Once upon a time, I used to work at a certain restaurant… that shall remain nameless. Not out of their protection, but because the experience was so awful, that I think mentioning their name today might ruin my good morning.

I was a server – even pinned as one of the best they had, thank you very much! – who occasionally donned a cape and tights and helped out the kitchen staff by handling some tasks they were too busy to manage. One of these, was plating the cheesecakes. That’s just taking the cheesecake out of the box (You didn’t think the cheesecake you paid only $7 for was made from scratch right there, did you?!), putting it on a plate, covering it with saran wrap, and setting it on a cold shelf.

At this restaurant in particular, the cheesecakes came from The Cheesecake Factory. And this box in particular had the nutrition information on the side. Apparently, 1 slice of cheesecake had.. oh, 954 calories and 56 grams of fat. Did your head explode? Mine did. I think I spent the rest of my shift picking up my face… and moving twice as fast through my tables to burn off that cheesecake I ate earlier that day.

Needless to say, you’re not thinking about any of that when you order, but is it the reason why you might be packing on the pounds? Below, I’ve listed things I’ve learned from being on both sides of the table, from franchise to fine dining.

Hey, it paid the bills.

Don’t dine out. You might think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I betcha five dollars your parents, at your age, didn’t eat outside of the home anywhere near as often as you do. Just take a moment to remind yourself that you DO have food in the house. Even though you may feel like eating a six course meal yet still don’t feel like COOKING a six course meal, this isn’t an excuse to hit the nearest sit-down restaurant. It’s a reason to drink a glass of water, and think of something quick and filling to cook at home.

Have the server bring you a to go box WITH your dinner upon arrival. Why? Split the dish in half, put half in the to go box, and put the to go box AWAY. Trust me – you won’t need to eat all of it at once.

Drink water – yes, water – throughout your time out. It takes about 20 minutes for your mind and body to connect on whether or not you’re full… so drinking water gives your body time to make this determination without it resulting in you being OVERstuffed. All bad.

Don’t order appetizers as dishes. I know, they feel like suuuuch a bargain – inexpensive in comparison to the rest of the menu, lots to offer, super yummy.. I know. They also carry enough calories for more than one person. Add to that the fact that almost all of ’em are fried, creamy or coated in oil? You’re better off going back to #1 up there.

Skip the table breads, chips or crackers. The stuff they give you to tide you over until your order comes? Yeah, ignore that. You might even be better off asking them to take it away. By the time your appetizer has arrived (if you ordered one), you’ve eaten around an additional 300 calories. Restaurants do this because they know there’s sometimes a long wait time, so to keep you from ticking off the server they give you this. Not an awful idea, but definitely a hazard to someone trying to cut down.

Avoid the creamy and fried dishes. The creams and frying oils are nothing but an abundance of heavy excess unnatural fat. Be real with yourself – if you can’t split the dish in half and ONLY eat one half of it? Make some changes. Go for the red pasta sauce, or no sauce at all – skip the pasta altogether and find something else. Skip the chicken fingers or fried egg rolls, and opt for something lighter.

Drop the dressings and sauces. I know this ties into the previous point, but in a lot of cases, the additional dressings and sauces are just as many – if not more – calories as the dish itself withOUT the sauce. In many places, you can ask them to drop the sauce or the cream. I’m good for ordering a pasta with no alfredo (and I LOVE alfredo) and just getting noodles, chicken, a little butter, and lots of spices. Hey, it works for me. You might not need to be that drastic – you could opt for the tomato sauce, instead – but don’t feel bad or weird if you do.

Don’t dine alone. Go with friends, chat, enjoy yourself. Tying in with an above point, this gives your body time to process that food is being put inside of it, and if you let go of the “I must clean my plate” philosophy while really listening to your body, you’ll be surprised by how little you’ll actually eat.

If this seems logical-yet-way-too-restrictive for you, be sure to see point #1 again. πŸ™‚

All jokes aside, you’ve got to be vigilant about being a healthy eater. So it means yes, you’ll need to be conscious of when your hand reaches for something you have no business eating. You’ll need to spend a little longer thinking about what you’ll eat. You’ll need to take some timeΒ  And considering how much assistance you’ll need from your waiter, be sure to tip them nicely for helping you make it through the night without gorging yourself. If you’re careful to avoid ordering the rough stuff on the menu, you might notice the healthier dishes are among the least expensive (no outrageous ingredients to justify the cost), so you should have enough money left over to drop something nice for the waiter. πŸ™‚