fattening. Veggie burgers can be just as high in calories as the real thing.

4. Beware the Virtuous Oil: Vegetable oils are actually higher in calories, tablespoon for tablespoon, than butter and lard. Just because a restaurant boasts of using vegetable oil in cooking does not mean that its food is lower in calories.

5. Image Isn't Everything: A side dish of plain steamed rice sounds healthy, until you consider that a cup of cooked white rice has 242 calories, while a medium baked potato has only 132 (plus a lot more vitamins and minerals). Don't let a food's image con you into thinking that it is healthier or less fattening than a stodgier alternative.

6. Reconsider Fat Grams: Fat adds flavor to food and makes it tastier. Think about what you are ordering: If a food requires a lot of fat in cooking and/or extra sauces to make it interesting, why not choose a slightly more caloric, but decidedly tastier, item that doesn't need extra condiments?

Think about it: Four ounces of skinless, boneless, chicken thigh meat has only 49 more calories (you can burn this off during a 10 minute walk) than 4 ounces of skinless, boneless, chicken breast. Yet the chicken thigh is far more moist and flavorful and doesn't need mayo or other sauces to make it taste good.

7. Rabbit Food Isn't Always Good For You: Salads aren't always health food. The ubiquitous iceberg lettuce, for example, has little nutritional value. Top it with "crispy" (i.e. battered and deep fried) chicken breast, slather it with Caesar dressing, and you have a 700+ calorie lunch.


At the Restaurant

1. Beware pre-meal eating and drinking.

A drink in the lounge before your meal can be pleasant, but cocktails and bar snacks significantly raise the calorie count of your meal.

2. If you are very hungry, consider a low-calorie starter before making your entrée selection.

A cup of broth-based soup, a side salad with a light vinaigrette, a shrimp cocktail, or another small, low-calorie dish can ease your hunger so that you select both a sensible entrée and don’t end up raiding the bread basket.

3. Be careful of ordering several “healthy” courses and sides.

While, salads, veggies, fruits, fish, and other “healthy” foods are great choices, a meal made up of several items pushes your calorie count into the stratosphere. Instead of eating a lot of “healthy” dishes, pick one truly delicious entrée and enjoy it fully.

4. Portions, portions, portions.

If a restaurant’s portions are huge, you have a couple of options. You can ask your server to box up half your meal before they bring it to your table or you can portion out your meal yourself. (If you make an extra meal out of your leftovers, you'll also save money.)

Another possibility is to split your main entrée with someone else.

A third option is to order a starter or a side dish as your entrée.

5. Be careful about drinking your calories.

Juices, soft drinks, wine, beer, and hard liquor all have calories, and it is very easy to overdo. Plus, drinking alcohol during your meal inhibits your judgement about what, and how much, you eat.

6. Do you really need dessert?

If a restaurant has excellent desserts, there is no reason why you shouldn't indulge (providing that you have made plans to be conservative with sweets for the rest of the week). But if the only offerings are ordinary ice cream and substandard chocolate cake, why bother?


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • MsLainieP profile imageAUTHOR

      Lainie Petersen 

      7 years ago from Chicago

      Thanks, Jenny30!

    • Jenny30 profile image


      7 years ago from Canada

      Great tips!

    • Karen N profile image

      Karen N 

      10 years ago from United States

      Very imformative hub, Thanks.

    • MsLainieP profile imageAUTHOR

      Lainie Petersen 

      10 years ago from Chicago

      Actually, broth-based soups are great and can really take the edge off your appetite. Just don't load up on cream soups that are high in calories!

    • trish1048 profile image


      10 years ago

      You're welcome. So now I just have to remember to forget the soup, bread and butter, appetizer and dessert :)


    • MsLainieP profile imageAUTHOR

      Lainie Petersen 

      10 years ago from Chicago

      Thanks for stopping by, Trish. (Also keep in mind that a baked potato has more nutrients than plain white rice!)

    • trish1048 profile image


      10 years ago

      Hi MsLainieP,

      These are great tips! And here I thought I knew how to eat out! You've provided very useful information, such as substituting a potato for a cup of white rice. I had no idea white rice was higher in caloric content. It's also good, as you point out, to be very careful with pre-dinner items, drinks, etc.

      A well-written, informative hub! Thanks for sharing,



    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)