No sugar doesn’t have to mean no fun; follow these tried-and-true tips to eat well while eating out.

Share story

I LOVE FOOD. My whole day is planned around what I get to eat at my next meal.

I also clean up my diet periodically because it makes me feel stronger, stabilizes my energy and lowers inflammation in my body. I’ve learned over time how much our food system adds in sugar, additives and cheap oils. I want to cut my body some slack and take a break once in a while.

I also still want my meals to be delicious. It’s easier to cook and eat at home, where you have full say over ingredients.

Taking out things like sugar, gluten, dairy and soy, in particular, can create new hurdles when eating out. That said, I refuse to be a food hermit. I like to see friends, and enjoy delicious food prepared by someone else.

I have come up with some strategies over time, and I am here to share my experience of how to eat out, be social and still eliminate common ingredients while doing so.

It isn’t always fun — you will have to decline drinks and the dessert menu and resist the bread basket — but as long as I tune out the idea that I can eat whatever I want on a menu and turn finding something I can eat into a mini-challenge, I always find a way. It is possible to eat out, and eat out well.

Ask lots of questions

Before you order, ask about ingredients. There’s a ton of diets and cleanses. Some restaurants label their menus, which makes it easier, but you’ll probably still need to ask about sauces, salad dressing or whether the kitchen will melt butter on your steak.

Drinks

Get club soda or bubbly water with lemon. It still feels festive, even if you are skipping the alcohol.

Give up the sauce

Most sauces have sugar, and maybe gluten or soy. Ask the server to break down the sauce ingredients, or order it on the side. I look for roasted proteins: flavor even without sauce. Barbecue without sauce is delicious. Remember to ask about marinades.

Salad is your best friend

It’s easy to say no cheese, or tortilla chips, or croutons. While it might not be as exciting, it’s still often delicious. Warning on dressings: They can include sweetener or dairy. The safest route is balsamic and olive oil. If you’re nerding out, you could bring your own stash of salad dressing, but I don’t have that level of preparation in me.

Look past the main dishes

Side dishes are your secret weapon. Main dishes might come with something you can’t eat, liked mashed potatoes. Ask whether you can substitute roast vegetables or a salad. You might get charged more, but at least you can stick with your commitment.

Chill

Lastly, if you happen to eat an ingredient you aren’t supposed to, you’ll be fine. Seriously. One little teaspoon of sugar or smidge of butter is not going to make or break you. If you know one small slip leads to a whole dessert, be a stickler. If not, be kind to the cooks working hard to make your meal, and be kinder to yourself about doing the best you can.