Dining Out Made Simple

Does the thought of going out to eat at a restaurant after weight loss surgery (WLS) frighten you? Post-WLS individuals need to approach eating out in a whole new manner. According to Karen Edwards, a six-month post gastric bypass patient from New York, ?Eating out after WLS has been a struggle I?ve had to learn to adapt to. At first I was very scared to eat in restaurants and always worried I would eat something that didn?t agree with me and end up getting sick in public.?

Once you leave the confines of your own kitchen, you lose control of how meals are prepared. With the limited menu selection available at restaurants, picking healthy and well-tolerated foods becomes difficult and even confusing. According to Ms. Edwards, ?It was almost like learning to eat all over again. It takes practice, time and, most of all, confidence.? Also, the need for reduced meal sizes makes today?s standard restaurant portions completely unnecessary and almost a waste of money. Although it can seem overwhelming at first, you can regain the joy of dining out by following some simple steps!

The first step is learning how and what to order. Some of your favorite pre-WLS meals may no longer be tolerated, and you may not even like them, as your tastes may have changed following surgery. You may be timid to try certain foods because you?re not certain how they will be digested and fear getting sick. Remember that restaurants will typically use more fats, oils, salt and sugar in food preparation. This can be challenging for individuals who are trying to make necessary adjustments and healthful decisions while eating out.

When choosing your meal, the primary focus should be on protein. Remember that protein helps achieve satiety and prevents malnutrition. Most will find that the moister and softer the protein, the easier it can be digested and thus the better it will be tolerated. Some great meal selections include boneless baked fish, dark chicken meat, beans, tofu-based dishes and meats in soups. When in doubt, avoid sources that are coarser in texture.

As a general rule, order foods that you have tolerated well post-WLS and avoid experimenting. Be specific when you order?remember that restaurants will often cater to you. Here?s an example of a properly ordered meal: ?May I have a moist piece of fish: baked, not fried, and a side of soft steamed cauliflower with no added oils, butter, sugar or salt.? Realize that in most restaurants you will need to make alterations from the existing menu selections. It is critical that you state exactly how you need your meal prepared.

An additional obstacle in dining out is controlling the portion size of your meal and not overeating. Restaurants prepare meals that are much larger than the amount required for post-WLS individuals, whether you are one month or three years out. There are simple and cost-effective solutions to this apparent dilemma. The first option is to request a half-portion when placing your order at a reduced rate. If the restaurant will not grant a reduced rate, have the waiter bring out only half the portion and have them box the other half in the kitchen. A second option would be to share an entrée with a member of your dinner party. Even if half an entrée is too much, you can take the remaining food for lunch the next day.

Be sure to pick restaurants that will cater to your needs and are accommodating. It most cases you will need to call ahead to see if this is the case. According to Rick Sampson, President and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, consumers should always ask to have their specific needs met when dining out: ?It is always the practice of the (restaurant) industry to provide what the customers want. Specific requests within reason are always given to the customer?that is why we are here.?

Sampson encourages people to request smaller entrées or portions and emphasizes that customers should not feel obligated to explain why they need this request: ?Restaurants cater to individuals with other medical needs, such as heart disease and diabetes, so requesting needs in food preparation for weight loss surgery should be no different.? Getting a restaurant card signed by your physician is a good backup if you find a not-so-compromising restaurant.

Bon Appétit!

Tips for Dining Out After WLS

  • Focus on protein and non-starchy veggies at mealtime
  • Soft, moist foods will be better tolerated than dry, coarse textures
  • Order foods that you are familiar with and have tried at home first
  • Request half a portion when you place your order
  • Split an entrée with someone in your party
  • Call ahead to discuss the menu and food selection
  • Request foods to be prepared with no added fats, salt or sugar
  • Ask for items on the side, such as salad dressing or other toppings
  • Request low sugar or sugar-free items
  • Fill up on clear soup broths with protein
  • Avoid drinking fluids during meal time
  • Surf the Internet for menu ideas
  • Take a minimum of 30 minutes to eat a meal
  • Enjoy the company you are with and don?t just focus on the food

November 2007

Megan Miller Moran, RD, CDE, CDN, is the founder of megRD.com. She is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She conducts seminars on life after WLS.

For more information about restaurant cards and WLS-friendly restaurants, please visit www.obesityhelp.com/magazine/RestaurantCard.html.