Staying healthy while eating out…is it possible?
The short answer is YES. However, there are a lot of factors to consider. What you are eating, how much of it, the timing and how often you are eating out are all things to consider. I did want you to notice that I said, “staying healthy”, not “staying on track, while dieting, etc”. First, not everyone is on a diet, but most everyone wants to be as healthy as possible, right? Second, the term “staying on track” can have different meanings and can evoke certain negative emotions and relationship with eating out and food in general. Going out to eat is a normal & common way to socialize. Heck, think about it, food is a huge part of socializing, parties, events. So we can all acknowledge that some time in our lives we WILL eat out, period.
Dining out should not be a scary or stressful environment. Food is fun and should be enjoyed! It is easy to correlate eating out = “bad, a cheat, going off track”. Restaurants should and do not have to be roadblocks or setbacks. It starts with our attitudes and mindset ABOUT the situation. When we think eating out is automatically “bad”, then no matter what you choose to eat, you will believe that you STILL cheated, gave in, failed on your “plan”. This is stressful and can lead to anxiety, deprivation or over-eating, guilt, and the cycle continues… 🙁
The goal is to find that hard-to-reach BALANCE…where you can confidently dine out AND stay physically healthy and happy! You CAN do it! Here are my top tips:
Be mindful. This is my number one piece of advice and all of the other tips follow this principle as well. It is SO important and sounds simple, but it does take practice. Be aware and conscious of your mindset, your mental and physical feelings, and of course, what you actually do eat. Beating yourself up inside or mindlessly (over) eating is not healthy. Remember, the goal is to have a positive experience dining out.
Be focused on what YOU. Don’t be swayed by others’ decisions or if they are (unfortunately) scrutinizing your meal choice. Choose what you want and is best for you. I assure you, NO ONE will remember what you do or don’t eat after the meal ends.
Plan your plate like you would at home. When you are scoping the menu, be looking for words and ingredients that you recognize and/or could replicate on your own. Ask yourself, “What would I normally make at home?” Pick your protein first, look for a vegetable source, complex carbs, lots of color and fresh ingredients! This doesn’t mean your meal has to be bland or boring. You can still choose awesome but healthier dishes that will leave you satisfied and fuel your body. For example, choosing a grilled salmon fillet with roasted potatoes and lots of veggies is a better option (and most likely leave you feeling better) then a huge fried appetizer sampler.
Know your portions. Sometimes you are in situations where you do not have control over WHAT you eat (family or work functions, sit-down events, etc). It might not be ideal, however, you always do have control over HOW MUCH you eat of it. Most restaurants meals are ginormous and could feed multiple people! Be aware of your hunger level and conscious to not just eat it because it is in front of you (refer back to point 1). Split an entree or take half to-go is usually a safe bet to help you from not over-eating and feeling stuffed, but you still get to enjoy it!
There are no “Off-Limit” foods… Labeling foods as “bad or cheats” sub-consciously creates a negative relationship to (that) food and can lead to unhealthy choices later. Foods are not “bad or good”, but there are some are most definitely BETTER or WORSE than others. There is nothing wrong with indulging and eating those “not-as-good” foods every once in awhile. As the saying goes, Moderation is KEY. When you do choose to indulge, make sure you are AWARE of the consequences that might come afterwards…Not all will be negative (hey, some meals can be once-in-a-lifetime and are most definitely worth it!) but do acknowledge that this is your choice and you are in control. Just because you chose to indulge does NOT mean you “failed or gave in” nor does it determine what you do at your next meal. You are ultimately in control of your choices and emotions that follow.
…But do Play Favorites. So yes, you CAN and should enjoy yourself and indulge in moderation. However, indulging in ALL the delicious foods can be a slippery slope of over-eating and can lead you down a path of destructiveness. Get rid of the “all or nothing” mentality and choose one or two items that you really want the most. Have you had your eye on that creamy chicken pasta dish since you opened the menu? You know it is not the healthiest thing you could choose…but will you be glad you indulged if you order this? Then get it! Don’t deprive yourself; this will leave you feeling unsatisfied and reaching for something else in place. However, be aware to balance out your meal…if you have a heavy entree, then say no to the bread basket and the glass of wine. Choose to go for a lighter entree in order to save room for your favorite dessert.
If you have specific fitness or health goals, dietary limitations, on a meal plan for a certain event, contest, etc. then most likely you will have to make more detailed and careful decision when eating out. There are tons of ways to still eat out while on a DIET, but that is a other article in itself 🙂 These tips are designed to help everyone, regardless of diet or plan, and things you can learn and implement for life! 🙂