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Restaurant Survival Guide

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I think it is important to start off by saying that for most of us, eating out is not an everyday thing. It is a once-in-a-while treat, and therefore it should be treated like one. For me, having a treat, or cheat meal (whatever you want to call it), is both physically and mentally rewarding. So when I do go out to a restaurant, I try not to stress out about the choices I make and enjoy the meal. As long as my diet is healthy the majority of the time, relaxing my eating routine when I go out is not going to undo all my previous hard work.

For those of you who do eat out often, or are really trying to be strict with your eating, restaurant menus can be a bit of a minefield. All of the meal descriptions are expertly written to make you drool at the thought of them, and if there are pictures attached, be prepared to want to order everything. Portions in most restaurants are huge, and just one course can take you close to your recommended daily calorie allowance. That doesn't mean you can't eat at a restaurant and make healthier choices -- you just need to be order well and make some adjustments.

- Look at the menu before you go. Nearly every restaurant has a website with the menu on it. I always take a look at the menu beforehand and work out what I am going to have. If I go in knowing what I am going to order, then I am less likely to make unhealthy choices. If I look at the menu in the morning, and I decide that I like the look of the chocolate-fudge cake, I will adapt my eating throughout the day to make allowances for a bit of cake in the evening. Balancing my eating like this ensured that l lost weight, was healthy, and didn't feel deprived.

- Watch your portions. Most of us know what a healthy portion of food is, and if that is not what turns up at your table, it doesn't mean you have to eat it all or waste it. When I go out to eat, if the portion is too big I ask the server to put half in a container straight away for me to take home, and then I eat the other half. Alternatively, I split the main course with my dinner companion and order a side (usually vegetables or a salad).

- Customize. You don't have to order exactly what is on the menu, so don't be afraid to ask for something else. You are the customer, and as long as your list of changes is not as long as your arm, and you are polite, they will be happy to accommodate your requests. When I go to a restaurant and I don't feel like indulging, I usually order a salad. It is surprising, however, how unhealthy the salads are in restaurants -- they are usually covered in cheese, bread and creamy sauces. I will ask for a large basic green salad, with plain grilled chicken and some sweet potato or brown rice, and whatever green vegetables are on the menu. From there, I construct my own salad. I also ask for the dressing on the side, then I can add as much or little as I like, without the salad swimming in it. Another tip is to dip your fork in the dressing and then pick up the salad. I am not asking the restaurant to create me a salad from ingredients they don't have, I am just taking bits from other meals and substituting them to make something that fits to my way of eating.

- Ask for extra veggies. I try to make sure that half my plate is filled with vegetables for a healthier and balanced meal. I always make sure to ask how the vegetables are served, too, as many times they will be covered in butter or cheese to make them taste "better." But vegetables taste great just as they are, and having cheese or butter on them can add so many more calories. I always make sure they are not fried -- grilled, steamed or boiled are always my first choices.

- Water is best. When ordering a drink, I always get water. Getting coke or even a cocktail is going to add lots of calories to my meal and a lot of sugar, so I stick to water. I don't like to drink my calories. If I do, I have much less to spend on delicious food. Having a few cocktails also may lead me to ordering that huge dessert I wouldn't normally order -- alcohol lowers your food inhibitions.

You don't have to give up eating out if you want to lose weight or improve your health. You just need to make some small changes.

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