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How do you count calories when dining out?

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I live in NYC, so I end up dining out a lot.  I usually struggle trying to figure out amounts when counting calories.  I learned in a nutrition class that the best portion estimates can be made as follows:

your fist = 1 cup

the palm of your hand = 3 oz.

your palm cupped (so it could hold a small pool of water w/o spilling) = 1 oz.

I was wondering if anyone had any other tricks they use to count calories when dining out.  I would love to hear them.


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I appreciate those little tips thanks!

If I go to a chain restaurant or any restaurant that has a menu on line I look at that before hand so I am able to make the right choice and I won't be tempted to stray away. If I can't do that I try to just go by rules I do at home. Like, if I don't allow it in my house then I probably shouldn't eat it. things of that sort.

Some chain places have their info online, so you could look it up and plan ahead, could see how they feel about ordering off the menu.

You could request substitutions..say, steamed vegetables instead of rice or potato, swap the side of pasta or white rice for steamed brown, etc.

Maybe ask for a grilled chicken breast or bit of fish if they don't already offer something like that, or request they not use oil/butter to cook whatever you order.

Not all places will do things like that, but it's worth asking.

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Those work for some, but I don't find them very helpful because some people have very small/very large hands...

this is going to sound lame...but a lot of restaurants have their nutritional information online so you can look it up before you go out to dinner....even some fine dining restuarants so i look it up online before a meal....

if there is no way i can do this....i don't like to risk the sauces etc if even if they do seem i stick to my salad with vinigrette and a chicken/fish dish in a light sauce....personally i try not to be to obvious b/c no one likes going out with the "dieter" so if i know i'm going out for dinner at a restaurant i burn a few hundred extra calories during my workout....


by the way mars 0112...ppl who have small hands are generally smaller so that's why they need smaller portions hahahaha it's pretty intuitive!

My only trick is this:  I plan ahead.  If I know I  am going out ahead of time, I will plan for that in a few different ways: 

  1. Like kaila_a, I will make  sure I have some cushion by working out a little extra to compensate for what I can not calculate.   All those hidden oils and ingredients that may not be accounted for when estimating the caloric intake.
  2. If is a restaurant I am not familiar with I will see about pulling up a menu online to get an idea of what I might order. 
  3. If I can not pull the menu up online, I will ask others who have dined at that restaurant to give me some ideas about what is on the menu (unless it is self explainatory like ... "the fish and burger bar" or "thai cuisine").  Most places are even willing to give you a copy of their menu ahead of time should you ask for it ... but I am rarely willing to take that step LOL.
  4. Once I have made a decision about what to order, I do a little online research.  There are all kinds of places to get guess-timates of certain common dishes.  I may check out several sites and run an average.  For example a couple of my favorite non CC sites are:  the daily plate, calorie lab, diet facts, and calorie king.  I enter in the information and do an "average" of calories ... sometimes I pick a "chain" restaurant that most closely resembles the type of restaurant I am going to in order to get a better comparison.  I do the math and plan for the calories by compensating in other meals and increasing exercise.  One can find just about anything online ... so if you don't find in the CC database ... do a general Google search and you can find just about anything that you may desire to put in your mouth.
  5. If I do not plan for a trip out and I am with friends that are being spontaneous ... then I may also take a play out of kaila_a's book ... and order the standby salad or veggies, etc.  Sometimes you just can't plan for stuff like that ... but usually I try to always be prepared so I don't accidentally over do it.
  6. Lastly, if I DO over do it ... I just back off a bit the next day and try not to beat myself up too much for getting off track.  We are all only human and we can only do what is within our capability.  

I try to take comfort in that this hyper-sensitivity will not be with me forever ... and that I will someday hit my goal weight and be able to eat a little more in order to maintain ... plus by then I will  have a much better idea of how to handle my relationship with food out in the "real world" as opposed to my current dieter's bubble that I maintain inside the four walls of my own kitchen. 

Good luck to you ... and I hope that any or all of that info helped.

kaila a: there's people like me - I'm a bit bigger than average (for a guy) but  lady's medium gloves fit me just fine. But I don't need little portions (for my size)!

hahahahahahaha sorry!

Hey there all:  Again if you know where you want to go and this is not a little mom & pop restaurant you can call ahead and ask if they have nutritional information on their menu items....they will gladly let you see it before you order....and most will let you customize (no sauce, no salt, etc) if they are preparing from scratch.....Panerra Bread has to huge catalogs that they will hand you with 1/2 and full size the time you read it all you are no longer hungry and you will have burned 50 calories just flipping all the

the online lookup is always a good option....check out the one for Red can build a burger with what you want on it and they will calculate the calories and's really cool....

Hope this helps.....Make smart choices


SW 232/ CW 222.5/ GW 190 by 8/1/09

as a New Yorker, my guess is that you aren't going places that have nutritional information available like most people suggested (I actively avoid those kinds of places... chains aren't real food.  Anyway, in NYC it's the law that those kinds of restaurants need to have calorie information on the menu itself). But, I do look at or the individual restaurant's site to get a general sense of how easy it will be for me to order low calorie.  Then you just have to be smart with your order.  Lots of veggies, ask for things to be substituted, don't order that cream sauce, don't finish if the serving is huge, etc.  I don't count cals when I eat out because it's not possible, but I do generally estimate based on what i have learned from my own cooking.  And I do tend to leave more room in my calorie budget if I am going out to eat.

To be honest, we go out to eat so rarely (<once a month) that I'm not going to spoil my occasion by ordering dry salad and chicken. I can have that at home. I just order sensibly (what I think I'll eat and no more), drink water, and try not to overeat. Like I'll have the frenchfries that come with my sandwich, but only a dozen and then I'll leave the rest. I don't usually try to count the calories on a restaurant meal at all because it's too hard.

I probably way overestimate calories I consume when dining out (rarely eat out though).  I just watch my portions, take a go box for the rest and anything I consume I calculate at at least double the cals of if I had made the same thing at home.  Restaurants do a great job in putting excess cals in their food.  It really is ungodly.

Just an idea... i heard it is helpful to divide up your plate into what your going to eat (a normal sized portion) and what you are going to take home. Most places give you way to much food anyway but by splitting it up, into what you are going to eat there and what you plan on taking home, it can really help keep your portions under control.

Also in another post someone mentioned the Eat This Not That books, they have one for restraunts that is really neat...

Hope this helps!Smile

One of the biggest problem with counting calories while eating out is that you cannot underestimate how much more heavy-handed chefs/cooks will be with things like oils and butters than most people (even those who aren't particularly calorie conscious) are at home. Most people realize this when it comes to fast food or comfort food type restaurants, but classier restaurants are guilty of the same thing. There are a lot of foods that we traditionally think of as fatty or calorie dense (like greasy pizzas or bacon burgers) but dishes that seem so healthy on the menu often include veggies sauteed in large quantities of olive oil and include reduced sauces or marinades that are very heavy on calories. I've watched many people pat themselves on the back for ordering healthy while consuming meals that are easily over a thousand calories. Yes, they have skilled chefs/cooks and good ingredients, but one of the primary reasons restaurant food tastes amazing is because of all of the 'extras' we might not add at home. And because fat is so calorie dense (9 calories per gram vs. the 4 per gram in carbs and protein), the difference is not so small as to be solved with an extra twenty minutes on the tread mill. We're talking hundreds of calories more than you'd probably expect.

If it's not possible to cut down on the amount you dine out (which I highly recommend if you are having trouble getting a handle on your calorie intake), I second the idea of asking for trades like steamed veggies, getting sauces on the side, and setting aside half of the serving. Ask questions about how the foods are cooked, but I wouldn't expect complete honesty about quantities (a response of "lightly sauteed in olive oil" may really mean they use half a cup) Of course it's a great idea to look up the calories of ingredients that go into the type of dishes you order but don't forget to add several tablespoons of oil or butter to account for restaurant style cooking, even if the dish didn't seem greasy.  The most important thing is not to underestimate just how many more calories are in a restaurant meal than a meal of similar size you might have made at home.

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