Being on a diet is hard. Being healthy and making smart decisions about what you eat is tough even when you are sitting home surrounded by nothing but nutritious options in a well-stocked kitchen that would make any nutritionist proud. Being healthy and making smart decisions about what you eat when you eat out at a restaurant surrounded by all the unhealthy dishes that you love and crave is borderline-torture. And yet, it’s a struggle many of us are faced with daily, as eating out is becoming a part of our regular routine. In fact, a recent report from Bloomberg News shows that “for the first time ever, people in the U.S. are spending more money dining out then buying groceries. In March [2015], sales at restaurants and bars surpassed those at grocery stories for the first time since the Commerce Department started collecting data in 1992.” Bottom line: we all eat out, and we do it often, so it’s crucial that you learn how to stick to your healthy habits even when you have a massive menu to choose from.

So how do you do it? How do you stick to the diet guidelines you know will help you look and feel your best, even when you are constantly tempted by the foods that could derail your efforts. It’s certainly tricky, but luckily there are some tips to help you navigate a restaurant menu and stay on track no matter where you dine.

Make a Reservation
The longer you wait for a table, the hungrier you will feel. Between impatience and watching other people around you enjoy their meals, you’ll start to feel not only starving, but also angry (or what you might call hangry—a mix of hungry and angry). And that is not a great state to be in when you are presented with all sorts of tempting foods. You’ll be more likely to order unhealthy options and over-eat in the heat of the moment. Reserve a table ahead of time so you can sit down right away and set the tone for a peaceful meal.

Read Related: Eating Healthy: How to Not Let Office Food Ruin Your Body


Browse the Menu Before You Go
Know what your options are before you go to the restaurant. By mentally preparing for your meal, you’ll be better equipped to order well and choose dishes that stick to your goals, rather than ruin all your previous efforts. Don’t allow yourself to be tempted by enticing foods with fancy wording (think juicy, tender, velvety, rich, creamy…) Look at the menu ahead of time, investigate which food preparations are the most nutritious and commit to your order before you go.

Drink Water
When you are hungry your instinct is to fill up on food, but more often than not if you hydrate you’ll feel full faster and you’ll eat less. As Everyday Health reports, Donna Logan, RD, a registered dietitian at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, explains “drinking water is important during weight loss because it provides hydration without unwanted calories. Drinking non-caloric fluids like water before or with a meal can help a dieter feel full sooner.” It can also help with digestion and help maximize your body’s performance during your meal and throughout your day.


Don’t be Afraid to Ask About the Ingredients in a Dish
Sometimes it can be embarrassing to ask a waiter what is in a dish, especially when your friends and dinner companions don’t seem concerned about what they are eating. But don’t be afraid to ask important questions so that you are fully aware of what you are eating. It’s OK to ask what ingredients are in a dish, how it is prepared, and what they think is the lighter/healthier option on a menu. It is their job to take care of you and educate you about the food at their restaurant, and menus often leave a lot of information to the imagination, making it really hard to order well. Get informed so you can stay on track.

If it’s Not on Your plate, it Doesn’t Count, Right? WRONG
We all fall into the trap of over-eating when we eat out, and it’s mostly because we eat more than we even realize. If the food is not on your plate, we convince ourselves that it doesn’t count towards our daily calorie intake, but that delusion is totally false. If you munch off your friend’s plate, or you order a dish for the table to share, that is still food you are putting in your body, and you need to take it into consideration as a part of your daily consumption. Anything you plan to eat, first put it onto your own plate, so you can accurately assess how much and what you are eating.


Don’t Load up on Bread and Pre-Meal Snacks
Ah the breadbasket—we love you but our diet hates you. It’s a common trap to fill up on bread or chips or snacks before a meal, and it happens so fast you barely notice. Just say no to bread, or if you really need a bite, eat in moderation.

Order Two Appetizers as Your Meal
If you want to try to eat less when you dine out, especially because most portion sizes at restaurants are HUGE and far more food than you would serve yourself at home, order two appetizers instead of a main dish. You’ll be able to choose from lighter dishes that are more appropriately sizes for your goals. And it’s better than skipping a main meal altogether because you won’t feel left out when everyone else is digging into their second course.