One of the most common questions that I receive from nutrition clients is: How to track macros when dining out? If you have a fun dinner (or wedding or another social event) on your calendar, how do you plan your day, macro-wise?
The great thing about macros/flexible dieting/IIFYM is that it gives you the freedom to eat whatever you want whenever you want. But, in Bethenny Frankel’s famous words: “You can have it all, but not all at once.” You can eat anything you’d like, but the challenge with eating out often is with tracking the macros and calories. At the end of the day, it comes down to planning your day ahead of time and figuring out how to best track macros when eating out.
You might be able to find a restaurant that shares their nutrition information online. I mean, having access to the best macro-friendly restaurants would definitely make life easier, right? But, a lot of restaurants don’t have this information readily available online. So what do you do then? How do you track macros when dining out? I promise, eating out on macros doesn’t need to be difficult. And the last thing you want to do is avoid certain restaurants or social situations that involve eating out with friends. That said, here are some options for planning your day and tracking macros when dining out. Feel free to try a couple of different options to see how they work with your lifestyle, personal preferences, and tracking challenges. And, remember, you can choose different options for different dining situations. I hope they help!
1. Give yourself a day off and don’t track at all. Eat, drink, and be merry, but be mindful of your choices. Use a day “off” as motivation to get right back on track the very next day.
2. Only track the macro that you have the toughest time hitting. I typically give this advice to clients who have more than a meal out to look forward to, such as an all-day wedding or weekend away. You don’t want to have your nose in your phone tracking every little thing you eat. You should be enjoying time with family and friends! Instead of tracking everything, pick the macro that you typically have trouble hitting. A lot of the time, it’s protein, so only pay attention to that one and do you best to make healthy decisions when it comes to your carbs and fat. In the end, you just want your overall grams/calories to be within range for the day.
3. Track breakfast and lunch and leave yourself a calorie “buffer” for dining out. I typically recommend that this buffer be 1/3 to 1/2 of your total calories for the day, depending on how much you’d like to splurge, what you plan to order, and whether or not you plan to drink alcohol.
3a. Focus on filling your breakfast and lunch with protein and non-starchy vegetables leading up to your meal out. Most restaurant meals are loaded with carbs and fat and skimpy on protein, so it’s in your best interest to front-load your protein (and fiber) the best you can. This will also keep your blood sugar steady, so you’re not going to dinner absolutely starving. Definitely don’t restrict calories all day before your dinner out. That is a disaster waiting to happen!
4. If you decide to track your dinner out, guesstimate the best you can and move on. Remember: Macros are just an estimate to keep you on track. Search MyFitnessPal (or other tracking app) for a meal that looks similar, add it to your log, and be done with it. Additionally, you can always do a “Quick Add” and estimate your overall macros/calories for the meal. Feel free to err on the side of overestimating since restaurant calories and portions can really add up! It won’t be perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. Enter what you can and move on!
At the end of that day, dining out (and similar social events) is suppose to be enjoyable. It should not stress you out or make you dread the experience. It’s more about the company and experience, so please don’t avoid going out and enjoying yourself because you feel tied to your macro goals. Use the options above and incorporate the ones that will work best for you.
And, finally, here are some healthy eating habits to also keep in mind when you dine out:
- Take half of your meal home
- Split a meal with a family member or friend
- Choose 2 out of 3 (appetizer, alcohol, dessert)
- Order a healthy side dish (i.e. veggies) as an appetizer
- Select an appetizer as your entree
- Skip the breadbasket all together
- Order dressing and sauces on the side (dip fork into dressing/sauce and then food)
- Eat until 80% full, not stuffed to the gills
Macros don’t need to be perfect to work. Even getting close to your macros is better than ignoring them all together. Dining out is all about the experience, so be mindful of your choices, but, most of all, enjoy yourself!