Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Dining Out Dilemmas

Tomorrow I will be attending a goodbye lunch for a dear friend at a local restaurant.  In the interests of getting us in and out quickly the restaurant has provided its menu, and is asking us to notify them in the morning about what we would each like to eat so that everything can be ready and waiting for us when we arrive. That's fantastic, really.  I get a chance to scope out the menu and pick healthier food options, and I don't have to worry about rushing or being pressured. 

The thing about this lifestyle change that I am undertaking is that I can go to restaurants, just like a normal person.  I don't need to sit in a corner and sip lemon water - - I can actually eat and enjoy the meal and the company of my friends.

But I have to confess that I am terrified, for two reasons. i) Portion sizes and ii) Sodium.

Portion Sizes
Those of you who follow my blog know that portion sizes were one of my undoings in the past.  I naively thought that if it fit on a plate, it was a portion.  It was not until I began keeping a food diary that I realized that portions are actual things, and that they exist for a reason.  It was not until I had been working out for more than half a year that I began to actually internalize portions, and try and eat appropriately.

This is easy enough to do when I am eating at home or bringing my lunch and dinner to work.  After all, the Nerd carefully puts everything in appropriate portions, so I don't have to worry about things.  And I have a better handle, now, on what a portion of food is for the times that I eat at my parents' place (usually half a cup is a portion for anything delicious).

But restaurants, ah restaurants.  Their idea of portions is, put simply, laughable.  Eat what a restaurant puts on your plate and you are consuming 2 -3 times an actual recommended serving.  Nutrition Action did an analysis of some common foods found in the U.S., and compared them to the recommended portions, and the results were eye-opening for me, to say the least.  Take a look at the images below, all from Nutrition Action:

In each example the restaurant serving is shown on the left, while the recommended portion is shown in the right. 

A bagel is two portions?  OK, I can get my head around that.  A cookie is 3?  Oof.  A plate of pasta at a typical family restaurant is 3.5 portions?  Gack.  And so it goes.  

It makes dining out something of an exercise in estimating and pre-planning.  If you know that the restaurant is serving 10 oz steaks, then it's a simple enough matter to cut your steak into 3 pieces that are each approximately one serving.  It takes discipline, but it's easy enough to bring the rest home for the next day's meal.  But you can't do it if you don't know it's an issue.

In the past, I never knew that portions in the real world did not equal restaurant servings of food, and this was a large contributor to my weight issues.  I did not know that I had to think ahead about how much I should be eating, and plan my consumption accordingly.  I would just order something that looked somewhat healthy (to my untrained eye), and I would eat the entire damn thing.  

Which brings me to issue #2.  

Even healthy food choices in restaurants can be sodium minefields.  

The restaurant I am visiting tomorrow does not put their nutritional information online, so I went to a couple of other restaurants' websites to look up the nutritionals for comparable food choices.  And I was immediately horrified.  

Let's look at East Side Marios.  In my prior life I would have ordered a caesar salad and perhaps some pasta.  Let's look at that, shall we?  East Side Mario's chicken caesar salad has 660 calories and 1,150 mg of sodium.  A bit high.  What about the pasta?  The linguini chicken tetrazini has 1,050 calories and 1,510 mg of sodium.  For just this meal, the calories and sodium exceed my daily recommended limits, and that's only one meal -- not including bread or dessert.  Keep in mind that the daily recommended sodium allowance is 1,500 mg - 2,300 per day. 
OK, so perhaps an Italian restaurant is not a good choice.  How about a grill?  Milestones has a starter caesar salad for only 340 calories and 440 mg of sodium - - not bad!   But their prime rib comes in at 990 calories and a whopping 2,070 mg of sodium -- almost an entire day's allowance just by itself!

And on and on and on.

Going out to dinner was a lot easier before I began paying attention to sodium, but it was a lot harder to lose weight, as well.  I suspect that the two things are related.  

The key is to be forewarned, and to plan ahead as much as possible.  Tomorrow I will have a starter size spinach salad with dressing on the side,  and the grilled salmon.  I will try and avoid the rice or sides, because those will be high in sodium.  And I will split the salmon if it looks like the serving is too large.  It will not be a problem - - the Nerd loves leftovers, and the restaurant is across the street from our apartment, so they could even still be warm by the time I go home to bring them to him! 
I do miss the days of simply going to a restaurant and ordering something that looks good.  Now there are calculations and trade-offs involved.  Perhaps even long division.  So challenging, especially after a glass of wine...!

1 comment:

  1. I imagine this reply is arriving after the farewell lunch, but perhaps it will be helpful in the future!

    I know from 7 years of experience in the restaurant industry that you can usually order whatever you want (as long as it's something they do serve) and the restaurant will find a way to ring it up.

    Based on your example above, if they offered a salmon entree served with rice and a side of your choice, just order the "6oz salmon filet only, no sides." The restaurant should have an "open food" option in their system to ring up just the salmon. Anticipate the price to be 50-75% of the entree's full price.

    I've done this in the past to order while controlling my calories with a lot of success. I hope it helps you too!