The Obstacle Meter – 21: Eat Out Too Often

21: Eat Out Too Often

I probably eat more meals out than I should be eating out to be healthy or lose weight.

Eating out can be convenient, social, and tasty, but it can also sabotage your diet. Meals at restaurants come in unreasonable portions and tend to hide unhealthy ingredients to make them taste better. Here are some tips to reduce the number of times you eat out and help you make healthier choices when you do:


Start Meal Planning: I know, I know, easier said than done right.  If you did not choose meal planning as one of your obstacles to healthy eating, you may be fooling yourself.  Meal planning may actually be at the root of your eating out too often.  I would consider re-taking the obstacle meter and selecting meal planning as an obstacle for see what solutions we would suggest for you.

Pack a Lunch and Snacks to take to Work: packing a lunch and taking snacks to work does take some time in the morning (or previous evening) but can help prevent you from eating out or from being overly tempted by some of the food available at work.

Establish NUTRITION RULES about How Often It is Okay to Eat Out: I am willing to wager that most people would be surprised by how often they eat out.  Start tracking how often you eat out (via journaling or your bank statements) and decide on a number of times/week that is reasonable and acceptable to eat out.  For the vast majority of us, eating out should be a treat, not the norm.  You might want to try setting a rule such as, I will eat out once during the week and once on the weekend.  If you save your eating out for later in the week (Thursday or Friday) you have something to look forward to and you are able to eat out later in the week when your willpower and motivation tend to be a little lower or more lax as you are tired from the long week of work.  You may also be tired of eating the same packed lunch all week or maybe you ran out of food to pack.  These are both legitimate reasons to eat out; however, if you spend your one weekday eating out early in the week, you are going to be more tempted to say screw it and eat out again later in the week.

Try Meal Kits or Meal Delivery: meal kits and meal delivery tend to be healthy, portion-controlled meals for 1-4 people depending on the type you order.  Unlike restaurants, meal kits tend to give you the amount of food you need in a meal, not double or triple the amount of food and calories that many restaurants like to serve you.

Tell People What Your Goals Are: talk to your family and friends and tell them about your goals. Not only will they help you stick to your goals but once you start telling people what your goals are, now you have to be accountable to those around you and to yourself.  Telling people about your goal makes it tangible and real.  It is not just in your head; everyone knows about it.

Use a Crockpot: Start the food in the morning, and then it is already finished when dinner comes. You will have no excuse to not eat it!  Just like packing a lunch, this requires a little more time in the morning but it is better to put the effort in, in the morning when you are fresh rather than after work when you are exhausted and totally spent.

Find Time to Grocery Shop: and make sure your kitchen is fully stocked.  I would rather do 10 loads of laundry than go grocery shopping, but we all need to find time to grocery shop.  If we do not have food available, we are going to go out to eat and more than likely make a high calorie decision.  There is no rule saying you have to go grocery shopping on the weekends (my weekends are precious and that is the last thing I want to do).  Go at 6:00am before the rest of your day starts, go after work or leave work early as if you have an appointment or have your groceries delivered.  I do not care how you do it as long as you do it.  Find the time.

Use Disposable Plates at Home if You Hate doing Dishes: I hate to even offer this one as a solution since it creates more waste but when push comes to shove, if this will help you eat better, then so be it.

Try Restaurant Copycat Recipes of Your Favorites: search Google or use your recipe manager (i.e., Paprika Recipe Manager) to find similar recipes that you can make at home.  And this does not only have to apply to restaurants.  For example, my wife and I really enjoyed the quinoa salad that Whole Foods makes but we did not like paying 10 dollars for a small container.  We tried making a couple of copycat quinoa salad recipes before we found the –Zesty Quinoa Salad– recipe from and we absolutely love it.  This recipe is now a lunch staple for us.  We generally eat it for one week’s worth of lunches per month (along sides such as Icelandic yogurt, fruit, granola bars, and carrots).

Use Simple Recipes: cooking does not have to be hard or time consuming.  If a recipe is too complex or time consuming, either save it for the weekend, see if you can cut some corners without compromising taste or delete it from your rotation.  We all like eating good, healthy food but sometimes certain recipes just are not worth the effort it takes to make them.


Use Restaurant Apps and Websites: to check the menu and nutrition information.  Again, this may take a little time and effort beforehand but knowing what you are going to have ahead of time takes the temptation and decision making out of the equation at the restaurant where you are both tempted and distracted.  Furthermore, if your dining partner(s) order high calorie options, you are more likely to follow their lead and also order an unhealthy option.  Deciding ahead of time and sticking to your guns will help you make a healthy choice. 

And you do not have to do your research in the hours prior to going out to eat.  Do it the evening before when you are on the couch watching tv or when you are on the toilet.  We waste numerous hours of our day surfing the web or checking our social media feeds, I think we can squeeze out a few minutes to do some restaurant research.

Pick Restaurants with a Light Menu: if the restaurant does not have light options, be sure to ask for a to-go box when placing your order.  Put half of your food away for later so you will not be tempted to eat it all or mindlessly eat it all.

Establish Healthy or Lower Calorie Go-To Options at Restaurants You visit Frequently: take the guess work out of what you are going to eat by establishing a healthy go-to routine.

Drink Water Before and during the Meal: your stomach can only hold so much volume, drinking water displaces some of the calories you would normally consume as part of your meal.

Use the Kids Menu, Appetizers, or Split Meals between Two People for Smaller Portions: still make sure to check the calorie information ahead of time if possible since some appetizers can be super high calorie as well.

Start with Soup or Salad: again, similar to drinking water before and during the meal, the stomach can only hold so much volume. Eating lower calorie foods will help you fill up before eating your higher calorie entree.

Look for Clues (words) to Find Healthier Options: for example, choose baked or grilled over fried or sautéed.

Request Whole Grain Pasta or Bread: although there is no difference in calories between white bread and whole wheat bread, whole wheat bread generally has more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than white bread.  Choosing whole grains is more about health than it is about calories.

Substitute a Side of Fries for Fruits or Veggies: or alternatively, have your partner order fries, you order fruits and/or veggies and split the sides between the two of you.

Order Butter, Dressing, and Sauce on the Side: this allows you to control the amount of fat in your dish, rather than relying on the line cook, who is in a major hurry and could care less about your health.

Easy on the Breadbasket and Skip Dessert: if you have budgeted an addition 300 – 700 calories, then go for it.  Otherwise, plan on eating your calories as part of your entree.

Leave Food on Your Plate: this may or may not save you too many calories but leaving food on your plate helps you practice a sense of control.  It allows you to say, you know what, I could eat this all but I am choosing not to.


In this obstacle you identified that you eat out more often than you should.  If you are able to scale back on the number of times you eat out in a given week, you do not have to be as careful at the restaurant when eating out.  From my own personal experience, I do not eat out very often, so when I do, I do not even begin to consider how many calories are in a given food.  I am going to eat the foods that look or sound most appealing to me.  This does not mean that I am going to order a regular Coke or get a dessert, but it does mean that I am going to order a bacon cheeseburger and fries without feeling one bit of guilt about it.  There have been numerous occasions in my life where I have needed to scale back on what I eat (usually when I am traveling) or change what I eat because I have been eating out too much.  On one such trip to Buffalo, NY to visit family, I consumed all the pizza, chicken wings, and beer that I could and did no exercise and ended up gaining 10 pounds in 10 days.  This taught me the lesson that even when I am on vacation, I need to be mindful of what I eat.