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eating out on a diet

If you're trying to eat clean for the sake of your health (and waistline), restaurants can seem like a very scary place indeed.

Not only are you not in control of what goes into the food, but you're not in control of portion size, or the bread basket, or how often the wine is refilled… The list goes on.

While it can seem daunting trying to stick to your diet while eating out, as long as you stay focused it's surprisingly easy to enjoy yourself without feeling like your only option is the garden salad. Yes, you will need to avoid the bread basket, but that doesn't mean you need to avoid the restaurant entirely.

Here are a few tips to get you started…

1. Don't skip lunch
If you know you'll be eating a big meal in the evening, it can be tempting to deprive yourself earlier on in the day. But arriving to the restaurant starving is not going to bode well for an evening of restrained eating. So fill up with small meals throughout the day, and have a high fibre snack an hour or two before you eat to ensure you're not dining out on an empty stomach.

2. Don't go straight to the cocktail list
As soon as you sit down, as for some water to be brought to the table and ensure you drink a full glass before ordering anything else to keep you feeling full. If you're planning on having a glass of wine, order it to come with your food so that you're not tempted to have more than one.

3. Know your menu
Most restaurants have their menus available online, so check out what's on offer before you arrive and plan ahead what you'll order. That way you won't be tempted by that cheese-smothered special at the last minute. Watch out for terms like "au gratin," "alfredo" or "battered"… anything that suggests butter, oil or cream, basically,

4. Double up on veg
If your meal comes with a side of chips or something else you'd rather avoid, ask your waiter if it's possible to have extra salad or vegetables instead. Most chefs are happy to oblige.

5. Avoid buffets like the plague
Filling up your plate with a random selection of food and going back for more is a recipe for diet disaster. It might seem like good value, but choose a main course instead and you'll leave feeling much better.

6. Control your portions
The portion on offer depends on the restaurant, but if you're heading somewhere that's known for dishing out huge helpings of food, decide ahead that you're only going to eat two thirds at most, and get the rest to take away. Once the decision is made, it's harder to mindlessly eat the whole plate without noticing.

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Ever notice that if you try to recreate a restaurant dish at home, the results are never quite as tasty? It's probably because you're putting in normal amounts of salt, butter, sugar and other ingredients, rather then loading them up for flavour.

Even the healthiest of restaurants have certain items that are going to wreak havoc with your diet. The basic rule of thumb when dining out on a diet is to look for large servings of protein like chicken or fish, prepared in a healthy manner. For sides, opt for crunchy vegetable-based dishes rather than white carbs like bread and chips.

As well as that though, there are certain words and phrases that should trigger alarm bells when choosing a healthy meal. Watch out for the following buzzwords next time you're dining out!

1. "Creamy"
What's the best way to make a soup or sauce creamy? You've guessed it – by adding cream or milk. Diet disaster. Even vegan substitutes like coconut milk and cashew milk are high in fat, so be aware when ordering.

2. "Vegan"
Certain vegan and vegetarian foods like quorn and tofu are often used as meat substitutes. As they are naturally lower in fat and sodium than things like red meat or chicken, chefs will have to add in salt and other products to boost flavour. So if that seitan tastes AMAZING compared to when you tried it at home, there's your answer!

3. "Organic" and "locally sourced"
Yes, organic foods are not genetically modified, but they are still the same basic foods. The same goes for locally sourced products. That asparagus spear might contain more nutrients as it's been grown just down the road rather than being flown across the globe, but if it's been pan fried in butter and coated in salt before reaching your plate, it's still going to contain the same amount of fat.

4. "Pan-fried" or "skillet-fried"
The bad news – fried means fried, no matter what type of container it's in!

5. "Gluten-free"
If you're coeliac or have an intolerance to gluten, obviously this is by far the healthiest menu choice for you to keep your digestive system working smoothly. But if you're choosing a gluten-free dish to avoid carbs, beware. Gluten-free foods like rice still pack in a fair amount of carbohydrates.

6. "Low-fat" or "fat-free"
Manufacturers have to add something to ensure your fat-free food still tastes good. More often then not, it's sugar. Be aware that many "high-fat" foods like avocado and olive oil actually contain healthy sources of fat so are not to be avoided.

7. "Glazed," "Sticky" and "Honey dipped"
Yes, honey or maple syrup might seem like a better option than refined sugar, but it's still going to pack a calorific punch. When it comes to glazes like teriyaki or BBQ, it's best to ask your waiter what the sauce is actually made from.

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