I know all too well what most diet programs are like. As a fitness professional, I’ve heard my clients tell me heartbreaking story after story about the way they’ve deprived themselves for the sake of a new fad.

Invariably, they slip right back into their old ways – and who wouldn’t? Most diets suck all the fun out of life. It’s horrible to feel like you can’t go out to dinner just because you’ll be too tempted by your old favorites on the menu.

I hear this all the time: I know I should lose some weight, but I just can’t give up cheese or I try to stick to my diet, but every time I go out to a restaurant, I can’t pass up my favorite meal.

In my opinion, thinking you have to rigorously deny yourself everything good in life is the reason so many people fail on their fat-loss journey before they’ve even begun. Why would you put yourself through months of picking at a plain salad while your friends dive into a juicy burger?

The answer is simple: That’s how weight loss is done, right? And you want to lose fat more than you want the burger… well, at least you do until you’re out to dinner.

I’ve got good news for you: you don’t have to give up your favorite foods to eat healthy. You don’t have to give up going out to eat with your friends and your family. You don’t even have to become the person who always orders a salad.

You can make better, healthier eating choices while still enjoying the same favorite foods you always have - like pizza, nachos, and burgers.

I’m not talking about the healthy versions that are mere shadows of the real thing. I’m not suggesting you make pizza crust out of zucchini or burgers out of beans.

I’m talking about simple changes you can make to your order at a restaurant that mean you’ll be served a delicious meal – with a lot fewer fat, sugar, and calories.

Here are three traditionally fattening favorites – along with the tricks that turn them into healthy fat-burners.

A Better Burger

With a few simple changes, you can save anywhere from 400 to 1,000 calories on your burger at any restaurant. Here’s how:

1. Hold the Extra’s to Save Lots of Calories.
Ask them to leave off the extras that offer less nutritional value yet a ton of calories, like cheese, mayo, any special sauces, and bacon. This can save more than 500 calories right off the bat!

Can’t bring yourself to give up all your extras? Go ahead and order it with cheese but leave off the rest. Remember: It isn’t all or nothing. Leaving off the mayo and bacon is still a huge improvement.

Add a bit of mustard or extra pickles and you’ll still get lots of flavor! Mustard contains no sugar and no fat, unlike ketchup and mayo, and it packs a ton of flavor. Every restaurant has it available.

2. Go Halfsizes.
If you’re absolutely craving the taste of a burger but the portions are huge, simply ask your server to slice your burger in half and bring you a box containing the rest. You won’t be tempted by the other half, and you’ll have lunch for tomorrow. This additional step can save as much as 300-600 calories.

How many times have you ordered a burger only to feel uncomfortably full by the time you get to the last bite? It can take as much as a half hour for your body to realize it’s full, so eat your one-half slowly, and you’ll probably find that by the time you’re finished, you’re comfortably full and happy to eat your other half for lunch the next day.

3. Swap Out Your Sides.
French fries are one of the biggest fat-laden culprits (and not the good kind of fat) on most burger orders. Once you omit the mayo and cheese, the burger itself can actually have fewer calories than the giant mound of fries!

Instead of fries, ask for a side salad, grilled or steamed veggies, a fruit cup, or cottage cheese. Any of these substitutions can save as much as 350 calories from your meal total and you’ll feel better afterward, too.

You’ll notice that all of these are fairly simple fixes. Here are a few more for the super-committed:

  • Many restaurants will now wrap your burger in lettuce leaves instead of a bun, saving almost 200 calories
  • and cutting out the processed carbs.
  • Ketchup and BBQ sauce are fine in moderation, but huge gobs can pile on sugar and calories. Try using mustard
  • for the majority of your flavor, and using ketchup and BBQ sparingly.
  • Love onion rings? They’re incredibly tasty even without the fried batter. Peel off most of it and you’ll
  • still get a tasty treat with a lot less fat and calories! Some restaurants will even substitute for grilled onions, which are really tasty and a fraction of the calories and no trans fats.

Pizza
You can cut 400 calories off your next slice of pizza with just a few simple tricks.

1. Thin Your Crust.
Instead of thick crust, pan, or deep-dish, ask for thin crust. Just changing to New York style pizza saves 110 calories per slice!

Whatever number of slices you normally have, swap out one for a side salad instead. If you usually have 3 slices, have 2 and a side salad. You’ll save 135 calories, and you’ll be a lot more comfortable when you’re full.

2. Lower the Dairy Count.
Ask your server to halve the cheese for you. You’ll save 90 calories and to be honest, you probably won’t even miss the extra. You’ll still have a mouthful of cheese!

If your favorite pizza normally comes with a white sauce, ask for a tomato sauce instead. White sauces are pure cream, and you’ll save more than 100 calories a slice going with red instead.

The same goes for dipping in ranch dressing. If you love dipping your pizza in sauce, use marinara instead to save 140 calories per slice.

3. Instead of Processed Meat Toppings...
like pepperoni, sausage, Canadian bacon, and beef, try veggie toppings like onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Veggie options are all low in calories and high in fiber and nutrients, which will make you feel fuller faster. You’ll save as many as 200 calories.

If you’re really craving meat, order grilled chicken instead. It’s much lower in calories. If you absolutely must have your pepperoni fix, though, go for half the amount once again; half of the fat and calories is still a lot better than the whole shebang.

Nachos
Nachos are normally laden with calories – small surprise, when they’re slathered in cheese and sour cream. With a few simple changes, they’re still incredibly tasty, but you’ll consume 600-700 calories less than the “classic” version.

1. Make Some Substitutions.
Most nachos are served with refried beans, which contain lard. Get black or pinto beans instead, and you’ll save more than 200 calories right away.

Change out the ground beef (also cooked in fat) for shredded or grilled chicken or extra veggies, and you’ll save another 230 calories. Swap the sour cream for pico de gallo or salsa, and you’ve saved 200 more. That’s 630 calories for simple substitutions. But if you can’t stand the idea of giving up everything...

2. Adjust Your Ratios.
Your average bowl of nachos is about 40% chips, 30% dairy, 10% beans, and 19% meat – with a scant 1% given over to a few tomatoes and onions. Adjust those ratios and you can keep your favorite ingredient as a delicious flavor rather than the main event.

Ask your server to give you half the amount of cheese they normally use, and do the same with any particularly fattening ingredient that you’re craving. You’ll still get the flavor you crave – just less of it.

3. Pile on the Veggies
Ask for more veggies and you won’t even miss the sour cream. Lots of restaurants have fun options that aren’t included in the nacho ingredients but can be had if you ask for the substitution. Take a quick look at other Tex-Mex options to see if there are ingredients you could add to your nachos – maybe red peppers, sautéed onions, and lime-cilantro corn?

If you’re feeling really brave, you can do what I do and ask for veggies in place of your chips! I often ask for sliced tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, celery, or iceberg lettuce instead of chips. Sometimes I get laughs or compliments for creativity – but it’s never a problem and trust me: it’s really tasty.

I hope you found this article helpful and if you have questions or comments, please post them below!