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9 Strategies to Avert Dietary Debacles Dining Out

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You know the obvious culprits. A gargantuan bowl of fettuccine Alfredo followed by a triple-digit calorie brownie bowl practically guarantees morning-after misery with the scales and skinny jeans.

Trouble begins with those dishes restaurants incorrectly classify as "healthy." Salads provide a perfect example.

Top a perfectly healthy bowl of organic greens with dried fruit or glazed nuts; pour on creamy honey mustard or raspberry vinaigrette, and you've practically created dessert. A little bleu cheese only spikes that sugary fat bomb to exceed the calories in a cheeseburger and fries.

Dining out needn't entail abandoning logic and diving into the chili-cheese jalapeño nachos. Couple a little creativity with these nine savvy strategies and you can enjoy any dining experience while averting dietary disaster.

1. Let the menu provide suggestions, not absolutes.
Survey the entire menu when you sit down. (Better yet, read it online before you visit the restaurant.) Let's say you want salmon and sautéed spinach but it comes with garlic-cheddar risotto. Politely ask your server to sub for another veggie. I always try ones I'd never cook at home, because restaurants always make them taste better.

2. Start with a simple salad.
Start your meal with a salad topped with olive oil and vinegar. One study in the journal Appetite found women who ate a 100-calorie salad ate 11 percent fewer calories and 23 percent more vegetables during their subsequent meal.

3. Beware of red flags.
Any entrée described as breaded, fried, crunchy, crispy, glazed or creamy translates into fast fat-loss obstacle. Order your lean protein and non-starchy veggies grilled, baked or broiled.

4. You know what assuming does...
Ask your server questions before you order. Ignorance doesn't cut it. If you fail to ask, and your chicken dish comes drowning in a syrupy glaze (even though your menu didn't say so), you're responsible if you eat it.

5. Don't let the enemy go down on your table.
Banish the breadbasket before your server even sets it down. If you need something to munch on before your salad, ask for a small bowl of olives.

6. Double up.
Two appetizers as your main course provide better portion control than a gigantic entrée. You might order hummus with veggies alongside grilled-chicken kabobs with salsa.

7. Be mindful.
Make your company, not food, the center of your attention. Be present. One study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found peri-menopausal women who remained mindful during meals, "lost significantly more weight, had lower average daily caloric and fat intake, had increased diet related self-efficacy, and had fewer barriers to weight management when eating out."

(Researchers defined mindfulness eating meditations here as "the intentional, nonjudgemental focus on the present eating experience.")

8. Cut it in half or share.
Split that enormous broccoli-and-garlic stuffed chicken breast in half. Give it to your dining partner or wrap it up before you even dive in. You can use the extra protein in your wrap or salad tomorrow at lunch.

9. Three bites and fork down. Your dining date insists you must try the pistachio-chocolate, upside-down cake. Have three polite bites -- we're talking bites you would eat on national TV, not during an 11 p.m. fridge raid -- and ask your server to remove the fork. Trust me: Other people at your table will have no problem finishing that cake.

What strategies would you add to this list? I look forward to reading your comments below!

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