Eating and food are more than just a means to nourish ourselves. They are entwined in our cultural and religious beliefs and they are often a huge part of celebrating. So what happens if we are trying to be healthier, eat healthier and stay in shape or even lose weight? How do we celebrate and achieve our goals? How do we celebrate by going out for a meal and not be riddled with guilt afterwards?
The answer is… being sneaky! Go out to a restaurant, but pick the right restaurant, be mindful of your choices, limit the over indulgence and navigate around the calorie bombs.
So first things first, choose the right restaurant.
The key word is restaurant. It doesn’t have to be an expensive restaurant or a fine dining one, it can be an affordable franchise. Do not choose to go to a fast food joint. I can’t really summarize this better than Micheal Pollan did in his book Food Rules, “It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car”. The simple reason for choosing a restaurant is that there are considerably more options to choose from on the menu and chances are that you will find a healthier meal.
Once you’ve settled in at the restaurant of your choice, the next thing to conquer is the drinks.
Do not opt for fizzy drinks, they are not worth the 8 teaspoons of sugar that a standard 330ml can contains and once consumed, you have nothing to show for it except the empty calories. Alternative options would be the Diet and Light fizzy drinks counterparts. Beware of those too, however, just because they are sugar-free doesn’t mean you can be limitless. Some studies have shown that sugar free carbonated drinks are still associated with an increased abdominal circumference. The mechanisms are not entirely clear and are quite multidimensional. It is definitely not to be taken lightly because an increased abdominal circumference does place you at an increased risk for non communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
If cordials are your drink of choice, then drink them with soda water as apposed to lemonade or dry lemon to save on the calories.
Juices are a potential option for a special occasion, but stick to one glass only and do make sure it is 100% fruit juice. Remember that fruit juices, even 100%, do still add to your daily sugar as well as calorie intake.
If you opt for an alcoholic beverage, then keep in mind the general recommendation of 1 drink per day for ladies and 2 for men. One drink is equivalent to 120ml of wine, 30ml of spirits like whiskey, or 330ml of beer. Try to stay away from mixers like rum and coke or vodka and orange juice, because in mixers you have calories coming at you from two directions, the alcohol and the non-alcoholic drink. Another type of drink to steer clear of, is the “ready-to-drink” or “premixer” drinks, they are usually the syrup-like, fizzy drinks and alcohol premixed in one bottle. These have a lot of added sugar and are heavy on the calories.
If you would like to have a “dessert like” beverage, then leave it for dessert. Do not opt for a milkshake or a Don Pedro or smoothie as your drink of choice and then still opt for a full meal. That is calorie overload. Gourmet milkshakes are all the rage at the moment, they are fun… and they are calorie bombs. So if you are out on the town and your heart is set, then opt for a milkshake for dessert and try sharing it.
Remember that water is always a great option because its always better to eat your calories rather than to drink them.
So drinks have been ordered and now its time for the meal?
Well for starters, don’t have a three course meal. It’s too much. Opt for a starter and dessert or if you are feeling rather hungry, a starter and a main or a main and dessert but not all three. Perhaps have a starter and a side salad as a main meal. Another good option is to share, some restaurants are rather sticky about that though. If all else fails, share with yourself by splitting your meal into two & putting away half in a take away container as it arrives at the table. This minimizes the temptation to over eat because- out of sight, out of mind, hopefully. Lastly, remember, despite what we may have been taught when we were little, you really don’t have to eat everything on your plate.
Next, lets discuss what should be on your plate. So when deciding on a protein, go for lean and always grilled. Avoid fried anything, be it shallow or deep fried, either way its evil for your weight management. So opt for lean protein like pork- fillet or chops, chicken breast rather than a whole chicken and avoid that chicken skin. Lean beef cuts like fillet are low fat but expensive. Rump has usually has a thick layer of fat which means you should avoid it but if you really must, at least cut the fat off before you eat the meat. Animal fat is a big no-no. Its non negotiable because it adds a lot of calories to your daily intake and not to mention that it does lead to an increased risk of high cholesterol and artherosclerosis. For this very reason, lamb is really to be reserved for your very very special occasions and the same goes for ox tail and lamb shank. If you are feeling adventurous, you could also pick a meat free dish!
Once you’ve decided what you’ll have, its time to contemplate the sides. Opt out of chips or wedges or anything fried, like onion rings. Creamed spinach is a calorie bomb, albeit delicious, steer clear. If you are really hungry, opt for a lower glycemic index carb like roast butternut, boiled baby potatoes, corn, rice or couscous. A baked potato but minus the extra toppings is also a great option. If you are not too peckish, then see if stir fried or roast veg or salad are options for sides.
Lastly, stay away from sauces. Sauces add a lot of calories to your meal so if your dish of choice includes a sauce, ask the waiter if they can put it on the side so that you can control your intake.
All of the above is a lot to consider, and please don’t feel despondent. It may seem like I’m taking the fun out of eating out but if you manage just a few of these hurdles, you will see how proudly you will walk away from your meal out, feeling happy that you didn’t over do it and guilt free. So enjoy your meal out, remember to eat slowly, laugh a lot and enjoy the experience as well as your company.