Too many people get sucked into this idea that you can’t eat out and stay fit. If you want to eat grilled chicken and sweet potatoes 6 times a day then go ahead, but personally that isn’t for me.
I want to be clear as to who I am writing this article for. If you are a competitive bodybuilder, fitness model or anything else that requires you to be at an elite level of fitness than this doesn’t apply to you.
Anyone looking to achieve or be below 5% bodyfat simply will have a very hard time finding options to eat when you go out. If you are one of those people than you already know what you’re doing anyway.
I’m not trying to sell a dream or anything, I’m just offering a realistic approach to enjoying eating out while staying in relatively good shape.
So what do I consider good shape?
Well, here’s me right now. Not in great shape by any means, but I’m definitely fit. You should note that I don’t use any trick lighting, I don’t have a pump, and I don’t shave my body hair to look leaner.
This is how I look when I only half-ass track my macros. You don’t have to be a diet nazi to stay relatively lean. Anytime I want to drop 5-10 lbs of fat I can just track my macros strictly and get lean in 4-8 weeks. Flexible dieting really is the way to go, in my opinion.
It’s easy to get caught up in obsessing over your body when you start getting into fitness. Just don’t let it take away from your happiness or sanity. Do what makes you happy and don’t compare yourself to others.
Oh, and just in case you thought this was going to be about eating at the “healthy” fast food joints – here’s a picture I took to get a laugh out of my friends recently for proof that I eat the “bad” stuff too.
That picture was definitely worth my food being slightly cold by the time I got him to sit still and he looks way better than their mascot!
My Requirements for Eating Fast Food
I’m going to talk about fast food first, because I know this is what plagues most people’s diets. When it comes to my approach to diet, I am more concerned about the quality of the food than the amount of calories.
I don’t think of high-calorie foods as bad and low-calorie foods as good. That’s a very elementary way of viewing things, so get it out of your head. All this nonsense about clean and dirty foods is really just a myth perpetuated by the supplement industry to sell you products. The truth is, most health gurus don’t even know what natural food really is.
I have 4 personal requirements for eating fast food. This is what works for me, take from it what you want.
#1 – Does it resemble real food?
Think about how chicken looks when you buy it from the grocery store and cook it yourself. That’s how real chicken looks, feels and tastes.
So, if I’m going to eat fried chicken from a fast food joint – it better look like that. Any place that serves something that doesn’t look that way gets added to my ban list.
Open up a chicken mcnugget from McDonalds and what do you see? I don’t know what that is, but it doesn’t look like the chicken I cook. Open up a chicken nugget from Chik-Fil-A and it actually looks like a small piece of a chicken breast. So they make it past rule #1 and McDonalds is added to the ban list.
I don’t care what any company says about 100% real chicken or beef, if it doesn’t look that way to me then it isn’t good enough.
It’s not like they have a reputation for being honest with us about their food anyways, so I could care less what they have to say. Just my personal view on it.
#2 – How does it make me feel?
Anything that makes me feel like crap gets added to the ban list.
I know what you’re probably thinking, doesn’t Cane’s make you feel like crap?
No, not personally. It makes my skin more oily, but that’s about it. It doesn’t matter how it makes me feel though, it matters how it makes you feel.
You have to be on the lookout for this one. Most of the time, you won’t feel like crap until the next day. If you eat something in the afternoon or evening, you often won’t feel the negative effects until the next morning. If I eat something and it gives me a food hangover, it gets added to the ban list.
#3 – Be honest with yourself
Don’t lie to yourself. When you eat fast food, you are eating crap. It’s usually made with low-quality ingredients, void of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and high in sodium.
The sodium part isn’t as big of a deal as people make it out to be. It just means you’re going to have to drink extra water to stay hydrated and not get bloated. It’s more of a hassle than anything. That being said, I personally don’t eat Mexican fast food because the amount of sodium is just ridiculous.
Don’t guess about what you’re eating – track it. When I eat fast food, I always plug it into MyFitnessPal so I can see the macros and the sodium content.
People mess up their diets because they lie to themselves. If you eat a fast food meal, that’s fine, just track it and work around it for the rest of the day so you don’t go over your total caloric limit. In other words, don’t be a lazy excuse-maker.
#4 – Limit to 1 fast food meal a day
I don’t eat fast food every day and I’m not advocating that.
However, when I do eat fast food, I don’t eat it twice in one day. The reasons for that are quite simple. Even if one meal doesn’t make me feel like crap, 2 always does. Not to mention, there are no micronutrients in fast food and the calories they list are inaccurate.
I know, I just said to track everything into MyFitnessPal and now I’m saying that those calories are inaccurate.
It depends what you get. If you’re getting something with lots of condiments like mayo and ketchup, then yes they usually put way more on in real life than they do when they publish their menu nutrition. Also, sometimes you get more fries and sometimes you get less. Sometimes the food has more grease and sometimes it has less. The point I’m making is that you should track it to have an estimate, but if you are eating multiple fast food meals than you are likely going to be way off – even when you track everything.
Beyond all that, your body deserves better. If you are going to eat fast food on a regular basis, at least limit it to once a day.
A lot of people think that because dine-in restaurants are more expensive that they aren’t bad for you. Actually, most of the time they are just as bad or worse than fast food restaurants.
I apply the same requirements above to real restaurants as well. Just because it isn’t labeled fast food, that doesn’t mean much to me.
When I waited tables I learned some unfortunate things about restaurants. Although there are some good places out there, most are really just fancy fast-food restaurants.
Most chain restaurants don’t prepare their food fresh. I worked at an Italian place that is a small chain (Zio’s Italian Kitchen) and they made all of their sauces from scratch each day. Olive Garden, on the other hand, just tosses a frozen sauce packet into a pan when you order it. Both places are about the same price, but one is really no better than fast food.
Look for places that take pride in the quality of their food. These places often source their meat and produce locally. If you’re curious, just ask an employee. If the food is made fresh, they will be happy to brag about it. If not, they will probably say they aren’t sure.
Food is expensive. I have several close friends who own or have owned restaurants and the margins are extremely low when you use quality ingredients. So if a restaurant is really cheap, more likely than not you are eating fancy fast food.
However, just because a place is expensive doesn’t automatically mean it is high quality. Use your discretion.
Bonus Tip for Real Restaurants
The primary distinction between a nice restaurant vs fast food is the quality of ingredients. At a good restaurant you can actually get vegetables and other micronutrient-dense food. The downside is that meals typically have more calories than fast food.
The reason for that is because they love to put butter on everything. On your steak, on your chicken, on your veggies – everything. Butter makes food taste better and butter is actually good for you. The problem is that it adds a ton of calories.
So what I do is split my meal in half and take the second half home. I don’t always do this, but if I have any kind of appetizer than I almost always do. The benefits are not leaving uncomfortably full and getting 2 meals for the price of 1. Most entrees at a nice restaurant have the calories of 2 meals anyways.
You can eat out without ruining your diet, it just takes a little self-control and common sense.
Getting in shape shouldn’t take over your life – it should enhance your life. You can go to dinner with friends and still work on your fitness goals, it’s all about finding balance.
If you’re having a hectic day and want to get a fast food meal, it’s not the end of the world.
However, that doesn’t mean you should eat fast food for every meal. Set some standards for yourself. Your body deserves better than running on garbage for fuel.
Hopefully you can take away something from my personal methods to help you find balance and reach your goals.
If you have any recommendations for staying lean while eating out, leave them in the comments below.
Until Next Time,
Fitness Dieting Made Easy
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What do you think? Do you agree, disagree or have any thoughts to add? Let me know in the comments below.
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