Last week I wrote about how it’s not only possible to eat out and have drink with friends while trying to lose weight and/or improve your health, but that it plays a necessary role in improving health and weight loss. Today I show you how to navigate those situations so that you can enjoy all the benefits that eating out and socializing provides, without falling into the trap of overeating or making poor food choices.
Let me start by saying, eating out daily is not the answer if you want to improve your health and stay on track with your health and fitness goals. It seems unfortunate that I need to state that, but we are living in a time where everything is black and white. Meaning that if I say you can eat out, someone is going to take it as me saying you can eat out every day, for every meal, and eat everything on the menu while still living a healthy life and/or working towards weight loss or fitness goals. That’s not the case, and like most things in life, there’s nuance to it and the key is to find balance between enjoying your life and focusing on your health.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to business (did anyone else read that in tune/pitch with the Mulan song? If not, head here to figure out what the hell I’m talking about). Below are three different scenarios, with strategies for each, that you may find yourself in. Whether you know when and where you’re going and can plan ahead, it’s spur of the moment and you’ve got to adjust on the fly, or your life dictates you eat out constantly, there’s no reason you can’t still reach your health and fitness goals.
If You Know in Advance, Plan Ahead
If you know that you’re going to be eating out, things are a lot easier. You can look at the menu ahead of time, make a decide what you want to eat and then adjust the rest of your day accordingly. There are a few adjustments you should make to give yourself the best opportunity to enjoy the meal and/or drinks to the fullest, while trying to minimize any negative outcomes:
a) Skip your first meal of the day and start your morning by fasting as long as you can. Enjoy coffee and water, maybe chew some gum to stave off hunger a bit longer, and cruise right through breakfast into lunch. Important to note though, longer fasts are not always better and I don’t recommend fasting all the way to the social event, especially if there’s alcohol involved. For some, fasting reduces your appetite, but for others it is simply a dam that holds back an ever-growing appetite that’s hard to control once the flood gates open. Figure out which box you fall into, and use fasting wisely.
b) Have a small meal or snack shortly before the social event, especially one packed with protein and fiber as they’re highly filling. This may seem counter intuitive, eating before you go out to eat, but it works. By having a small meal or snack, you will feel fuller and eat less at the meal itself. Sometimes this means you’ll have leftovers to take home because you don’t finish your meal, but who doesn’t like leftovers?
c) Adjust your day(s) around the meal. If you already know what you’re going to eat, or at least have a good idea, then you can plan your days prior to and leading up to the meal to align with that. Reduce your calories a bit for 1-3 days before the meal (100-200 calories per day, as needed) and adjust the foods that you eat the day of the social event or meal. Knowing that it’s likely the meal will be heavier in carbs and fats, and lighter in protein and fiber, it would make sense to front load your day with tons of fiber and protein to balance your nutrition out. Eat plenty of lean proteins, fill your meals with tons of low-calorie fruits and vegetables and then enjoy your meal knowing that you’ve already hit the majority of your macro and micronutrient goals beforehand.
If You Were Surprised, Adjust and Adapt
Sometimes eating out or grabbing a drink is spur of the moment and there’s no possibility of planning ahead. You get a call, hop in the car and before you know it, you’re sitting at a restaurant with friends and family enjoying a night out. In situations like these, it’s important to be able to adapt your plans, and adjust afterward if needed.
You can take a couple of approaches when you find yourself in a situation like this.
a) Chalk it up as a “night off”. Eat and drink sensibly, then get right back on track the following day. Give yourself a small mental break from tracking or being 100% mindful of your food choices and enjoy the time, food, and drinks with others. This works well if you’re able to make responsible food and drink choices, as well as leave the guilt behind the next day. If you struggle to maintain control with your eating or drinking, and tend to be all or nothing when you diet, this approach probably won’t work well for you.
b) Adjust the following 1-3 days, reducing calories over those days to balance out the extra calories eaten or drank during time with friends and or family. If you had an approximate overage of 500 calories during your social event, you could reduce calories by 150 per day the following 3 days to put yourself right back on track. This is a great tool to use even when you plan ahead, as it still allows you to enjoy the meal out while keeping your calories over the course of the week (mostly) in check. If you’re someone who needs to stay “on track” or has a deadline for weight loss (like a bodybuilding competition or photo shoot), this might be a good solution that allows you to stay on track and still enjoy food and drinks with friends.
c) If you really want to hold yourself accountable and do your best to “stay on track”, simply make good choices when you arrive at the restaurant. Limit the amount of alcohol that you drink (1 drink or less), avoid indulging in the bread, chips and other table snacks they put out (or ask the waiter not to bring them), order something light and healthy, and focus on enjoying the company rather than the food. While I think food is meant to be enjoyed, there’s a time and place for it and maybe you prefer a different time, different place or with different people. There’s no shame in making healthy choices, and if it helps you avoid guilt after eating and feel better, then that’s the choice you should make.
If You Do It Often, Make Smart Choices & Eat Sensibly
If you’ve got a crazy social life or your work has you constantly traveling and eating on the road, the above strategies will work, but you’ll want to start treating your meals out like less of a break, and more of “normal” life. It’s one thing if you eat out once a week and indulge a bit, but if life calls for you to eat out on a consistent basis your strategy and mindset around eating will need to change.
a) Stop viewing these meals as a “break” or “night out” and start looking at them as a part of your daily life, your lifestyle if you will. Approach them the same way you would if you were at home cooking your own meals. Choose meals that offer a hefty portion of lean proteins and veggies, go light on the sauces and oils, and skip the bread or chip baskets and dessert the majority of the time. Make healthy choices 80% of the time or more and you’ll be able to reach your goals despite life circumstances adding a steep challenge.
b) Pick one meal per week to view through a different lens, and use that meal as your chance to eat off script, indulge a bit, and give yourself that mental breather that we all need from dieting, just don’t let that become the norm. The idea isn’t to eat everything in sight, treating it like your “last supper” meal, but rather to choose an item you typically wouldn’t and maybe even eating a bit more than you normally would with the addition of bread or a dessert afterward.
c) Practice eating more mindfully, by slowing down, enjoying each bite and getting in tune with your internal hunger signals. Are you continuing to eat because you’re hungry? Or is it because the food is there, right in front of you and easily accessible? If you struggle to stop eating when you’re full, either choose smaller portions (there’s a “healthier/lighter” options portion on most menus nowadays) or ask for a box and have half your meal boxed up right when you receive it (a tip I learned from my friend and fellow trainer, Alex McBrairty).
It can feel overwhelming to eat out while trying to stay on a diet, lose weight or work on improving your health, but it doesn’t have to be, nor do you have to avoid it completely. If you stay level headed, employ some of the strategies from above and continue focusing on your progress over the long-term versus the day to day, or meal to meal, you’ll be able to enjoy a social life without blowing your progress and having to “start over”. And even if your life consists heavily of meals out at restaurants and drinks with coworkers, you can make quality choices, learn to adjust your lifestyle to one that’s healthier and still reach your goals.
P.S. Are you someone who’s struggling to figure out how to live your life while still reaching your health and fitness goals? Are you tired of killing your nutrition plan, nailing your workouts and then BAM life happens, you have dinner out with friends and throw it all away to just start over again?
If this sounds like you and you’re over the start and stop, all or nothing style of dieting that plagues so many people, let’s talk. Click the link to schedule a no obligation call designed to help you create clarity on how to reach your goals while living your life. Don’t wait until you’ve tried and failed time and again, get the answers and results you’re looking for TODAY!