Dining out at restaurants often goes hand in hand with times of celebration, social connection, and enjoyment. While dining out is an exciting part of life, it can easily disrupt healthy eating habits. We’ve compiled several ways to dine out mindfully and keep your nutrition goals in focus.

Plan Ahead

If you will be dining out for a meal, plan for it. Adjust your day for healthier or lighter meals before and after. Incorporate physical activity into your day, or add a few more minutes to your exercise session. If you know where you’ll be eating beforehand, consider looking up the menu to familiarize yourself with the options available. Whenever you plan for it, you can make adaptations to help you keep your goals on track rather than feeling guilty for enjoying a meal out.

Don’t Arrive Too Hungry

Skipping a meal before dining out can be tempting, but this habit can cause more harm than good. When you arrive too hungry, it’s easy to make impulsive choices rather than healthier choices. We often fill up on calorie-dense appetizers and drinks before the main course arrives. Whenever we show up to a meal too hungry, it can cause us to eat quickly and ignore fullness cues. Keeping a steady eating pattern throughout the day or planning a small snack before arriving can help you think more mindfully when making your choices off the menu and avoid overeating.

Watch Your Portions

Restaurants often serve much larger portions than we would typically eat. Between getting caught up in conversation and not wanting to waste food, it is easy to clean our plates and later wonder why we feel so stuffed. When your food arrives, pause for a few moments to assess your hunger levels and the portions you received. Before your first bite, decide if you plan to take some of the food home. If you’re unsure about a to-go box, cut your portion in half and use this as a check-in point with yourself before continuing. You can’t always control the amount of salt, saturated fat, and sugar content in meals when dining out, but you can control the amount you choose to eat.

Choose Your Drink Wisely

Soft drinks, juices, and alcohol can rack up empty calories in a hurry. Before you know it, your drink choice could double the calories of your meal. Be mindful of what and how much you’re consuming. Consider choosing water or limiting the quantity or refills of other beverages. If you’re having alcoholic drinks, be sure to alternate with a glass of water in between to stay hydrated.

Be Present

Mindful eating is all about staying present. Focus on what, why, where, and how much you eat. Reflect on your hunger and fullness levels often, and enjoy the company you’re eating with. As you slow down and savor the moment, you add more thoughtfulness to all your food decisions.

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