If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that we promote a balanced approach to health and fitness – with no foods being ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘off limits’. However, as personal trainers one of the questions we get asked often is how to still enjoy takeaways and meals out without it hindering healthy weight management, weight loss or other fitness goals. As ‘fast food’, or at least not home-made food, has become cheaper and more accessible over recent years this has led to suggestions that this is contributing to rising levels of obesity and weight gain. This blog aims to give some simple suggestions and tips to make sure you don’t have to miss out on enjoying social events and food treats, whilst also being able to maintain a healthy balanced diet and weight management.
Focus on frequency – It’s a firm fact that the occasional meal where you eat whatever and however much you want will not hinder long-term fitness progress or result in significant weight gain. Yes, you may bloat a little and weigh a bit more after a large meal or 2 or a few alcoholic drinks but this is NOT fat gain (that’s a different blog altogether!) If you’re rarely eating takeaways or restaurant meals, make sure you fully enjoy whatever you order with no restrictions as food is about so much more than just fuel. That said, if you’re regularly eating away from home you’re likely to have less control over what goes into your meals and to exercise portion control much more loosely and this can lead to consuming excessive amounts of calories, fat, salt and sugar that can lead to weight gain and health problems in the longer-term. If takeaways and restaurant meals are a regular habit for you, it may be worth trying to eat at home more often, taking pre-prepared food on days out (who doesn’t love a picnic?!) or considering some of the tips below to make healthier choices at least some of the time.
Consider your courses – When we’re eating at home most of us rarely take the time and effort to prepare 3 courses, however when we’re out and about we might not think twice about this just because they’re on offer and the selections are just so tempting! This means that not only are we likely to be consuming a larger meal just for our main course but we’re adding further courses on top of that! Try to choose carefully what you will realistically eat and how much you need to satisfy your hunger. You may skip a course altogether or suggest sharing with someone so you get all the taste with fewer calories.
Exercise portion control – As I’ve mentioned above, studies have shown that average restaurant and fast food chain portion sizes are far larger than we would usually serve ourselves at home, and with cooking methods being designed to add taste and luxury this can result in a large increase in calories compared to a home made meal. It’s so easy (and cheap) nowadays to upgrade from a regular (already larger?!) portion size to a large or even extra large meal – for example increasing the portion of fries and sugary drinks that we get and possibly even adding in other extras. Again, try to avoid making these choices simply because they’re on offer and take time to consider how much you really want to consume. Just like you might not miss the extra pound or so it costs you to upgrade, you probably won’t miss the few extra sips of drink or fries you skip either! Portion control doesn’t always have to mean a smaller size of food, it can be as simple as choosing a thinner pizza base as opposed to a deep pan of the same size, or choosing regular crust over stuffed crust. You can even cut out extras by choosing ‘naked’ burgers or burritos nowadays where you still get your chips and sides but can drop the bun or wrap.
Select your sauce – Sauces are often thought of as an aside to a meal, however many of them contain a heap of hidden calories. Think butter, cream and cheese all melted together and poured over your food and you’ll see how sauce selection can have a huge impact on the nutritional statistics of a meal. Butter, cream and cheese based sauces are much higher in fat and calories than, for example, tomato based sauces. When choosing meals such as pasta dishes and curries, all sauces are definitely not created equal and so this is a prime opportunity to cut calories and make healthier choices without sacrificing food volume! Sometimes you can eat smarter without eating less to save calories!
Cooking methods matter – Look for menu options described as grilled, steamed or oven baked as opposed fried, for when choosing meats. Swap breaded or battered options for ‘naked’ alternatives such as getting grilled chicken on McDonald’s wraps. Many restaurants offer options such as lightly dusted fish as opposed to heavily battered and grilled burgers can often be good options too.
Think before you answer – Have you ever ordered a meal and been completely unprepared and overwhelmed at the number of questions and options you get offered before your order is complete? Subway is a no-go if you’re not a quick thinker and even coffee nowadays is more complicated than ever! The good thing about this, however, is that’ we’re actually being given more control than we realise to make healthy food selections. Every question and option is a chance to make a healthy choice, for example ‘do you want to make that large?’, ‘would you like cheese on that?’ and ‘would you like a dessert/cookie/cake at half price?’ and so on. Even adding fizzy drinks or a packet of crisps onto meal deals might seem to make financial sense but it still increases cost, calories and quite often sugar, salt and fat and so do take time to think before you panic and answer. Plus, if you’ve ever just said yes to everything at Subway and watched it fall apart with every bite you attempt to take, you’ll thank me for this one later!
As I mentioned at the beginning, takeaways and restaurant meals can absolutely form part of healthy, balanced and equally as importantly ENJOYABLE diet. However, if you do feel concerned about them sabotaging your fitness goals then try and incorporate some of the tips above and enjoy every mouthful!
Bev Meadows – Personal Trainer/ Exercise Referral Officer and Complementary Therapist