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Tips for Dining Out and Slimming Down

In her new book, Bread Is the Devil, nutritionist Heather Bauer tells how to stay on course in the Mecca of restaurants.

Between Restaurant Week, chasing down the best and newest food truck, and keeping up with the hottest celebrity chef tasting menu, it’s no wonder your skinny jeans are feeling a bit too skinny. Not to mention that every time you turn around someone is inviting you to a luncheon, dinner, or cocktail hour in which “refreshments will be served.” These devilish temptations can really cause a minor meltdown. After all, it’s free or cheap food! And who really wants to pass that up? You do! Yes, really, you do. In my nutrition practice, I counsel many New Yorkers who have the toughest time with what I call “The Dine Out Devil.” We are fortunate to have so many excuses to go to world-renowned restaurants and indulge in an abundance of culinary choices, but it can be an enormous challenge to eat out and stay healthy.

Skip the bread: It seems like cliché advice, yet rarely does one follow it. Honestly, when was the last time you heard Adam Platt reward a restaurant with a superb review for its bread? Why fill up on empty, filler food when there are so many other menu items to enjoy? Bread is hard to resist, but truly it is the symbol of sabotage. Even just a quick pluck of one toasty warm roll will lead you to poor decisions when you order the main course. After starting with bread, then you order a side order of risotto. Oh, and when dessert (for someone else) comes, maybe just a bite or two (or five) of that delicious flourless chocolate cake.

Know Before you Go: At the risk of sounding like a traffic commercial for the local news, I beg you to follow this rule. We live in the Mecca of restaurants and with that comes Yelp, Google, Citysearch, and Menupages. Make friends with them! New York women fill up their calendars with lunch dates faster than a fashion trend, so it’s not unrealistic to plan your meal before going to the restaurant. Be sure to look at the menu online on a full stomach and in a calm, serene environment. Open an e-mail and plan out your choices. Send it to yourself as a reminder not to be deterred when the actual ordering begins. Become familiar with the letter “B.” Items that are Baked, Boiled or Broiled are always safe options. Words like grilled, steamed and poached indicate healthy selections as well.

One doesn’t have to be the loneliest number. The top mistake that my clients make is trying to maintain a strict regimen when they are out with friends enjoying a meal. It’s virtually impossible to stick to water, a grilled protein, and a side of steamed vegetables when everyone around you is indulging in a 3-course lunch. Suddenly you feel pangs of resentment and jealousy. Why can’t that be you? Instantly, you’ve isolated yourself, which can cause a binge (I call it “The Plunge”). Here’s a great solution: Pick one out of three indulgences. Whether it’s the 2nd glass of Chianti, the creamy béchamel on your fish, or a reasonable portion of quinoa, please do let yourself enjoy one!

Don’t be THAT person. As a dietitian, I understand the perils of being a picky eater. You may feel self-conscious sliding into your banquette and immediately demanding sauce on the side, baked not fried potato, hold the croutons, cheese, avocado, and basically ordering a bed of lettuce. Pick your battles when it comes to eating out. Make a pact before the meal starts that you will only make one blatant special request. For example, if you’re ordering an entrée ask for double the veggies and hold the starch. It’s a simple swap that doesn’t stress the server, the kitchen or your fellow diners. You’ll look and feel less conspicuous and honestly, you’ll enjoy the meal more!

Be Stealthy. Just because you can only make one outward special request doesn’t mean that you can’t make small tweaks to your order that will make it healthier without anyone knowing. Drink two glasses of water before your meal comes; use half the bread for your sandwich, and load up on the toppings (lettuce, tomato, onion) or order a salad to start and an appetizer as your entrée. If you strategically make yourself the last person to order, the spotlight is immediately off of you. By the time it’s your turn, no one will be paying attention!

Dining out will always be part of life. There’s always an excuse to start a diet tomorrow, whether it’s an invitation to the newest 5 star restaurant or celebrating your 30th wedding anniversary. Stick to these tips and you’ll never feel left out of the culinary crowd, yet you’ll still be able to look fabulous being a part of it!

Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized nutrition expert and founder of Nu-Train, a New York City-based diet and nutrition counseling center. She is the co-author with Kathy Matthews of Bread Is the Devil and The Wall Street Diet. She has appeared on CBS and CNN and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and many other major media.