In this day and age, we are all short on time and energy. It is almost a given that we are now more exhausted than ever before, and burnout is increasingly becoming a significant problem for employers. Another symptom of our overworked-ness is our penchant for eating out or eating TV dinners. If there isn’t enough time to cook, we often take the path of least resistance and buy something ready-made. Even though we know it is better to make our own meals from fresh ingredients, sometimes it is just too easy to take the easy option and buy something pre-packaged and frozen. We don’t have time, and this is just how it is.
I understand this. I am sure you already know that there are a few things wrong with this way of eating, but it isn’t all your fault. If you are working 60 hours a week and have a mortgage to pay off, you really won’t be focusing on having a home-cooked meal every night with biodynamic, organic ingredients direct from a farmer’s market. There just isn’t time! In an ideal world, we would all eat wholegrains and salad at every meal, and we would never turn on the TV. But it is vital to be realistic in making lifestyle changes in order to make them long-lasting.
So, how often do you eat out each week? I know I have fallen into a habit of getting a takeaway coffee every second day, as well as numerous dinners and brunches out. I don’t need to do this, but I just do, because it is easier to have someone else make the food for me. Is that so wrong? I don’t think so. But I would like to point out that there are ways to make your dining experiences more health-friendly to minimise the damage on our bodies and minds. You don’t have to stop eating out, but instead just take a few of these steps on board and you will be able to indulge, guilt-free!
Know Your Weaknesses:
It is an unfortunate fact that some delicious foods just aren’t healthy. I’m talking to you, deep-fried chicken. And also to you, fatty, lard-filled curries and stews. And while I’m at it, let’s not forget about pizzas and pastas and the whole gamut of fast food. We all know what foods are not good for us, although sometimes we don’t realise just how bad they actually are. We each have preferences for certain types of food, and these can be our kryptonite when we are trying to shift the pounds.
If you have a choice in your dining venue, try to think ahead and make sure there are healthy options. If you really crave deep-fried food, for instance, but know that you always feel about 100 pounds heavier after a meal there, try to think of a place which is less fatty but equally satisfying. It is best not to do this when you are really hungry. We often have a place in our mind and because we really need a meal, now, we can be unwilling to shift our preferences. It is important to know why our mind is telling us to go to one restaurant over another, and to question how you will feel afterwards. Scour out places which are both healthy and delicious, and you will be laughing.
Sometimes, however, it just isn’t practical to pick the healthiest restaurant. It may be for a friend’s birthday or an engagement party, and it would be rather out of line to demand a change in venue because you are trying to be healthy. Unfortunately social conventions trump personal preferences in these scenarios! But there are ways that you can take even the unhealthiest of places and make it a little bit better for your body.
Firstly, if you find yourself in a fatty, jumbo-sized-servings kind of place, take a deep breath. Just because everyone around you is eating a deep-fried whole chicken on a bed of French fries does not mean that you have to as well. Humans are social creatures, and it is incredibly hard not to be affected by our environment and those around us. Certain bad habits can become normalised in the right context, which is why it is easy to feel that it won’t be so bad if you order the same pile of food that everyone else has. But it does not have to be like this!
Firstly, if every dish on the menu comes with a side of fries, ask your waiter for your dish to come with a side salad instead. All venues are happy to do this. Do not be afraid to make modifications to dishes on the menu: just because they have written down one combination of ingredients does not mean they will be unable to change this. You do not need to apologise for this. It is important to just be polite and most restaurants will be obliging.
If you are going out for breakfast, for instance, you can ask them to hold the bacon and to give you a side of spinach instead. Or perhaps you can swap your hash brown for extra tomatoes. Your French toast may come with bacon and maple syrup; you can substitute the bacon for banana, and perhaps the maple syrup for honey instead (although let’s not get too crazy here!)
Have you ever ordered a salad in a bid to be healthy, only to have it arrive at your table drenched in creamy dressing ? I have, and it is times like these where I have questioned the nutritional benefits of such salad. Sure, you are getting your greens, and that is always a good thing. Leafy green vegetables are the best thing for us, and I think we should all eat a few serves every day. But it is a different story when these veggies are covered in a creamy, fatty dressing. Sure, the dressing might add a bit of flavour to the salad, but it’s also adding a whole lot more calories.
Here is one of the most eye-opening weight loss facts I have had to come to grips with: all salads are not created equal. I know some people may think of salad and roll their eyes, and it may even bring back Homer Simpson’s chant of, ‘you don’t make friends with salad!’. But in a bid to make salads ‘interesting’ we can drown out (literally) all of the nutritional properties, so that it may have been better to just have a toasted sandwich in the first place.
Always ask for your dressing on the side. I find that this can be useful not only to monitor the fattiness of the dish, but also so that you can eat it however you prefer. You can dip the leaves into the sauce or repeatedly top up the dressing on the salad, but the most important thing is that you are in control. I find that some restaurants often give much larger portions than I require, and I can find it quite off-putting to have too much dressing on a salad or a sandwich, when they may see it as being generous. Different people have different ideas of portion sizes and preferences, and this is fine. But do not let someone else’s ideas affect your own health and weight loss. Be in control of your meal and your health.
No-Shame Doggy Bags:
We Westerners have gotten a little crazy over the years. In a number of ways, I’m sure, but right now I am only referring to our portion sizes. Have you ever ordered a dish, often a pasta or risotto, only to have it placed in front of you looking like Mount Kosciuszko? Or how about a stack of meat teetering out of its bowl, practically at mouth level? Whatever the meal, whatever the place, we have all had times when were given far too much food. But what happened after this?
A lot of the time, we eat it. Sometimes we realise that it is more than we could eat in a number of sittings, but sometimes we don’t. Our cafe and restaurant culture has normalised us to ridiculous portion sizes that we just don’t question. And we may eat at certain places where we feel ashamed to ask for some of the meal to takeaway. Instead, we eat it, or we feel terrible about leaving food on our plate.
This is normal, and it happens to a lot of us. As humans, we are not taught to reject food. In the wild, if we found food, we would eat it all as we did not know when we would next eat. Although our environment has changed, a lot of our instincts and mechanisms have not. If we see a plate full of food in front of us, we register it as a goal that we much accomplish. I for one hate leaving food on my plate, or throwing it away. It pains me! But it can also be painful (physically and mentally) to eat it all when I really don’t want it or need it.
In times like this, stay strong. If you get given a ridiculously large serve, tell yourself at the start of the meal how big it is and how you do not need to eat it all. Share it with a friend, or eat very slowly. Our bodies only recognise we are full after 20 minutes of eating, and there is a lot of damage you can do in that time. Trust me! When presented with such a large serve of food, it is important to eat slowly, to give our bodies time to take stock of all the food we are giving it, and to tell us when to stop. If we don’t do this, we can often keep eating long past the time where we are full, and we pay for this later.
Do not be afraid to ask for your meal to takeaway. Even if your waiter seems surprised (which they shouldn’t be), press on. Remember that you are not being a greedy guts, finishing food that you don’t want. If the venue doesn’t do takeaway, however, do not feel pressured to finish your meal. It is not better value for money to chow down on a huge bowl of pasta that gives you health problems down the track. Accept it for what it is, and remember that restaurant’s portion sizes for the next time you go there. You will be able to learn from that experience, and perhaps share two smaller meals with a friend, which will be more economical for the both of you anyway.
Eat Veggies First:
Vegetables are full of fiber and are surprisingly filling. Unfortunately, vegetables are only added as an afterthought in many restaurant dishes. I have been places where the ‘side salad’ may as well not have been there! Of course this varies depending on where you go, and ideally your meal would be primarily made of vegetables. However, this isn’t always possible, and this is where this piece of advice comes in handy.
To avoid overeating and to make sure you get all of your nutrients for the day, fill up on veggies first. Although you may not always think that they will satiate your hunger, most of the time they do. Even if your meal only comes with a small portion of vegetables, ensure you polish these off before you finish your meal. Although you may not realise it at the time, this can significantly cut down your calorie intake. You may even find you don’t need to finish the rest of the meal!
Take Home Tips:
Losing weight does not mean you have to sacrifice your social life. You can still eat out at restaurants and cafés by focusing on the healthy menu options. These are often just as (or even more) tasty than unhealthy meals!
Do not feel embarrassed asking for alterations on the menu. Switching fries for salad is not a hard request to meet, but can make your life a lot easier – and healthier.
Don’t worry about appearing cheap by asking for a doggy bag. With the ever-increasing sustainability movement, most places are happy to provide one, particularly if they already do takeaway. This one question can save you mountains of calories!
Eat all of your vegetables first, or at least be sure to completely polish them off. This will ensure you’ve eaten the most nutritious part of the meal and may see you eating less of the rest of it.