Having a thriving social life usually includes eating out.
Regularly dining at restaurants adds inches to your waistline, zaps your energy, and crushes future productivity.
I knew there had to be a way to enjoy a bite in a cozy atmosphere, strengthen your relationships, and also maintain optimal health.
Without relegating yourself to a dry, dressing (and flavor)—free salad.
Yes, there are some obvious changes to make. But also, many little tweaks that make a world of difference.
In this article, I’ll share the strategies I use to eat healthy at restaurants. To mitigate all the potential dangers, enjoy an active social life, and biohack eating out.
How Eating at Restaurants Destroys Your Health
Before we can do anything to prevent it, we must understand why restaurants so effectively and quickly sabotage our health.
Many factors make eating out the perfect storm.
Virtually all restaurants, even the fancier ones, have low food quality standards. When they can skimp on expensive healthy ingredients without you noticing (especially fat sources), most do. Profit, not health, reigns king.
Most of the problems associated with restaurant meals boil down to:
- Lacking nutrition
- Hidden chemicals, sugars, and additives
- Social pressure from friends and waiters
- Low-quality ingredients
Let’s explore each of these to better grasp how to biohack eating at restaurants.
Calorie overload. Most places don’t openly list calorie counts on the menu because it would shock patrons. Your average American meal often contains 1,000 – 2,000 calories. When you cook at home, it’s half that. The “calories in minus calories out” formula is overly simplistic, but how much you consume plays a major role in your weight.
Hidden ingredients. Well-funded culinary science has learned how to engineer the most addictive possible foods. Usually, adding well-hidden sugar combined with fat (hence all the calories). Yet they have another class of secret ingredients. Chemicals, emulsifiers, and other additives. Altering your neurochemistry, driving insatiable appetite, and activating all your brain’s pleasure centers. Giving food the perfect consistency. Resulting in meals impossible to replicate at home.
Lacking nutrition. Between the nutrient-depleated non-organic produce, high-heat cooking method, and all the additives, food lacks biologically supportive sustinance. According to the optimal foraging theory, appetite only subsides when our bodies’ sense that we’ve consumed adequate macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. So we eat more and more just to satisfy basic nutrient requirements.
Social pressure. Both your friends and the waiters encourage you to consume unhealthy options. You might think that you’re above their influence, but considerable resources go into training the wait staff to maximize meal add-ons like drinks and desserts. Such as asking “what would you like to drink”, rather than “would you like a drink”? Then there’s also greater pressure to finish your meal, whereas at home you can easily refrigerate leftovers.
Inflammatory fats. High-quality fat sources cost more than canola and safflower oil. These polyunsaturated fats are extremely prone to oxidation, especially under high-heat cooking. When consumed, free radicals and reactive oxygen species ravage your body. Accelerating your rate of aging. Then your body uses these junk fats to make cell membranes. Like building a house on top of a styrofoam foundation, this sets you up for metabolic disorders. Plus, unlike sugar which you burn in a few hours, it takes 6-7 years for your body to rid itself of this bad fat.
Virtually all restaurants have these problems.
Even the classy spots highly recommended on Yelp.
On top of all those health issues, compared to cooking at home, you pay 2-3X more for lower-quality food.
Suffice it to say, restaurant meals aren’t healthy. But inevitably, you’ll dine out. When you do, use these hacks to stay optimal.
Before Eating Out
To minimize the downsides, a little preparation can make a big difference.
In fact, doing these right makes the others less important.
Sleep has two major food-related roles.
First, it helps your body regulate blood sugar.
Sleep deprivation, for example, disrupts your post-meal blood sugar equivalently to a diabetic.
Second, sleep regulates the hormones associated with hunger and satiation. Sleep also makes you feel fuller faster and more satisfied from eating.
Try to sleep a little more before a big feast.
Hydration does a few things that lessen the impact of eating out.
Drinking water reduces the concentration of your blood. With this increased volume of liquid, each gram of sugar has less effect. Therefore hydration helps buffer you against blood sugar spikes. Aside from these tips, you can learn more on Nick’s Healthy Morning Hydration Drink and unlock the healthy you!
Second, thirst often masquerades as hunger. Have your liquid and you’ll eat less.
Drink about two cups of water before your meal to regulate hunger.
Exercising before a meal primes you to best use your meal.
HIIT, strength, and endurance training all deplete muscle and liver glycogen (sugar) stores.
If you eat carbs post-workout, they first fill the depleted body before spilling over into the bloodstream. Causing less damage to the body.
I eat carbs every day, after I’ve trained (called carb backloading).
A good training session before eating reduces the health consequences of consuming carbs (sugar).
If I’m really feasting, I will take a supplement specially formulated to keep my blood glucose steady.
Especially if I cannot work out and know that I’ll be surrounded by junk food.
By keeping insulin stable, you gain less fat, keep energy levels optimal, and stabilize your appetite.
These products allow me to literally eat my cake and have it too.
For most people, I recommend getting a pre-made supplement:
These contain a shotgun formula of a bunch of synergistic ingredients.
For the biohackers and those that like to experiment, you can get individual ingredients and choose your own dosages.
My favorites ingredients include:
This article mentions all the top ingredients to stabilize blood sugar.
When eating out, I always bring a blood sugar supplement as an insurance policy.
Vitamin E helps buffer against bad fats (PUFAs) and also the impact of consuming excess sugar.
It’s one of the main antioxidants.
Vitamin E, d-alpha tocopherol in particular, greatly offsets the oxidative damage of PUFAs as shown in several studies.
This vitamin also helps block the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Making the simple carbohydrates you do consume less harmful.
Either consider a high-quality vitamin E supplement or munch on a handful of nuts.
While no guarantee, certified organic restaurants are more likely to use better fats, and less of the bad stuff (added sugar, chemicals).
Organic restaurants already have lower profit margins. The owners of these establishments often care more about food quality and the health of their patrons.
Nonetheless, if you’re not embarrassed, I recommend asking a few questions:
- Where they source their meat
- If you can order without meals without added sugars
- What kind of oils they cook with, and if you can substitute butter instead
You can tell a lot about the quality of the food by the marketing material on the restaurant’s website.
As previously mentioned, restaurants add all kinds of things to make their food more appealing.
Common food additives include:
- Emulsifiers that disrupt gut bacteria
- Thickeners which also disrupt gut flora
- Food coloring that’s linked to disease
- Appetite stimulants to increase orders
- High-fructose corn syrup which leads to fatty liver disease and insulin resistance
- Trans fats which increase inflammation and cardiovascular disease
- Preservatives associated with cancer and other diseases
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a favorite pleasure-inducing ingredient used by many cuisines around the world. It’s also a neurotoxin with commonly reported side effects.
Here’s the thing.
We don’t know what happens when these ingredients get mixed. Very little research has investigated the interactions. Yet restaurant meals often contain multiple.
When chatting with the staff, you can mention that you have an intolerance to chemical additives.
Call ahead and ask about their chemical use to avoid a polypharmacy of unstudied ingredients combining in your digestive system.
Try not to order when you’re ravenously hungry.
Stress, fatigue, and a decision-fatigued dopamine system lead to unhealthy choices.
Instead, go in with a plan. Review the menu before arriving.
Not only will planning your meal ahead give you more time and energy to socialize, but you’ll also make better decisions.
I usually snack before arriving at the restaurant.
Then I have less temptation to “just try” the bread, chips, and deep-fried appetizers. While at the same time, nourishing myself with something high-quality.
Snacking beforehand gives you the freedom to enjoy the company of your friends.
Kill two birds with one stone by snacking on a handful of vitamin E-rich nuts.
Decoding the ingredients based on the wording of a menu is a science in itself.
Restauranteurs have mastered the use of appealing language that doesn’t raise red flags.
To make sure you get the most out of your meal, keep your eyes peeled for these.
Sugar makes food more palatable and addicting. It’s in most packaged foods. Just look under the ingredients list.
Though it gets disguised by many seemingly innocent names.
At restaurants, you can bet that dressings, sauces, and anything yummy contain hidden sugar. The relevant question, is how much?
I answer that using a device that measures blood sugar 24/7 for ~2 weeks (called a continuous glucose monitor). Try your favorite meals at your regular restaurants. Eat your go-to snacks.
This will help you discover the link between the phrases on menus and food labels, and their impact on your health.
Using a continuous glucose monitor will highlight many “sugar-free”, “keto”, and “healthy” snacks actually spike your blood glucose just as high as sugar itself!
Smart main course
When I order, I do a cursory scan of a menu to locate my available options.
I quickly can tell which meals I will absolutely avoid. Some of the unhealthy keywords I look for include:
- Tempura, battered, breaded, fried — all indicating concentrated bad fats and zero nutrition
- Gluten-free — usually this means added sugar, and quality, grain-free meals are naturally free of gluten
- Sweet, tangy — if the dish has either of these in the name or description, they add more sugar
There are many others, but these immediately come to mind.
You can always play it safe by ordering a side of meat, non-fried veggies, or salad (without dressing).
Place a smart order by avoiding certain keywords or just order several side dishes.
In addition to what you eat, the way it’s prepared makes a difference.
This isn’t as important as the other factors, but still worth noting.
Unless you’re sure the restaurant cooks in butter, olive oil, or other high-quality fats, you’ll want something lighter.
There are several things to note about the preparation method:
- Proteins denature with cooking and become less useful
- Higher heat is more toxic due to amino acids, sugars, and creatine producing carcinogenic compounds like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and heterocyclic amines (HCA)
- Heats oxidize commonly used fats and make them harmful
So minimal cooking at a low temperature is best.
The healthiest food preparation methods include:
- Baked (low-temperature)
- Pressure cooked
Where appropriate, get your food raw or cooked at low temperature. At the very least, request they use a healthy and stable fat like butter or olive oil.
Spare the drink
Drinks always precede the main meal.
Alcohol interferes with normal hormonal—and particularly insulin—signaling. Blood sugar crashes, and your biology responds with the only logical thing… seeking more food. So you order more.
Your body also won’t process the meal or absorb nutrients as effectively. Overall, making it a poor choice. But you can still enjoy yourself and socialize with a healthy buzz-inducing booze alternative.
My favorite is a drink in the same family as normal alcohol but without toxic side effects. It’s called Hard Ketones (read my full review here). It feels pleasant, but according to my Oura ring data, it also improves my body and brain. As a bonus, Hard Ketones blunts appetite preventing you from overeating.
Save alcohol for after the meal, or get the rush without the downsides with a better drink like Hard Ketones.
Instead of alcohol, the right beverage helps you get more out of the meal.
While also reducing bloating, heartburn, gas, digestive upset, and other unpleasant post-meal symptoms.
My simple go-to is just warm water with a squeeze of lemon. I know, basic right? This is actually an ancient Ayurvedic recommendation.
Lemon increases the acidity of the stomach (as well as possesses many other health benefits). Most heartburn is actually caused by inadequate acid production, rather than too much. Warm water lubricates the digestive tract, allowing food to more easily pass through and facilitating nutrient absorption.
Cold water, while tasty, has the opposite effect. It causes constriction and impairs digestion.
To understand this, imagine washing dishes. Food washes off much easier with warm water than cold. A similar thing happens in the body.
The other great option is water (room temperature) with bitters. The herbs in bitters also stimulate digestion. You can bring your own or get some from the bar.
Mitigate digestive symptoms by either consuming warm water with lemon or bitters.
During The Meal
Once you’ve ordered, you’ve gotten through the hard part.
There are some easy bonus things you can do.
Spending a few moments appreciating your food puts your nervous system into parasympathetic “rest-and-digest” mode. Helping you break down and assimilate nutrients better.
You can enhance the process by briefly paying attention to your breathing. Extend your exhales longer than the inhales.
So, for example, inhale for four seconds, pause for a moment, and then exhale for six seconds.
Bonus points for getting the entire table to join you.
Slowing down before eating helps the body process food more effectively.
The order you eat makes a difference.
Start with carbs, and you’re most likely to overeat and spike your blood sugar high.
Protein to begin the meal, however, satiates you faster and keeps your energy stable. Plus, most people are protein deficient. Overestimating how many essential amino acids they consume per day.
It’s can make the meal dull to eat all the protein first, so at least take a few bites of protein to start. Then try the other foods.
Go for the protein on your plate first to keep your energy levels up, prevent weight gain, and absorb the most nutrients.
You may associate the phrase “mindful eating” with yogis and hippies.
These groups were onto something, that science has begun to validate.
It’s about slowing down and making eating your sole focus.
A few great mindful eating techniques include:
- Chewing more times per bite
- Putting your fork and spoon down between bites
- Talking about the food and specifically identifying the flavors
- Using chopsticks, and if it’s easy, in your non-dominant hand
Mindful eating increases your satisfaction from less food while also giving you more out of each bite.
Plus, the slower you eat, the more time your gut has to signal to your brain that you’re full. So you eat less.
See this article for my top mindful eating hacks.
Slow down and savor your food to eat less, absorb more nutrients, and get greater satisfaction.
Ayurvedic wisdom also posits that a balanced meal contains each taste.
Eating all six tastes will not only taste more flavorful and satisfying but will also balance your nutrition and prevent cravings.
The six tastes to aim to eat in a meal are:
How much you need of each depends on your constitution.
The more unique tastes in a meal, the better you’ll feel and the fewer cravings you’ll get later.
Box it up
I usually avoid taking my food to go for two reasons.
One, it’s inconvenient to lug a box around with me, especially if I’m not going straight home.
Second, I’m not sure why, but walking around with a to-go box feels embarrasing.
So I usually power through, stuffing myself beyond the point of discomfort.
If you followed the previous steps and snacked beforehand, you’ll probably want a box.
When you’re feeling about 80% full, consider taking your remaining food home with you.
After Eating Out
When I want to pull out all the stops, or I ate a lot of junk, I’ll do extra damage control.
Glycine is a non-essential amino acid with metabolic benfits. It’s involved in collagen production, detoxification, and nerve signal transmission.
We’re most interested in several particular properties of glycine:
- Improving insulin sensitivity
- Increasing antioxidant defenses
- Detoxifying bad fats
- Balancing overconsumption of meat rich in methionine (linked to cancer)
It’s also one of three amino acids needed to produce the body’s master antioxidant, glutathione.
I take 3-4 grams of glycine after a meat or carb-heravy meal to re-balance the body.
Chlorella micro-algae is among the best natural detoxifiers.
When I eat sushi or other foods possibly contaminated with heavy metals (like mercury), chlorella can counteract the toxicity. It binds to the heavy metals making them easily excreted.
Best of all, it’s incredibly safe and a nutritional powerhouse.
Whenever I have them on hand, I’ll take 10-30 tablets post-meal.
Another popular post-meal binder is activated charcoal.
The massive surface area of charcoal neutralizes toxins and bad stuff in food.
Unfortunately, it also prevents you from absorbing vitamins and minerals. Chlorella doesn’t have this issue, so I prefer it whenever I have the option.
Bring a capsule of activated charcoal with you in case you eat something bad.
Bioharmonizer’s Restaurant Kit
I like to hit restaurants prepared. I have a little “go” bag prepared at all times.
It contains a few choice supplements, and other ingredients to help me eat healthy at restaurants.
The things I pack into my on-the-go kit include:
- Paleovalley superfood bars & beef sticks
- Blood sugar supplement
- Liposomal glutathione or NAC
- MCT or quality olive oil
- Activated charcoal
- Quality salt
All of it fits nicely into a tiny fanny pack.
The healthy snacks keep me from overeating.
I consume either chlorella or charcoal after I eat junk, especially if it may contain heavy metals or toxins.
If I anticipate a carb-heavy meal, I’ll pop a capsule of a supplement designed to keep my blood sugar steady and prevent weight gain.
I carry a mini bottle of C8 MCT and/or quality olive oil to add healthy flavor to my meals.
Unrefined sea salt contains trace minerals, less sodium, and no chemicals. Making it a way to get electrolytes and further boost the taste.
It’s a simple but effective pack.
How to Dine Out Without Gaining Weight
Eating out without any prior planning won’t ruin your life.
But when most of your calories come from restaurants, you will eventually suffer.
Most of healthy dining boils down to:
- Stabilizing sugar
- Minimizing bad fats
Master these two.
Then try adding the other techniques to further optimize your health.
You can control your energy, physical performance, and mental clarity.
That’s my basic strategy.
What do you do to eat healthily while away from home?
2 thoughts on “21+ Smart Tips To Eat Healthy At Any Restaurant & Avoid Weight Gain”
I rarely eat out. But i would bring an avocado. Try to conceal it from wait staff. Maybe a bit of ghee or tallow. Agree about bringing good salt. Try to order off the menu — simple grilled steak or broiled fish. Lead by example rather than try to fit in with carb/sugar/booze types. The six tastes thing is interesting, tho prolly this was not relevant for most of human history since most of those tastes were not routinely available to hunter gatherers pre-agriculture.
Great ideas! I like to carry avocados around with me too. Whole foods naturally have different ratios of the six “tastes”. Of course, certain of them will dominate certain seasons.