Dining Out in the Zone



“You are what what you eat eats.” ? Michael Pollan

How do you eat healthy while dining out?

This post summarizes tips for eating in the Zone while eating out.

The Zone is a way to use food as a “drug” to improve how you look and feel.  It’s about balancing your ratios of carbs, proteins, and fats to control your insulin levels to stay in the right zone.

This post is based on the book, The Top 100 Zone Foods: The Zone Food Science Ranking System, by Dr. Barry Sears.

You Can Have It Both Ways

Dr. Sears writes that food should be enjoyed.

Via The Top 100 Zone Foods: The Zone Food Science Ranking System:

“I’m always drumming in your head that food is a drug, but I also want food t be the ultimate pleasure.  You should be salivating over your Zone meals and treating yourself to a nice dinner at your favorite restaurant.

The sheer enjoyment of food is an integral part of the zone plan, and I don’t want to deny you any of the eating pleasures you’ve experienced in the past.  All you need to do is follow some simple guidelines, and you can eat the way you’d like and stay in the Zone.  You can have it both ways.”

Six Guidelines for Eating Out

Dr. Sears provides six guidelines for staying in the Zone while eating out:

  1. Eat ahead of time.  Have a Zone snack less than two hours before you go to the restaurant.  It’s much easier to dine in the zone and make the right food choices if your blood sugar is stable.
  2. Skip the bread.  When you are seated, simply ask your server not to bring any bread or rolls to the table.  If you need something before your main course, have a glass of wine and a protein appetizer (like smoked salmon or shrimp cocktail).  Sipping your win, determine the protein entree you plan to eat (such as grilled chicken or fish.)
  3. Substitute for low-quality side dishes.  Ask your waiter if you can replace any side dishes that are low-quality carbohydrates (pasta, rice, grains or other starches) with high-quality carbohydrates like steamed vegetables.
  4. Create a Zone-size meal.  When the meal arrives, but a serving out of your protein entree that’s as big as the size and thickness of your palm.  Ask your waiter to wrap the rest of your entree up so you can take it home.  Of course you still eat all of your high-quality carbohydrates that came with the entree.
  5. Divvy up dessert.  If you want a rich desert, eat only half and give the other half to your dining partner.  Of course, if you opt for fresh fruit, you can eat the whole thing.
  6. Give yourself a little leeway.  Finally, if you consume too many carbohydrates or too many calories at a meal, don’t worry that you’ve done irreperable damage.  You can reset your hormonal system if you make sure your next meal is a Zone meal.


When you eat Chinese, balance your protein with high-quality carbs.

Via The Top 100 Zone Foods: The Zone Food Science Ranking System:

“Forget the rice, and you have all the makings of a great Zone meal.  Grilled fish or chicken, stir-fried chicken, or tofu dishes are great sources of protein.  Choose a protein dish that’s piled high with abundant levels of high-quality carbohydrates, such as vegetables, to accompany your high-protein choice.”


When you eat Italian, cut down on your carbs.

Via The Top 100 Zone Foods: The Zone Food Science Ranking System:

“This is always a potential Zone disaster because of the heaping amounts of pasta and bread piled on your plate.  Try the chicken or fish entrees served with extra vegetables instead of pasta.  Drizzle on some olive oil to enhance the flavor of your salads and cooked vegetables.  If you want pasta, have it as a small side dish.  I wouldn’t recommend pasta though, if you’re planning on drinking wine, since you’ll eat far too many carbohydrates for a Zone meal.”


When you dine Japanese, avoid the rice where you can.

Via The Top 100 Zone Foods: The Zone Food Science Ranking System:

“Japanese cuisine is more Zone balanced thatn what you typically find in a Chinese restaurant, but you still should avoid the rice.  Fish and tofu entrees with abundant amounts of steamed vegetables are great.  Even sushi is not a bad balance of protein and carbohydrate.  (Helpful hint — A breaded protein dish like tempura is not a high-quality Zone protein choice.)”


When you dine Mexican, skip the tortillas or go for corn instead of flour, and add more vegetables in place of rice.

Via The Top 100 Zone Foods: The Zone Food Science Ranking System:

“This is another potential Zone disaster area because of the large amounts of low-quality carbohydrates, especially chips, refried beans, rice, and tortillas.  You can stay in the zone though, if you choose the chicken fajitas.  Always ask for corn instead of flour tortillas to decrease your carbohydrate intake, and for extra vegetables in place of the rice and beans.  Don’t forget to dab on a little guacamole, which is a great source of monounsaturated fat.”


When eating French, you’re naturally in the Zone.
Via The Top 100 Zone Foods: The Zone Food Science Ranking System:

“If you’re eating in a gourmet French restaurant, you’ll probably be in Zone heaven.  You’ll be served a small serving of protein piled with plenty of crisp colorful vegetables lightly dressed in olive oil.  enjoy the wine and the meal.”

Pizza Parlors

When eating pizza, go for thinner crust.
Dr. Sears provides tips for when you eat at pizzerias:

“Yes, you can still eat pizza in the Zone.  It’s not the highest-quality meal you can find, but it’s OK on occasion.  Order the thin crust pizza instead of the thick crust and make sure that you have a protein-rich topping like cheese, chicken or even anchovies.  Then eat the topping of every slice, but only eat every other crust.  To make your pizza more satisfying, order extra vegetables as a topping.”

Dining Out for Business Travelers

Dr. Sears provides an example of breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks when you’re on the road:

  • Breakfast – Egg-white omelet with a side order of oatmeal.  This is the ultimate power breakfast.  Just don’t eat the toast and the hash brown potatoes.
  • Lunch – Chicken Ceasar salad with fresh fruit for desert.
  • Dinner – Grilled fish with extra vegetables in place of the starch.  Have fresh fruit for dessert.  Consider having a glass of wine with the dinner, and always pass on the rolls.
  • Road Snacks – Have 1 ounce of sliced turkey or of low-fat cheese with half a piece of fruit.

Things to Avoid When Eating Out

Dr. Sears suggests avoiding the following:

  • Fatty meats (steaks, pork, lamb)
  • Fried foods (including appetizers)
  • French fries
  • Chips
  • Excessive amounts of starches (rice, pasta, and bread)
  • Rich desserts (unless it is a very small portion size)

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Get in the Zone before you go.  Have a Zone meal before you eat out.  This will help you make better food choices.
  • Trade high-quality carbs for low.  Substitute your sides.  Choose starchy carbohydrates for fibrous carbohydrates.
  • Cut your portions.  Eat your palm sized portion of protein, then take the rest home.
  • For Chinese, choose a protein dish with vegetables.  Avoid breaded dishes when possible.
  • For Italian, choose fish or chicken and a salad.  Avoid the pasta and breads.
  • For Japanese, avoid rice.  Sushi is not a bad choice.
  • For Mexican, choose chicken Chicken fajitas.  Avoid the breads and starchy carbs.  Choose corn tortillas over flour tortillas.
  • For French, enjoy the meal!
  • For pizzerias, order thin crust, and top with chicken and vegetables.  Eat the topping of ever slice, but only eat the crust of every other slice.
  • On the road, stay in the Zone.  For breakfast have an omelet, for lunch a chicken salad, for dinner fish with vegetables, and snack on cheese and fruit.

Like so many things, balance, better choices, and moderation seem to be the key.

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