How to Eat Clean when Dining Out

How to Eat Clean when Dining Out

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Dining out, whether trying a new restaurant or returning to a favorite restaurant, has always been one of my favorite past times. Not only do I love enjoying the culinary creations of others and finding inspiration for my own cooking, but it’s also one of my favorite ways to socialize. Since transitioning to an entirely clean eating lifestyle, I make the majority of my meals myself and I love it. When cooking meals myself I have full control over ingredient quality and I can make each dish exactly the way I like it. However, giving up on restaurants entirely is unrealistic when you love eating out as much as I do. So when I do go out, I follow a few simple rules to ensure that I’m feeding my body nourishing and clean foods. Some might say this is taking it too far. But a clean eating lifestyle is a commitment, and quite honestly, in order to reap the rewards of clean eating, it’s essential to adhere to it 90% of the time. So for clean eaters who enjoy the restaurant scene, here is my quick guide to clean eating when dining out.

1. When choosing a restaurant, be choosy.

When it comes to clean and healthy eating at restaurants, the most important decision is the restaurant itself. So do a little research and be picky! When I have a restaurant in mind, my first step is to visit their website to take a look at their homepage, their “about” page, and their menu. A restaurant that highlights their commitment to fresh, seasonal, local, organic and/or house-made food is my first indication that this is a good restaurant for clean eaters. Added bonus? Diet-restriction-friendly restaurants that offer vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options shows me that this establishment cares about the wants and needs of customers. If a restaurant passes these tests, I can be confident that it’s a restaurant I want to support.

Additionally, the overall professionalism of a restaurant can also be an indication of a quality establishment. I’m not saying that every great restaurant has a great website, and I’m not saying that every restaurant with a good website is good. But if a restaurant uses their time and resources to build an appealing and informative website, it tells me that the restaurant pays attention to detail and understands the needs of customers. It just makes sense that they would put the same amount of thought and attention to detail into their food.

The point is, sometimes the website or menu doesn’t explicitly state a restaurant’s commitment to quality and freshness. But I’ve found that a visually appealing and user friendly website, unique and creative menu items and lots of plant-based ingredients usually mean that you’ll be able to find something clean, high quality and healthy there.

2. Step away from the bread (tortilla, bun, muffin, etc).

Unless a restaurant prides itself on its made-from-scratch bread, or is partnered with a local bakery that provides it, I stay away from menu items that include bread. Why? Because if a bread isn’t fresh, it means that the restaurant is likely using a shelf-stable, mass produced, packaged bread. And if that’s the case, I can only imagine that it would be a highly processed, cheap variety with loads of preservatives and artificial ingredients. And that’s pretty much a clean eater’s nightmare. Now, if you’re a carb junkie, look for pizza restaurants that make their own dough, Mexican restaurants with homemade corn tortillas, Mediterranean restaurants that make their own pita breads or sandwich shops that purchase their bread from a high quality, local bakery. Or look for menu items that utilize whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and millet. If you won’t miss the carbs, many restaurants offer bread-free versions of their menu items, like a lettuce wrap instead of a tortilla or bed of greens in place of a bun. If not, ask for it. I assure you that I am rarely turned down when I make a request like that.

3. Veg out.

I’m a vegetarian, so this isn’t a difficult rule for me to follow. But menu items that include an abundance of produce will likely be naturally cleaner, lower in calories, lower in fat and higher in nutrients. Because restaurant meals are more often larger and richer than versions you would make at home, choosing a dish at a restaurant with loads of vegetables and legumes evens the scales a bit. Entree salads, vegetable- or bean-based soups, veggie burgers, and items with a vegetable filling/topping option (like in a taco or on a pizza) will fill you up with fiber and antioxidant-rich, nutritious ingredients rather than excessive portions of meat. What’s wrong with meat? If it’s moderate portions of grass-fed beef or organic, free-range chicken, then not much is wrong with eating it. But if the quality of meat/poultry isn’t emphasized by a restaurant, it most likely means that it’s coming from a factory farm. What’s wrong with a factory farm? Just Google it, it’s not pretty.

4. Ask questions, make changes.

The restaurant staff is there to make you satisfied and a good employee will be happy to help you out. Remember, you are the customer! Within reason and respectfully, of course, asking for adjustments to menu items and asking for more details on certain items is totally fine. Particularly if the adjustments and questions are making you a healthier person, because what’s more important than that?

Side note (it’s the chef in me, sorry!) – A menu that clearly states “no substitutions” means no substitutions, so it’s best to respect that. Also, when making adjustments, always make your requests straightforward and easy, which is another reason to check out the menu beforehand – if the only way you can order something is by changing a million things about it, it’s probably not a good restaurant for you or for clean eating in general.

Wrap Up & Example

To bring this all full circle, I’ll walk you through my most recent restaurant experience…

1. Choosing the restaurant.

Park Luncheonette is a restaurant near my Brooklyn apartment that we’ve been wanting to try because it’s always packed (good sign).

The website is super attractive and user friendly. Although there is no “about page” that indicates their philosophy on food quality, their menu was enough for me to want to give this place a try. Unique ingredients such as “strawberry-rhubarb puree” and “dill citrus feta” tell me that they’re taking the time to elevate their menu items. A veggie burger option, “house” granola, and a wide variety of plant-based ingredients let me know that this place was clean-eater friendly.

* Park Luncheonette has since closed its doors… new example coming soon

2. Choosing my order.

I knew I wanted to try the veggie burger because it’s made with beets (a fave super food of mine) and quinoa (a whole grain and complete protein). I thought about asking for avocado instead of the feta to make this a vegan meal, but the dill citrus feta sounded too interesting not to try. I did, however, switch out the sesame seed bun for the house-made focaccia bread. And I made the sandwich open-faced by removing the top piece of focaccia. This made my meal lighter and less carby, which is not necessary when clean eating, but definitely more figure friendly. I also ordered their fresh squeezed orange juice to go along with the meal for a boost of vitamins and hydration. And although I opted for the house-made herb fries instead of the salad, I only ate half of them (scout’s honor), and overall felt really great about my meal. Lots of produce? Check. Whole grains? Check. Fresh, homemade bread? Check. Nothing artificial? Check.

I hope this helps with your next restaurant outing. Let me know if you have questions or comments below.

Happy weekend, everyone!

The Beginners Guide to Clean Eating for Weight Loss

The Beginners Guide to Clean Eating for Weight Loss

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Clean eating is taking over the food scene… and while the word ‘clean’ can be replaced by ‘real,’ or ‘whole,’ the idea behind all of these terms is the same; eat only high-quality and natural foods made from clean/real/whole ingredients. With a bit of time and effort at the beginning, a clean eating regimen quickly becomes second nature. There are countless reasons to fall in love with clean eating (check out my top 3 reasons why here), but the initial draw for many is the weight loss aspect of a clean eating lifestyle, and that’s what I’m focusing on today.

For me, when I began my commitment to clean eating, I wasn’t necessarily trying to lose a specific amount of weight over a specific amount of time. Staying lean and looking fit is always on my mind to some extent, but it wasn’t the primary reason for me to go clean. I committed to a completely clean lifestyle after concluding that ingesting anything unnatural and/or heavily processed can’t possibly benefit me in an authentic way and that it was time to take my health (and my future self’s health) into my own hands. I cut out pretty much any restaurant or food establishment not focused on quality, freshness and made-from-scratch menu items. I began cooking more and more of my meals at home using organic, fresh and real ingredients produced without gmo’s, chemicals, or artificial ingredients. And finally, I made fresh produce the focus of my diet. Because I was already a vegetarian at this point, this wasn’t a difficult adjustment for me. But for meat eaters transitioning to a clean lifestyle, it’s important to understand that clean eating is about increasing fresh produce consumption and decreasing the consumption of animal products. Over the course of the first year of clean eating, my weight began creeping down naturally, and now, my normal weight (the weight I land on when I’m making minimal effort) is almost 10 pounds lower than it used to be. Ten pounds lighter just because of clean eating? Yep. And that’s weight loss without feeling deprived or hungry. It’s truly an amazing concept.

So clearly weight loss can be a naturally occurring bi-product of going clean, if you’re willing to give it a little bit of time. On the other hand, for some, quicker and easier controlled weight-loss is the primary reason to adapt a clean eating regimen. But in this case you probably don’t have the patience to wait a year to naturally lose those extra pounds. Depending on what you want, there are different ways to approach clean eating. But because today’s focus is on faster weight loss as a priority, here is my introductory guide to clean eating for fast, healthy & effective weight loss.

1. Calories Count

In my experience, counting calories is a great tool for weight loss. Weight loss is about science, and science says that if you burn more calories than you consume, you should lose weight. A clean eating lifestyle without the goal of losing weight pretty much means you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, as long as what you’re eating is nourishing and benefitting your body. But when trying to lose weight fast with clean eating, counting calories and limiting portions gives you the control. Never be too hard on yourself though. The ingredients and foods you’re consuming as a clean eater are pure and nourishing, so eating an extra 120 calories from an apple because you’re super hungry or adding another tablespoon of homemade dressing to a salad because it needs it for the flavor, is not going to hinder your weight loss. In fact, listening and answering to your body makes for a more sustainable eating regimen. So stay in your target calorie range but don’t get too hung up on it. Now you’re probably wondering what your calorie range for clean eating weight loss should be? It varies by person obviously. Gender, height, age and genetics all affect the amount of calories you burn in a day and therefore the amount of calories you should eat to lose weight. Plus, how much weight you want to lose is also a factor. It’s up to you to decide on a manageable range, but I’ve included some sample ranges below, which are based on an average person with an average metabolism.

Women – 1500 to 1700 clean calories per day for weight loss
Men – 1950 to 2150 clean calories per day for weight loss

2. Eat at Home

One of my best tips for weight loss (and clean eating in general) is to cook and eat at home as often as humanly possible. Control over ingredients when cooking yourself, allows for a more genuine (and therefore more beneficial) commitment to clean eating. No matter what you cook at home, it will be healthier than the version you would get at a restaurant. Lower calories, less sodium, higher quality fats, organic ingredients and more produce are all benefits of cooking yourself, and this makes a huge difference when trying to lose weight.

3. Vegan for a Day

Don’t worry, I’m not telling you to be a vegan, or even a vegetarian, but there’s something to be said for eating like a vegan, if only just for one or two days per week. Think about it. If you take meat, cheese and dairy out of the equation, the acceptable clean eating replacements are produce, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. Plant based foods like these contain tons of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, all of which will help to clean out your digestive track, rev your metabolism, fight infections and super charge weight loss.

4. Get Moving

I believe that what you eat determines the majority of your health, but when it comes to fast weight loss especially, exercise is essential. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean killing yourself in the gym or training for a marathon. Much of my exercise comes simply from living in New York and walking everywhere. Imitate this heart-healthy lifestyle by walking at a normal pace for 45 minutes two times per week. Additionally, get your heart rate up with two sweat-worthy cardio workouts every week, each lasting about 30 minutes. This could be jogging, cycling, rigorous hiking, speed walking, boxing or any other exercise that gets your heart rate up. Lastly, 1-2 strength/stretching workouts per week will create lean muscle tone, improve flexibility and relieve stress. My go-to choice? One-hour vinyasa yoga sessions. But if you’re into lifting free-weights or you’re familiar with equipment-free strength exercises, 45 minutes of either of these is an option too (just make sure to constantly stretch out…improved flexibility is life changing).

Trust me when I say, even a moderate exercise regimen like this one makes a huge difference when it comes to weight loss. Extra time and energy? Increase exercise whenever and however you can to further accelerate weight loss.

5. Carb & Sugar Patrol

Clean eating isn’t about giving up every indulgence. After all, carbs and sugar are part of what makes life delicious, and even on a clean eating regimen, minimally processed sugars (like honey and maple syrup) and whole grains (like organic whole wheat packaged breads, made from scratch doughs, quinoa, brown rice, millet) can all be found. But if trying to lose weight efficiently, sugar and carbs typically contain loads of sneaky calories that add up quickly which could potentially hinder weight loss. For this reason, try to limit added sugars and grains when trying to shed pounds. While clean whole grain carbs are not unhealthy and natural sugar here and there is acceptable, a grain-free meal once a day and a couple days without any added sugar will help to greatly reduce calories and portion sizes while feeding the body nutrient dense, hydrating foods like fruits and vegetables.

Side note, this ‘sugar and carbs’ category also contains alcohol. It’s important to realize how alcohol can negatively affect your weight and your overall health. Not just because of the calories, sugar and carbs in the alcohol itself, but also because of impaired judgement when it comes to food and eating. My advice? Except for that daily glass of red wine to unwind, steer clear of alcohol when trying to lose weight quickly.

So there you have it, my five introductory tips to fool-proof, fast and healthy weight loss using the clean eating regimen. Follow these flexible guide lines, in addition to the general rules of clean eating, and you’ll be shedding pounds in no time. If you have anything to add, feel free to reach out using the comments section below.

Top 3 Reasons to Join the Clean Eating Movement

Top 3 Reasons to Join the Clean Eating Movement

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Clean Eating is a philosophy I’ve adhered to for several years now, so I can say with confidence that clean eating is the secret (or my secret, at least), to feeling and looking great with little effort. I, like many others, have spent my life searching for the balance between staying healthy and loving food. It’s a balancing act that can lead to unhealthy weight fluctuations, emotional highs and lows, and extreme frustration. However, I am happy to say that I’ve figured out a lifestyle that allows me to both enjoy food and love the way I look and feel – the clean eating movement is real and you should be joining in!

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clean eating recipe: bbq tofu & brown rice bowls

Before I get to the three main reasons why I love living the clean eating lifestyle, I should first define what ‘clean eating’ actually is. While definitions may vary, I define clean eating as eating whole, fresh and unprocessed foods as often as possible, and at all other times, sticking to only minimally processed foods. Whole and unprocessed food is a straight forward enough concept. Fresh produce, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains such as quinoa and millet, and high-quality animal products make up the bulk of a clean diet, with a special focus on fresh vegetables. As a vegetarian, most of my diet consists of vegetables, fruits, beans and high quality dairy, but only eating completely unprocessed foods isn’t very fun for this carb-loving girl. And that’s why understanding the meaning of ‘minimally processed foods’ is also essential when adhering to a clean eating lifestyle.

While a processed food contains excessive sugar, unrecognizable ingredients and/or artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, a minimally processed food is different. Minimally processed foods are also foods that are processed through milling, crushing, heating, etc, like highly processed foods. But minimally processed foods, unlike processed foods, contain no artificial ingredients such as preservatives, colors or flavors. It’s also a good idea to focus on non-gmo and organic products when eating minimally processed foods, just for extra assurance that the ingredients are of the highest quality. In order to determine whether a packaged food is processed or minimally processed, it’s absolutely necessary to check the labels. For any packaged food I buy, I am diligently checking labels for any ingredients that aren’t recognizable or pronounceable.

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clean eating recipe: vegan curried lentil soup with citrus rice

Another part of clean eating is making an effort to cook meals yourself – using high-quality, whole ingredients of course. It’s unrealistic however, to make everything I eat from scratch, so I am no stranger to using help from the supermarket. The primary minimally processed foods in my diet are whole wheat pasta, whole wheat and all-purpose flours (mostly for homemade pizzas and flatbreads) and store bought sandwich breads and buns. See? Serious carb-lover over here. Mass produced pastas and breads can definitely be super processed, but that doesn’t mean all packaged supermarket foods are off limits. It’s possible to find minimally-processed versions of many commonly processed foods. Now that begs the question, what’s the difference between something processed, like dry pasta, and its minimally-processed counterpart? Short answer, the number of ingredients and the quality of ingredients. When I buy dry pasta, I look for organic varieties with only one ingredient, 100% durum wheat flour. Another example? I love english muffins with avocado in the mornings. So at the grocery store, I look for a whole wheat, organic version and check the ingredient list for anything I don’t recognize or anything I wouldn’t add if making from scratch.

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clean eating recipe: herb goat cheese toast with roasted tomatoes & red onions

I could go on and on about the ins and outs of clean eating, but we can save that for another day. Because the true reason for this post is to motivate you by listing my three favorite reasons why a clean eating lifestyle rocks. Let’s get to it!

1. no need to count calories and avoid fat*

By centering my meals around nutrient-rich produce, which is naturally low in calories and fats, I’m filling up while giving my body what it needs. Avoiding processed foods, while replacing them with fresh produce, whole grains and other high quality, minimally processed foods, naturally limits your intake of sugar and artificial substances, which allows the metabolism to properly function. Believe it or not, when you put good in, your body works like a machine to get lean, without having to stress over calories.

2. it’s addictive (in a good way!)

While most diets leave you feeling deprived, unmotivated and unsuccessful, a clean eating lifestyle is the exact opposite. You may feel deprived at first (no more cheetos? i know, it seems like the end of the world), but as you continue to eat fresh, whole and clean foods, processed foods loaded with salt, sugar and artificial ingredients will actually become less appealing. Your taste buds become more sensitive to the unnatural flavors in these processed foods, and over time, you will actually want to avoid them. I have zero desire to eat a Cheeto these days, or anything from a conventional fast food joint. Trust me when I say, I’ve eaten more Taco Bell than I ever want to admit. But now, it doesn’t even cross my mind to hit up the drive through.

3. your future self’s health will thank you

Feeling fit and looking lean is great and all, but it’s not just about what’s on the outside. In fact, what’s happening on the inside is the true marker of good health. Consistent consumption of highly processed foods has been linked to heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer, just to name a few. Inflammation caused by mass consumption of processed foods, along with a genetic pre-disposition for a particular disease, is the perfect storm for allowing that disease to take root. By replacing processed foods with clean and fresh foods that contain natural anti-inflammatory properties, you can potentially reduce your risk of many diseases that are becoming more and more common in today’s society.

Conclusion

Doesn’t this all sound almost too good to be true? Well, it isn’t. Let me know your thoughts on clean eating or if you have any questions in the comments section below!

Notes

* In reference to reason #1 – this is true for people who want to maintain a healthy weight or shed extra weight over time. For more controlled, faster weight-loss I definitely encourage counting calories if that works for you!