When you’re trying to be more health-conscious of what you put in your body, it can be difficult to know where certain meals stand. Consider some of these guidelines to help you make more wholesome decisions.
I’d like to stress the point that you are not good or bad based on what you eat. You shouldn’t beat yourself up about eating out on occasion, or punish yourself for eating an ice cream cone once in a while. One of my best friends often feels guilt just for eating a little bit of dessert, and will say things like “I was bad and ate a cookie today.” It saddens me when he says things like this. His values and personhood don't take a dive just because he ate a cookie, and yet he still feels as if he has done something horribly wrong. I strongly encourage you to examine yourself if you have these sorts of feelings, because as long as what you eat balances out in the end, it’s okay to treat yourself once in a while.
Think lean protein. Most people are not hurting for protein (no, not even vegetarians), but it does help keep you satiated. When eating out, try to stick with deli meats or grilled lean protein (like chicken) and leave choices like hot dogs, pizza, and hamburgers for special occasions. Some other good sources of protein include beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, and seitan.
Vegetables are your friends. They’re high in fiber (meaning they’re very filling), low in calories (green vegetables generally have one-eighth the calories that meat contains), and low in fat. If you’re looking to eat a lot of food without breaking your calorie bank, vegetables are a good factor to consider in your meal. If you have your heart set on something that you love but isn’t necessarily as good for you, try pairing a smaller serving of that with a larger serving of vegetables.
When it comes to salads, pay close attention to your toppings (croutons and cheese can quickly add up) and what dressing you use (you’d be surprised how many contain more calories than the entire salad itself). Your best bet with a bowl of greens is to order dressing on the side, and to then dip and not pour it on.
Better breakfast. If you’re craving an omelette, request only whites for it (easy on the cheese and, again, include lots of veggies) and add in an order of fruit. When ordering your cup of coffee, keep in mind that you probably don’t want to drink a meal’s worth of calories in one go. Note that it’s easy to overestimate how much cream you’re pouring into your beverage, or how much sugar (whether from packets or flavored syrups).
Luckily, many restaurants now make nutritional information available online so you can determine areas in which you can afford to cut back or exchanges you can make to better suit your needs. If you’re paying a visit to Starbucks, for example, you can get the lightened up version of your favorite drink and pair it with a breakfast option like a yogurt parfait or an egg white wrap. Subway and Dunkin Donuts also offer some great choices, like egg white muffin melts (just pass over the fattier varieties, like the one with sausage) and wraps, respectfully.
Switch it up. Broth-based soups paired with a protein-topped salad (like grilled chicken or seared fish) are often a good bet. Of course, if you’re going out it’s simple enough to order something else that looks good to you–just don’t be afraid to request the occasional tweak, like by saying “brown instead of white” and “easy on the rice” for sushi, “tomato sauce instead of cream sauce,” and “extra vegetables with my steak, please.” Remember how making little exchanges can make a big difference, and look over the menu to find your best options. Key words include "grilled," "steamed," "broiled," and "baked" while it’s generally best to pass on meals described as "fried," "breaded," and "sautéed." Try to avoid sauces that seem sugary, cheesy, creamy, and/or buttery; tomato-based sauce, low sodium soy sauce, salsa, or a little lemon juice tend to make for better meal toppers.
Fast food. It’s hard to avoid stopping for it, sometimes. If possible, just check the stats out beforehand to help you make the best choices that you can. Here are some hints: chicken and fish aren’t smart options if they’re fried, and you can skip the bun on your burger (try it wrapped in lettuce) as well as the cheese (which can often add 100 extra calories by itself) to lighten things up. Just be sensible. You don’t need to order the largest size (did you know a small order of fries often clocks in at 300 calories and 14g of fat?), and you probably don’t need a triple anything (Burger King’s Junior Whopper without mayo is a reasonable 260 calories; by comparison, the Triple Whopper is over 1,100). Finally, skip the soda and stick with water for your beverage.
Sweet stuff. Maybe you see a dessert on the menu that is calling your name. It’s true that most are higher in calories, sugar, and fat than we’d like, but it’s okay sometimes to just forego the bread basket at the table, avoid any starchy sides, and to go ahead and order a dessert. Take a few forkfuls and split the rest with your company. Part of healthy eating is knowing how to balance out your diet. Of course, if you’re someone who has a difficult time finding yourself satiated with just a few bites of something, consider waiting until you get home to eat dessert or pick an option like coffee or tea, biscotti, fresh fruit, or sorbet to end your meal.