Eating out has always been a big part of Leah Lewis’ social life. But as she approached her 40th birthday weighing around 250 pounds, Lewis admits it was taking its toll.

“I’ve struggled with weight all my life,” Lewis says. “I love food and I love going out to eat, but food has always been my worst enemy. After a reality check, I finally got serious and decided to take control.

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Lewis turned to Renew Your Strength nutrition and fitness for advice on how to achieve her health and fitness goals. Within months, she lost 38 pounds, won a transformation challenge, and gained the confidence to keep going. In total, Lewis has lost over 100 pounds and now helps others as a full-time group fitness instructor and personal trainer for Renew Your Strength.

“My fight has led me to a new life of health and fitness,” Lewis says. “I didn’t have to sacrifice going out to eat — I just had to learn to make healthier choices. I still have a great social life, but now it’s a balance between exercise and eating out.

Lewis shares some healthy tips for eating out that can also help.

1. Plan your meal in advance

Planning helps you make smarter choices. For example, before going to a restaurant, I consult the menu online and prepare my meal in advance.

2. Track your food

Logging in to my meals ahead of time with apps like My Fitness Pal helps me stay accountable. Tracking my food also lets me know if there’s wiggle room for a splurge.

3. Make eating out your “cheat meal”

If you’re not careful, it’s easy to blow a lot of calories. So, I’ll plan all day’s food around outings and allow the meal to be my cheat meal. I will eat clean and light throughout the day and maybe have a smoothie with some protein powder.

4. Order (and drink) plenty of water

Not only is water important for overall health, but it’s also a good way to control your appetite.

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5. Cut the alcohol, not the cocktail

Alcohol is loaded with calories. So, two years ago, I cut it. Instead, I’ll opt for mocktails with healthy ingredients, like a Virgin Bloody Mary with extra olives at Tupelo Honey downtown when I’m with my friends.

6. Add something green to your plate

I always make sure there is something green on my plate. And that goes for pizza too. I’m a regular at Blaze Pizza on Main Street which has great vegetarian pizza.

7. Order dessert and eat it too

I love desserts. If I have one, like Soby’s banana pudding or white chocolate banana cream pie, I’ll ask for extra scoops so I can share it with the table.

8. Keep it balanced

Eating out is about balance and moderation, maybe swapping one item for another.

For example, at one of my favorites, The Farehouse, I order wings with a green salad, but no bacon or cheese.

9. Find creative ways to move your body

Park far enough from the restaurant to take a good walk before eating or a walk after dinner. If I’m downtown, I’ll park on the top floor of the Richardson Street parking garage and take the stairs – now that’s a great workout.

10. Order a dressing on the side

Always ask for the vinaigrette on the side. Forget the cream-based dressings and choose one made with vinegar.

11. Turn a taco into a lettuce wrap

At a Mexican restaurant, like Tipsy Taco, I order lettuce wraps instead of a taco, if that’s an option. I’m also going to skip the cheese and sour cream so I can add a little salsa.

12. Make small adjustments

Making small adjustments helps keep your calories in check.

For example, I’ll opt for an oat milk latte at Methodical Coffee and steamed cinnamon in the milk for extra flavor.