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How to Enjoy Eating Out While Still Making Progress

“Should I avoid eating out while I’m working on my nutrition? Or do I need to eat a plain salad and that’s it?”

No. Dear goodness, no. That would be a really sad way to live and totally unsustainable for the average person.

While you don’t have to shun the restaurants for a several-month stint, you do want to be mindful of how you approach eating out if you are wanting to improve your relationship with food and/or change your body composition.

Let’s break down how to approach eating out in two ways: mindset tips and practical tips.

Mindset

Whenever I am after a goal, I like to assess what I am trying to get out of an experience and how I can approach it mindfully. Oftentimes, eating out can be all about the food, and I’ve heard “I may as well get whatever I want since I’m paying for it.” I get it, food is delicious and it’s created to make us crave more of it. However, when you get done eating, how do you feel? And if you are working on feeling good and leaning out, are your food choices getting you closer to your goal?

While every single thing you put in your mouth doesn’t have to be purely about getting you closer to your goal, it is important to know that a blowout meal can set us back and erase most if not all the hard work we’ve put in the previous week. Instead of viewing eating out as a way to kick back, relax and reward ourselves for our effort over the week, what if we viewed it as a way to connect with our friends or family and create memories?

I used to be really strict with my diet Monday-Saturday, but then Sunday would come and I viewed it as my “cheat day.” I ate everything I wanted and felt like I couldn’t eat during the week and ended up stalling out my progress because I didn’t realize the impact that day was having on my week. I chalked up my lack of results to “this is just how my body is and it won’t change,” but what I really needed was a little education and a shift in my mindset.

Once I realized how much nutrition impacts fat loss and muscle gain, how much I needed to be consistent with a sustainable plan to see progress, and I started seeing changes, I was able to view eating out as an activity to do with loved ones and see the food as a means to get me where I wanted to go. Do I still love food and really enjoy the taste of different dishes? Of course! But I no longer use it as a reward (which is easy to lead to emotional eating) and I place greater value on spending time with the people I care about.

All that being said, a shift in my mindset made it much easier to implement these practical tips:

  1. Look at the menu beforehand
  2. Try to follow the plate method (fill 1⁄2 of your plate with non-starchy veggies, 1⁄4 of your plate with lean protein, 1⁄4 of your plate with starchy carbs, and a tablespoon or two of plant-based fat)
  3. Make water the drink of choice and skip the sugar-sweetened beverages
  4. Ask about substitution options: grilled, blackened, or broiled instead of fried, veggies as a side, sauce on the side, steamed
  5. Ask how things are prepared (fried in butter or oil?)
  6. Portion control tips: pack up half the meal before eating to save for later, ask for the lunch portion, split an entree with a friend
  7. Eat slowly and enjoy your meal: remember your brain is 15-minutes behind
    your stomach: put your fork down, drink water between bites, enjoy conversation
  8. Opt-out of or request no refills on bottomless items such as breadsticks, chips,
    crackers, etc.
  9. Eat consistently throughout the day (especially protein and veggies), and don’t skip meals earlier in the day because you are going out to eat

I still get special meals out, and if I want to enjoy a particular dish as is, I’ll be diligent about eating balanced meals the rest of the day. I’ll be intentional about it (not make a decision on a whim) and eat slowly and until I’m satisfied, not stuffed. That’s been a really helpful balance for myself and other clients so we don’t feel like we can never have X dishes again. Simple changes add up over time, and it usually starts with a shift in our thinking.

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