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How to Maintain Your Diet at a Restaurant

Ex-bartender and restaurant employee Jamie Jereb dishes out the secrets on how to save yourself hundreds of calories every time you eat out.

I hate to break it to you, but if you truly want to get fit and lose fat, going out to eat is ruining your diet. But, we are Americans! Going out for the occasional bite is practically in our blood. Well, actually it is—along with high levels of triglycerides.

Instead of telling you not to eat out when undoubtedly you will, I've decided to be the renegade that I am and share the secrets of the restaurant kitchen. I do not claim to know everything about the industry, but enough to save you a few hundred calories. Oh, how do I know?  

Let me tell you a little story.

Kids fantasize about becoming things like movie stars, pro athletes, dolphin trainers—oh no, not this girl.  My parents got stuck with the child who dreamt of becoming a bartender. A bartender! Well, that and I wanted to open a compound for homeless animals of the world. However, after Betty White—yes, the Betty White—decided to disregard my request for funds to help start my venture, the plan went nowhere. Let's hope that picture of Snoopy I drew for her is hanging on her wall.

Eventually, I made it to the bar scene, but not before slaving away behind the scenes in a restaurant kitchen or two.  

I worked in every type of bar/restaurant under the sun. Omelete houses and creperies to BBQ joints and fine dining. I could pour the perfect Guinness and shake the perfect martini. I've even worked an entire day in a taco truck. Don't ask. Bottom line, if you can eat it or drink it, I've seen it or made it. 

So if any fitness coach can help you with the what, how and why of ordering in a restaurant, it's me. 

Read on to learn how to save a few hundred calories every time you order one of the 10 items below.

1. Eggs   

The only way to ensure they are not made with oil is to order them poached.  If you get an omelete, opt for egg whites, simply because they tend to use three or four eggs, which is just too many calories at once, not because the whole egg is unhealthy.  

2. Pasta 

Stick to red sauce, obviously. The white stuff is always cream-based. Also, ask for a box or split your order. They also dish out three to four servings because pasta is cheap and it appears you're eating like a king.

3. Burgers 

A lot places use 25- to 30-percent-fat beef because it tastes the best. Duh! So if you're going to do it, save 350 calories and skip the bun, creamy sauce and cheese. Ask for a salad instead of fries, then you can use those fry calories for a beer or two. Hey, just being ideal here.  

4. Sandwiches

Keep them as simple as possible. Take away any additional bread that may come with clubs. Ditch the bacon, ranch or Caesar dressing. Ask for whole wheat toast and make sure you say dry. They will usually brush it with butter. Save 100 calories and take away the top piece. Load that sucker with veggies. Make it a salad on bread.

5. Mexican Dishes

Tell them no rice, whole beans only, light cheese and no sour cream. If you're ordering tortillas, make sure they are corn. Skip burritos and go for a couple of tacos. The huge flour tortilla can run about 400 calories by itself.

6. Salads

Ask for just a little dressing on the side. Better yet, use the delicious foods that come on salads to mask as dressing. Example, mix it up with a little goat cheese, avocado or hard-boiled egg. Most of us just want to taste something other than lettuce, and this will do the trick.

7. Pizza

Truthfully, pizza can be a perfect meal. You've got your protein, carbs and fat. The problem is that we overdo it and tend to choose poor ingredients like 4 pounds of pepperoni and sausage. Ask if they do whole grain crust, ask for light cheese and load with veggies. I know it's lame, but blotting the grease can save a lot of calories as well. 

8. Chinese Food

Lots of sauces, lots of fried stuff, lots of white rice, lots of MSG. Ask them to use brown rice if available, stay away from fried things, light on the sauce and oil and hold the MSG.  

9. Sushi

Healthy fish right? Perhaps if you just eat the fish and veggies. But you know you're going after that crunchy tempura roll topped with mayo and definitely overdosing on white sticky rice. Stick to sashimi pieces and ask if they serve brown rice. A lot of places do now. I recommend starting with a simple salad to keep you from eating too much and it keeps your bill down.

10. Cocktails

I think I have educated the world on this, but if you haven't heard: Stay away from sugary, foo-foo MaGoo drinks! They are loaded with calories from either the fruit juice, the sweet and sour, the grenadine, the mix or all of the above. Opt for things mixed with soda water and real fruit.  

Try my “practically healthy” margarita recipe:

1 oz of good tequila. No Jose, no Montezuma, no hangover!

1 tbs. of agave nectar

Juice of 1 lime or less if you prefer

Splash of organic orange juice

Put all the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and pour everything in a glass and fill with soda water if needed. You just took a typical 600-900 calorie margarita and turned it into a “practically healthy” drink, weighing in around 160 calories.

Remember gang, bars and restaurants want this stuff tasting good so you'll keep coming back. Unfortunately, their idea of good is loading food with bad fats, salt and sugar. Take control and ask them to modify the order to your liking. Just be cool and make sure you tip!

Hope these renegade tips help.

Cheers!

Jaime Jereb March 14, 2011 at 11:36 PM
Yes, they are finally catching on. Thanks sis!
Jerica Howard March 15, 2011 at 01:45 AM
another great article, my dear. i really do take away that top piece of bread on sandwiches, even burgers, and eat them open faced. you wont miss that extra bread, except on your fanny. are wine cocktails easier on the calories? any recipes? keep up the good work...you keep me so inspired. love, mom
Jaime Jereb March 15, 2011 at 11:36 AM
Thanks Mom! Wine isn't less really. A 4-5 oz glass (which...who really only pours that much right?) is about 110-130 cals. I look into recipes. Love you!
Lauren A March 16, 2011 at 05:09 PM
I tried the salad thing! And big shock...you were right! You don't even need the dressing when you have other yummy foods mixed in. I went out to eat last night at Boston's and had a Santa Fe salad: avocado, black olives, tomatoes, black beans, and cheese. I barely even used the dressing because of the amazing combo of the other ingredients. Plus, I found I actually ate more greens than normal cause the each bite was packed with different textures! Next up, the switch from burritos to tacos ;) What's your take on sweet potato fries?
Jaime Jereb March 17, 2011 at 10:37 PM
Oh you know THAT makes me happy Lauren :) Sweet potatoe fries are great, if you're the one baking them. Restaurants def. fry them in, so adding a lot of calories there. I bake mine with olive oil at home. If you are out, picking those over regular is better for sure.

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