3 Tips to Help You Enjoy Eating Out—Guilt Free!

We often think of going out to eat as a guilty pleasure—one loaded with indulgences, tons of calories, and decadent choices. 

In anticipation of a dinner reservation at our favorite restaurant, we often face the “you SHOULD get the healthy option” and guilt over ordering something rich. 

But going out to eat CAN be a guilt-free experience. 

Next time you want to enjoy an anxiety free restaurant outing, here are three things to keep in mind:

1. Check out the menu prior to arriving at the restaurant.  

This is a great strategy, as it can prevent the “order overwhelm”.  If you know what your options are, you are much less likely to order the first thing you see on the menu (which could end up being the double bacon cheeseburger with onion rings and mozzarella sticks). You can see the selections and plan accordingly. 

Looking at the menu beforehand allows you to create some options to go in with. Maybe you allow yourself to order something on the healthier side but go in knowing your “splurge” will be to split a dessert. Or maybe you decide you really DO want that double bacon cheeseburger with the works.

Whatever you end up ordering, the point is that you can look over the menu and know what is available. Preparation and planning is a wonderful tool to help when you feel guilty about the high calorie, heavy menu options at a restaurant. If you go in with a general plan of what you will order, it takes much of the stress (and guilt!) out of the equation. 

2. Have a snack 1-2 hours before you go. 

If you “save up for” eating out, the plan usually backfires. When you don’t eat during the day in anticipation of going out to eat, you will most likely arrive at the restaurant starving. This does not bode well for your food choices since we start the meal with extremely low blood sugar, which means that our body craves an instant hit of energy (think high carb or high sugar options).

When you have a snack an hour or two before the dinner, your blood sugar will be balanced and stable. And when your body is balanced and stable, you tend to make better food choices (and there’s less need to rely on willpower).

Most people adopt the opposite approach: we think we shouldn’t eat a lot because we will eat a ton at the restaurant. But the reality is, when you aren’t absolutely starving, when you’ve had something to tide you over, you won’t need to eat an app, an entrée, and a dessert. You will feel satisfied with less because your body is more balanced. 

3. Take in the whole restaurant experience.

When faced with choices that aren’t our norm, it’s easy to slip into our minds and think “well if I order the cheesesteak and fries, I can go to the gym tomorrow for an hour longer and work it off” or “I should order the salad. But I really want the pizza. But I had a cookie today already. Oh screw it, I’m off my diet anyway, I’m getting the pizza.” 

We can have full blown conversations in our heads about what we should eat, what we really want to eat, what the person next to us is ordering, and on and on.  When we’re in the guilt or the food battle, we’re missing out on the whole experience and pleasure of eating! 

When we actually take a second to BE in the restaurant: staying present for the conversation, noticing the décor of the place, enjoying the company we’re with, tasting the flavors of the food we’re eating, we’re able to get out of our minds and into the experience of going out to eat. 

It’s a completely different experience when we’re not racked with guilt! While it can be hard to be mindful, it is huge help in getting out of our heads and allowing ourselves to enjoy the food, the conversations and the pleasure of eating out. 

It’s also important to remember that this is just ONE evening of many, many times you will eat in your lifetime. There’s no need to beat ourselves up with guilt when we end up eating more than we usually do at a dinner with friends. It’s a hard habit to break because we want to eat healthy all of the time. 

Remind yourself that it is just one outing; you are allowed to take in all of the pleasure in enjoying northern Colorado’s finest restaurants—guilt free! 

Author: Jenn Hand is a Duke University trained health coach, certified nutritionist and founder of

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