You have been working out and eating right—finally saying goodbye to the sweets from the holiday season. But then you are invited out to eat. After being committed to making healthy food choices it seems like there are two choices: decline the invitation and stick to your home-cooked, meal prepped dish to stick to your diet or go to the restaurant where you know you will cheat.
The temptation is real.
There are times when we go ahead and use that restaurant meal as our cheat meal. And that’s fine to do every once in a while. Yeah, there are healthy menu options available, but most of the time our mouth water for the good stuff—the fried and other delicious things we know we shouldn’t be eating.
It’s impossible to stay away from eating out forever—even when committing to a weight loss program.
So is it really that bad to eat out when you are on a diet?
The Effects Of Dining Out And Diets
The short answer is yes, it’s pretty bad. But before you go on to read a list of the potentially harmful health consequences remember that this depends on how often you are eating out and the types of foods consumed.
Fast food joints mean fried and greasy foods that are straight-up unhealthy. But choosing a healthy meal like chicken or salmon with sweet potato and veggies from a restaurant won’t derail your diet.
However, eating out does increase the risk of choosing that unhealthy option. Your willpower might not be that strong when you hear your friend order that cheesy pasta dish.
With that said, a 2015 study found that sit-down restaurants are just as unhealthy as fast-food chains.
Publishing the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researcher found that people consume more calories, more cholesterol, more sodium, and fat than when eating at home.
The researcher analyzed eight years of data from a survey collected from more than 18,000 adults living in the U.S. that was conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics.
In some cases, eating at restaurants was worse than eating at a fast food chain, mainly because of overeating.
In some cases it isn’t what you eat, it’s more about how much you eat. Restaurants are notorious for large portion sizes. We tend to eat much more than we would when having a home-cooked meal. One study found this could mean up to 200 calories more.
This leads to weight gain, which basically throws the diet out the window.
You can also get used to seeing these larger portion sizes, distorting your plates at home.
Bloating And Sodium
It was found that food served fast chain chains in 2014 had 1,256 milligrams of sodium. With dietary guidelines urging to consumer 2,300 milligrams or less of sodium per day, this leaves little room to not consume too much sodium.
Consuming too much sodium leads to water retention, which causes you to be bloated. It also can increase blood pressure, which can then lead to stroke or congestive heart failure.
What’s In The Food?
Say you stay away from fast food chains, but do dine out at restaurants often. The problem with frequent dining out is that you don’t really know the ingredients in the food. This could mean consuming more added sugars, like the refined sugar that is used in marina sauce at Italian restaurants.
Restaurants often tend to microwave food—and if they do in plastic containers (which does happen) this can result to toxins being in your food.
One study found that these plastic-packaged foods may contain phthalates, chemicals that may affect hormones.
This can cause infertility issues and birth defects.
Restaurants also tend to cook in grease instead of using healthier oils or ghee.
Other Negative Health Effects
Eating out often means not organic fruits and vegetables are used or the nice and lean cut of meat is used. Restaurants want more fatty cuts because the more fat, the more flavor. Even ordering a salad might be the worst choice because of added sugars in dressings and ingredients that make it less than healthy.
Other effects eating out can have on the body includes headaches associated with high-sodium foods, acne from consuming lots of carbs, a spike in blood sugar tan insulin resistance, obesity, and depression.
Should I Avoid Eating Out?
Yes, it’s better to prepare fresh and wholesome foods at home. But you don’t need to quit your eating out habit. Eating at restaurants provides a way to socialize, to enjoy time with the family or spouses, and to unwind from the stress of the day and enjoy a good meal—that you don’t have to cook.
Just limit these times to occasionally and make the healthiest choice when dining out on a diet.
Tips To Dining Out On A Diet
- Put aside half the plate and take it home for leftovers for the next day.
- Try to avoid condiments and sauces that include added salt and sugar
- Skip the buffet and instead just order an entree.
- Split an entree with someone and have a side salad.
- Choose restaurants that are known for healthy food options; check the menu online to get an idea of what to order.
- Don’t arrive feeling starved. Make sure to have eaten well throughout the day so that you are less likely to go overboard when ordering.
- Plan for a walk after the meal to digestion and get some exercise in.
What regularly dining out does to your body, Holly Smith, Insider
Just how much sodium do restaurant meals have?, Katie Little, CNBC
Recent Fast Food Consumption and Bisphenol A and Phthalates Exposures among the U.S. Population in NHANES, 2003–2010, mi R. Zota ,Cassandra A. Phillips, and Susanna D. Mitro, Environmental Health Perspectives
Effects of Fast Food on the Body, Natalie Butler, RD, LD, Healthline
4 Reasons Dinging Out Is Just As Bad As Fast Food, Lydia Bailey, Men’s Journal