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5 Ways to Eat Mindfully While at a Restaurant

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

People laughing and eating at a restaurant.

We talk a lot about mindful eating at home, but you may be asking "how do I eat mindfully at a restaurant?" This is a very important tool to learn, because leaving our house shouldn't feel like the kiss of death with mindful eating. We just need a better approach.

We want to make dining out as drama free as possible. Dining out is an occasion to enjoy and look forward to rather than create anxiety. However, many times, we go in with unrealistic expectations of what we "should" order, or we slip into an "all or nothing" mindset. When we inevitably fall short of these expectations, we tell ourselves we already blew it, so why not just go all in. The "f*%k it" effect.

You'll notice that almost all of the tips below are things we'll do before we eat our first bite. We'll do some before we even leave for the restaurant. They are about setting ourselves up for success ahead of time, so we don't have to make decisions that might be unfamiliar or feel hard in the moment or, even worse, while we're already very hungry or wanting to go with the flow of the table.

Here are 5 ways we can nail the mindful eating even when we're out and about.

  1. Look at the menu BEFORE you leave the house It's so much harder to make choices that serve us well when we're super distracted and usually quite hungry.

  2. Snack on the right things first Snack on some veggies + protein before you go if possible. Try ants on a log (celery + almond butter), carrots or zucchini + avocado/guacamole, or peppers + hummus.

  3. Some options are better than others Look for meals that are baked, braised, broiled, grilled, poached, sautéed, smoked or steamed. Try to avoid anything "crispy", breaded, fried, battered, etc. This means inflammatory rancid oils and fat. Not only do we end up with more nutrient dense foods, but they are also foods that are harder to overeat.

  4. Consider skipping these things Skip bread and appetizers if possible. Rarely memorable or worthwhile (note that this is different than something "tasting good". Lots of things taste good, but not many are memorable two weeks later.). These are foods that are typically just eaten because they're *there*. Appetizers are some of the least nutrient dense items on the menu and most inflammatory, so skip ahead to an entree.

  5. Order this when possible Snag a veggie side if you can. Most restaurants do not serve portions that are aligned with what we are going for. We want about 60% of your plate to be non-starchy vegetables (think green and other colors - not potatoes), 40% protein/starch. Most restaurants have about 60% starch and 40% protein and veggies. See if they have a passed veggie side (asparagus, spinach, Brussels sprouts, etc) that is typically for the table and order that for yourself. Try to go for that 60:40, and take the rest of the protein and starch home with you. Enjoy with more non-starchy veggies the next day. You can also share the main course and fill up on the "family style" veggie side.

One BONUS TIP.... I get asked a lot about portions and how to stop eating before we feel stuffed. It's so easy to go into autopilot while we're eating at a restaurant with friends and wrapped up in the conversation. We can lose the connection with our body's satiety and fullness cues.

Try making a small mark in the spot where you'd like to finish the meal. For example. if the omelet you ordered has arrived and it's bigger than you expected, make a little mark in it with your knife at the point where you'd like to finish. Maybe that's 1/2 the omelet, maybe it's 2/3, or maybe more. Then, when you hit that spot, put down your silverware and take a breath. Sit back, and chill for a few minutes. Let your body catch up while you tune into the signals. If you notice that you're still hungry, then great, keep eating. If you notice you're satisfied, then call it quits and take the rest home.

Remember, "satisfied" is different than "full". We want to finish our meals at about 70-80% full not at full.

If you you want to dive deeper into how we can break through overeating cycles, take a look at Eat Food on Purpose. A self-paced program dedicated to helping you do just that.

Bottom Line to Eat Mindfully While at a Restaurant

If we can get mostly veggies on that plate with some nice quality protein (not something fried), we're in good shape!



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