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Spending a meal with friends or family in a public setting is always a treat. It can break up the monotony of a work week, and alleviate any stress that comes with preparing a meal yourself at home. The atmosphere is often much more relaxed, and (depending on the restaurant you visit) a large variety of cocktails may be at your disposal for a little added comfort. However, doing so when counting calories or following a strict diet can be slightly challenging.

Eating at a restaurant of your choice doesn’t have to be compromised because you wish to eat healthy. There are a number of strategies you can take advantage of beforehand and during your meal to ensure a healthy, yet still enjoyable dinner.

Prepare Beforehand

Take note of what you eat throughout the day before heading out for dinner. If you had a big lunch, compensate by choosing smaller portions at the restaurant. If you’d rather eat a larger meal while out, eat smaller meals for breakfast and lunch, with a few healthy snacks in between. If you know where you are going beforehand, look up the restaurant’s menu to research their healthier options. Those with larger menus tend to have a bigger variety in terms of nutritional meals.

Order Intelligently

A vast menu can easily tempt you into ordering larger, more caloric meals. Remain diligent. Choose healthier proteins like seafood, chicken, or turkey if available, and balance your nutritional pallet with sides of vegetables and whole grains. Starting your meal off with a small salad is a great way to include some greens, in addition to filling your stomach a little bit before the main entree. But, beware of fat-heavy dressings.

Pay attention to portion sizes as well. Most restaurants serve very large dishes compared to more upscale, lavish establishments. Control yourself when served something this large. Eat a comfortable amount of food, and save the leftovers for a later time; perhaps lunch the next day. Ordering an appetizer as your main course is nothing to be ashamed of either.

Keep in mind that most restaurants honor special requests, so asking for dressing on the side when ordering a salad, or for a specific ingredient to be left off your dish should be met with assurance.

Eat Slowly

The excitement of being out with friends while simultaneously starving is enough for your brain to think “We need to eat all of this food as fast as we can.” It takes roughly 20 minutes for your brain to recognize that you are full, and that level of fullness can continue to rise for the next half hour. With that said, the faster you eat, the more food you will eat, leading to a much larger intake of calories, as well as an uncomfortable feeling of being too full. Eat slowly no matter how hungry you may be, which, understandably, is often much easier said than done. Enjoy the company of friends and family, casually sipping your water or alcoholic beverage, and don’t simply let your hunger ruin a good evening. After all, dining out is meant to be an experience of love and happiness.

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