Look, I’m not saying that I’m winning the battle of the bulge, but I’ve learned a few tactics to at least maintain the perimeter. And while everyone watching their weight knows to avoid fried foods, cream sauces, alcohol, and desserts, there are some not-so-obvious tricks to help you stay out of Spanx—which are popular, old-fashioned girdles with a cute, jazzy name—and who wants that?
Here are some simple summer dining strategies to help you navigate the mines:
Don’t Arrive Ravenous
Just accept the fact that, if you show up at a restaurant at 8 pm, having last eaten a yogurt at noon, you’re going to eat like a Viking at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Take the edge off with a delicious, ripe piece of fruit before you show up at the restaurant.
The torturous thing for hungry dieters is that, in American restaurants, bread is the first thing to hit the table. It’s tempting to ease your appetite with bite after bite of bread, liberally spread with butter or olive oil. Avoid those calories and do as the French and Italian do: ignore your breadbasket until the main course arrives. Then reach for it sparingly, and never use oil or butter.
Greasy fried appetizers are so seductive—and so bad for you. Opt for fat-free fish starters instead. Tangy ceviches, succulent raw oysters, and pure tuna tartares are so good on their own that they don’t need to be soaked in fat.
It’s pretty obvious that salads are a healthier choice than fried appetizers, but their fat-laden dressings will get you just the same. Ask for your dressing on the side and use it sparingly. You’ll be surprised by how little you’ll need.
“Fullness” is signaled to the brain with chemical messages—it takes a while for your body to realize that it’s full. Eat more slowly to allow time for satiation to register—this lessens your risk of overeating.
Train yourself to reach for your water glass more often. Frequent water sipping prolongs your meal (which allows your body time to register fullness), and sips of water replace calorie-soaked cocktails and wine. Plus, your skin looks better when you’re fully hydrated, and you’re less likely to wake up with a hangover or a stranger.
Don’t assume that the restaurant has USDA-recommended portions in mind when they compose your plate—they don’t. The pile of food that arrives on your plate is usually many times the amount you should be eating. Here are a couple of tricks to let you know how much to leave on your plate: proteins (fish, poultry, or red meats) should not exceed about three or four ounces per serving, or a piece about the size of a deck of cards. Sides (potatoes, rice, and other starches) shouldn’t exceed about four ounces, or a portion the size of a half-cup measure. The good news is that portions of lightly dressed veggies and fruits are practically limitless.
The dessert course is awkward for dieters. No one wants to sit and watch while everyone else tucks into luscious, chocolate- and butter-laden sweets. Propose that your table shares its desserts—no one will notice in the ensuing free-for-all that you’ve only had a forkful.