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Ashley’s restaurant challenge: Eat out less

Focused on Health - August 2013

by Adelina Espat

Take this challenge in the Healthy Bites series. Ashley Dixon did it. And so can you!

restaurant ashley“I work out so I can eat out,” says Ashley Dixon, a mom to two young boys.  

Now that Ashley’s in her mid-30s, her metabolism has gradually slowed down.

“Running four to five times a week is no longer enough to burn off the extra calories,” Ashley says. “I used to be able to eat anything and not put on weight. That’s no longer true.”

More importantly, Ashley wants to be a better food role model for her boys. “I don’t want to tell my kids to eat oatmeal while I sneak in a quick donut before we head out the door,” she says.

So Ashley decided to join the Healthy Bites challenge.

Eat out less, dine in more

“After chatting with Ashley, I learned that one of her biggest nutrition hurdles was the number of times she ate out,” says Mary Ellen Herndon, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson and the Healthy Bites challenge coach. “I challenged her to eat out at least one less time each week.”

“My husband and I work full-time, and our boys are involved in after-school activities, so we’re always on the go,” Ashley says. “Eating out is just convenient for us, especially after a long day away from home.”

restaurant herndon“I explained to Ashley that restaurant foods are usually loaded with extra fat, salt and calories,” Mary Ellen says. “Eating out or getting takeout even just a few times a week can cause weight gain over time.”

And being overweight or obese can increase your risk for diseases like cancer.

Ashley takes the challenge

“I didn’t realize until I was in the challenge just how much I ate out and how many times my children were eating fast food,” Ashley says. “At that point, I was convinced it was definitely time for a change.”

“I reassured Ashley that it’s okay to eat out once in a while,” Mary Ellen says. “Just be mindful of your restaurant meal choices.”

Mary Ellen suggests choosing healthy items off the menu. She also recommends eating smaller portions by splitting your meal in half. This will help trim some of the extra calories, and you’ll have a meal for later.

READ ALSO: Restaurant food: How to decode the menu

What worked for Ashley

restaurant waitress“My family’s love of restaurants was my biggest challenge,” Ashley says. “I kept reminding my husband of our effort to reduce the number of times we ate out. It was a learning curve for us all.”

Ashley offers this advice:

  • Make a game plan: “Time was a challenge. Or more accurately, lack of time. When I ate out during the challenge, it was because I didn’t have time to cook. It helped to have a realistic meal plan for the week that fit our schedule.”  
  • Prep meals in advance: “Dinner is always a challenge. So, we prepared food as much as possible on the weekend. That way, we had less cooking to do in the evening when we got home.”
  • Pack a lunch: “Before the challenge, I ate large restaurant lunches every day. Not doing that anymore… bringing my lunch to work helped me cut back on extra calories. And I actually lost a little weight.”
  • Check the kid’s menu: “When we ate out, I kept a closer eye on what the kids and I were eating. Instead of opting for chicken nuggets, we drove a few miles further and got roasted chicken.”

“Since the end of the challenge, we’ve been better about not eating out,” Ashley says. “We’re trying to teach our kids to make better food choices.”

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