Millie Mackintosh on How to Eat Out Healthy and Still Have Fun

Updated 05/25/16

Hi, Byrdie readers! Eating out and socialising should be enjoyed, but if you find yourself going through a busy period with a lot of events, work meals and special occasions stacked up in your diary, then you might want to get strategic. A little planning and some clever health hacks are all it takes to balance a busy social schedule with a healthy lifestyle. Keep scrolling for my tips to navigate eating out and, most important, still have fun.

Like everyone, I enjoy a night out with friends where I eat and drink what I like—Italian is my favourite—but if I know I’m going to have a busy few weeks or I’m prepping for a shoot, I work out in advance which nights I am going to be good and when I will treat myself.

I like to take a look at the restaurant menu online and have an idea of what I’m going to order before I even arrive at the restaurant. Having said that, it’s also fun to be spontaneous—if my friends are all ordering pasta, there is no way I’ll have steamed fish and greens—sometimes those spontaneous nights end up being the most fun!

Having a fitness or health goal helps to keep me motivated, but if I’m not training for anything and I’m not in prep mode, then I do tend to eat what I want. At this time of year, I’m definitely drinking more than I would in the winter, so to balance it I’m scheduling in more cardio sessions to burn off the extra calories. Right now I’m doing cardio three times per week instead of once, and fitting in a weights session twice.

A trainer once told me that if you exercise the day after drinking alcohol your body won’t be able to burn fat, so I’ll plan a cheat meal the night before a rest day. Or, I’ll go and do a spin class just to burn off the extra calories and to help get the alcohol out of my system. I try to eat healthy 70% of the time, but before a holiday or shoot I will just have a cheat meal rather than a cheat weekend!

If I'm going out with friends, then I try to work it so I choose the restaurant—when I do that I’ll make sure to book somewhere that I know does delicious but healthy options. In the evenings I’ll go quite low carb; if there are canapés going around, I have been known to take the mini burger out of the bun and just eat that! Quite often, though, I’ll eat before I go to a party, so that way I don’t get there starving and end up eating lots. 

I love Japanese, and I used to eat so much sushi, but I didn’t think about all the salt and sugar in the rice—oh my goodness, I didn’t even consider it! Go for the sashimi with a Japanese seaweed salad; I try to go down that route. Italian is one of my favourites, but not just the pasta; I love the way they do fish and meat. Look for restaurants that offer healthier ingredients and alternatives like gluten-free pasta or sourdough pizza.

Sometimes at events you have to order ahead, so in that case I will put in special requests to the chef; if there is steak and chips on the menu, I'll request to have it with green beans or a salad instead. When it comes to carbs, you can also ask for gluten-free or spelt pasta and pizza in a lot of restaurants; I also like to go for quinoa or rice instead of potatoes.

Dressings tend to have a lot of calories, so I'll switch a Caesar dressing, for example, to olive oil and lemon juice on the side. I'll also ask for my vegetables to be steamed, as they are often cooked in lots of butter and salt. Or, if I'm going out for a burger, I'll ask for it to be wrapped in lettuce rather than a bun.

I try to avoid refined sugar and only have it as a treat; I’d always rather have a starter than a dessert. And it's not just puddings, there is so much sugar in alcohol too! If I'm not drinking, I ask for fresh grapefruit juice and soda instead. Get the bartender to put it in a champagne or cocktail glass so no one questions you. I do find people love to try and make me drink.

If I am drinking, I’ll have tequila and soda, or tequila on the rocks, both with fresh lime. This is quite a clean and relatively low-calorie drink. Or I’ll order a glass of red; I’ll just have one glass and make it last. I love a margarita cocktail—but someone once told me they are as calorific as a burger, and I used to drink five in one night. (I’d never eat five burgers in one go!) I also sometimes ask for a skinny margarita, which is made with less agave syrup, if I really fancy one. I try to avoid overly fruity or sweet cocktails—stronger or drier drinks tend to take longer to drink than sugary cocktails.

Also, I find too much sugar or salt from a meal and drinks can leave me feeling really rough even if I haven’t had much to drink—it’s like a food hangover.

When we eat out, the servings tend to be big, and I’ve always had this mentality since I was a child to eat everything in front of me, never thinking to check Am I actually full? Next day, if you did eat or drink a bit more than you had planned, don’t worry about it; just make a mental note to start fresh. I know that if I let a cheat meal slip into a week or month then my skin will break out and I won't feel my best. On the flip side, you should treat yourself every now and then when you feel like it!

Want more healthy tips from Millie? Check out her book Made: A book of style, fashion and fitness (£8).

Opening Image: Getty/David M. Benett/Contributor

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