It’s no surprise that life needs to have a certain element of balance.
From your overall health, nutrition, fitness, wellness, family life, work life, and having some sort of a social life, it can seem overwhelming to manage it all. One area that always seems to strike panic and confusion is managing social situations and going out to eat. Learning how to make healthy choices on the go, tracking your macros, planning and / or precontemplation of your meal selection, can be a handy tool in your toolbox.
Today I want to teach you the simple things you can do to make tracking and ordering your meal at a restaurant stress free.
There are typically two types of people out there, those who say, “screw it” when they go out to eat and then derail OR those who are proactive and take the step to plan it out and enjoy their meal. I am here to try to teach you how to live your life in moderation because life happens, and I want you to be educated how to handle all types of situations. The first step is to decide how strict you want to be given the circumstances, eat for the occasion, and commit to your plan. It is as simple as that.
If you are tracking macros, my first suggestion is to pre-plan your day.
Pre-planning your entire day including the meal that you are going to eat at a restaurant is your key to compliance. The biggest mistake I see clients make is eating “normal” all day long (AKA tracking on the fly) then getting to dinner with poverty macros and just choose to YOLO their dinner. That was due to poor pre-planning your day out. What you should do is “backwards” track your day. What does this mean? I want you to put in your dinner (or the meal that you are eating at a restaurant) FIRST, then plan your day around it. For example, if you are going to your favorite restaurant, you may already know what you are going to order. Log that meal first into your nutrition tracking app. You might have to eat less of your normal foods during the day, however your day is now planned, and you met your macro goals without even stressing about it.
What happens if you know the restaurant but haven’t been there before?
Pre-planning is still key but now you need to start with personal ownership over your choices and do your homework. Look up the restaurant that you are going to and do a quick menu search. Browse through their menu online, take note of any table-side specials (like warm bread or chips and salsa), and note any special policies like no substitutions to meals. From there, simply find something that you are going to enjoy for the night and follow the same steps of meal planning backwards for your day.
Now the BIG question, what happens if going out wasn’t part of your daily plan and it just popped up?
No worries!! You are so smart and have the knowledge to make the best choice for your situation. Order what is trackable and keep it semi-simple. Restaurants like Mexican places are easy to track because things are normally brought to you separate. If you stick to foods that you eat regularly, you are already familiar with the portion sizes and tracking will be more accurate. Many restaurants allow you to customize your order a bit, so learn to order your meat choices dry, your veggies steamed without butter or oil and the dressings on the side. Do the best you can in that situation. Think of portion sizes: protein is about the size of your palm, veggies is two hands cupped, carbs is a fist full and fats about a tablespoon per serving.
Ok, now the meal planning stuff.
Tip one: prioritize your protein first. The optimal choice would be a protein source that is from responsibly-raised meats in which the terms grass-fed, pastured, or organic is next to it. However, many popular chain restaurants he meat is conventionally sourced (factory-farmed), you’ll have the make the best of a less-than-optimal protein situation. The best protein options on a restaurant menu are steamed or grilled fish or seafood, or lean cuts of red meat like sirloin steak or chicken. If you are concerned about how much fat you have to spare in your diet, limit foods that have anything fried (especially in batter), skin-on chicken (like wings or drumsticks), or meat swimming in mystery sauce.
Next is asking the right questions as to how your food is prepared.
Many people forget they do have a voice when dining out and if you ask they are pretty accommodating to your order. Ask questions to make sure you understand the description and process of each cooking method before choosing one. If you see a protein listed as fried, ask for the protein grilled, steamed, or baked instead. Here are some key points when ordering:
- Steamed: Foods that are steamed are cooked using hot water (steam). Usually applied to veggies, but it may also be used in relation to fish or seafood.
- Sautéed: Sautéed foods are cooked in a small amount of fat. This is going to be the cooking method of choice for vegetable sides in most restaurants.
- Roasted: Foods that are roasted are cooked in a dry heat environment like an oven or over a flame. These foods are almost always basted with a fat (sometimes a different liquid) to enhance flavor and keep them from drying out.
- Fried: Fried foods are almost always cooked in horrifically unhealthy, really hot fat, generally in the form of vegetable oil.
How to put it all together and choose your meal.
Try to pick out a meal that appears to be easily customizable for your goals. Make sure it includes a protein source and have the option of veggies as a side. Make a choice of your carb whether that is the bun, a sweet potato, fries or maybe even dessert. Here is the key point to remember, be ok with inaccuracy as you are not going to be 100% or know all that is in your food. This is where you need to have flexible thinking and give up on the notion of perfection. Make your best guesses and be confident in them. it’s ok, tomorrow is a new day!
Might as well touch on tomorrow while I’m at it!
You might see a noticeable scale increase due to sodium or food choices that are not “normal” day to day. Guess what? All of that is normal and the slight weight increase should be gone in a day. You do not need to restrict your food the next day or try to get in another workout to negate the meal. Just get back to the plan and move on! If you come from a place of eating right for your body, you will always win! Oftentimes, people see eating out as an opportunity to overindulge, but I like to think of it as an opportunity to feel good. Choose the optimal foods for you and your body. Food becomes your fuel and clean, healthy food can taste great. It’s all perspective! It’s great to be out in the world, surround yourself with great company, focus on your environment, indulge in amazing conversation, and find pure pleasure in eating to feel your best.