Heading out for dinner with friends and fear you'll fall off the wagon? Keep both your weight loss goals and social life intact with our guide to making healthy food choices that won't leave you feeling left out

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Losing weight needn’t mean losing our social life. It also shouldn’t mean ending up with a serious case of food envy at the sight of our diet-less friends’ sauce-drenched, cream and butter-dripping meals approaching our table from the restaurant kitchen (anyone else getting hungry?).

A tricky business, eating out can throw all sorts of temptation for falling off (and sometimes, willingly leaping off) the heathy eating wagon, however the diet needn’t go out the window when a catch up with friends, a date or a birthday dinner goes into the diary. It all comes down to making satisfying yet strategic menu choices that keep us feeling fuller for longer, while also suitably appeasing our tastebuds at the same time.

We asked nutritional therapist and Get The Gloss Expert  Zoe Stirling  for her guide for side-stepping the pitfalls in our menus like a culinary pro. From smart starters to the not-so-healthy ‘healthy’ options to watch out for, her advice acts as appetising food for thought for keeping both our Project Me  plans and social lives intact.

1. Become a mezze sensei

When it comes to a clean and lean starter platter that delivers on taste too, the mantra ‘sharing is caring’ couldn’t be more apt. “If you’re at a pub with a mezze style starter with cured meats, smoked salmon and hummus/tzatziki for example then this is a great sharing choice; it’s simple and cleaner and you know what you’re going to get,” says Zoe. “You can also share it rather than feeling like you have to finish every morsel on your plate before the main event arrives!

“If a mezze isn’t an option, then try ordering some grilled prawns as an alternative as they’ll be full of protein to start filling you up so you don’t overload on mains and desserts. Alternatively, don’t be shy to ask for something from the ‘sides’ menu – green salads or corn on the cobs tend to be safe bets; you can even ask for dressing on the side,” she adds.

2. Select your soup carefully

A common misconception is that soup is the better option when it comes to starters. However, it’s worth taking a closer look before placing your final order. “Although soups are thought to be a healthier choice, be aware that most pub soups come from tins and they tend to have a lot of added salt, sugar and cream for example, so they’re not as healthy as you think,” Zoe warns.

3. Look at the way your food has been cooked

Although on paper it may seem that the main you’ve chosen is the more nutritious option, there’s little point ordering it if it arrives dripping in oil. Make sure to enquire how it’s been prepared to avoid a nasty surprise. “Avoid menu options that have been fried, deep fried or sautéed as these will inevitably come back drenched in oil, making them high in trans fats,” cautions Zoe.

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4. Opt for lean meats

“Leaner proteins such as chicken or fish tend to be a better option on the whole,” recommends Zoe. “Again though, ask how they’re cooked - baked or grilled will be your better options,” she adds.

5. Implement a chip swap

If your meal feels somewhat incomplete without a serving of carbs, switch up your go-to portion of chips for an equally filling alternative. “Rather than chips, opt for a jacket potato as this is baked rather than deep fried and you’ll still get your carb/potato hit,” suggests Zoe. “However, ask for butter (or even olive oil) on the side so you can add that on yourself. Always make sure you have a vegetable option on your plate too and even order a side salad to help you fill up on the good stuff, i.e. greens!”

6. Mix up your dessert

“Unfortunately there probably isn’t a healthy pub dessert," says Zoe, "However, my advice is always to do the best you can in the situation you’re in. Most pubs will have ice-cream as an option so opt for this rather than cakes, crumbles or pastries. Although it will still be high in sugar, you will be avoiding gluten and high fat desserts that tend to be higher in calories too. If sorbet is on the menu, then even better."

For extra points, add a sweet but sharp extra. “To add an antioxidant hit to your meal, then you could always ask for fruit alongside your ice cream,” Zoe recommends.

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7. Order a low calorie alcoholic drink

When it comes to empty calories, there are few nemeses as tantalizing as alcohol. So what are the most waistline-friendly alternatives? “Vodka, soda and lots of fresh lime tends to be a low calorie favourite, although sometimes I think this is just because it doesn’t taste that great so we end up just drinking less!

“Dilute white wine or rose down with sparkling water to make a spritzer and avoid cocktails and even mocktails as they’ll inevitably be made with lots of sugar. Beer also causes a lot of bloating as it contains yeast, so for anyone with any digestive issues, this is an absolute no,” says Zoe.

“As an extra piece of advice, always make sure you eat when you drink booze to slow down the release of alcohol and the sugar in alcohol into the bloodstream,” she adds. This has the added bonus of keeping any forthcoming hangovers as pain-free as possible, which we think we can all agree can only be a good thing...

8. Keep non-alcoholic drinks simple

Should you be on designated driver duty, shun sugar-fuelled mocktails for something a lot simpler by giving fruit juices a healthy twist. “For the non-drinkers, you may want to try mixing orange juice with sparkling water to dilute the sugars down,” says Zoe.

9. Don’t always believe the low calorie farce

Lower calorie options aren’t always the healthier alternatives. It’s better to look at the meal as a whole, its composition and how it may influence your food choices later on in the night and even the next day. “Don’t always look at the calorie count as something may be low in calories but made of the wrong balance of macronutrients,” explains Zoe. “For example, you’d be much better off having a grilled chicken with chips, rather than just chips on their own as the protein in the chicken will keep you fuller for longer so you’re less likely to crave more food or sugar so soon.”

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10. Don’t be afraid to speak up!

Finally, regardless of what’s on the menu, the biggest obstacle standing in the way of our healthy eating plans is ourselves. As cheesy as it sounds, our fear of making a scene, being perceived as difficult or being labelled a ‘fussy eater’ often prevents us from really enjoying a meal and ordering what we really want. As Zoe points out, “Remember you don’t have to order exactly what’s on the menu, most places are happy to make substitutions, i.e. chips for a jacket potato. Get your dressings on the side so you can add them yourself and be mindful of when you’re full by eating slowly.”

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