How to Stick to Your Diet When Dining Out
By Lindsey Thomas
I’ve tried just about every diet out there, from GAPS to autoimmune Paleo to intermittent fasting. What do they have in common? They’re nearly impossible to stick to when dining out. We’ve all experienced friends pressuring us to “just try” dessert or have “just one” glass of wine.
I’ve often found myself saying, “This one time won’t hurt,” and before I know it I’ve overindulged in appetizers and large portions only to be swallowed by panic and guilt. In a spiral of disappointment, I find the solution. No more social gatherings or events with temptations. I’ll just hunker down for a month and practice avoidance.
Wrong! You don’t have to deprive yourself of the joys of life to adhere to dietary restrictions. In fact, some studies suggest that isolating yourself socially could be more damaging to your health than bad eating habits. Chris Kresser points out, “Lack of social connection was a greater predictor of early death than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
The good news is that maintaining progress on a diet and having a healthy social life don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There are plenty of tools you can take with you on your next social outing to keep you on track and feeling great.
Eat and Drink Before the Meal
Preparation is key. In my experience, taking measures to avoid overeating prior to getting to the restaurant sets a precedent for my eating behaviors for the rest of the night.
An easy, cost-effective solution is staying hydrated. Drinking enough water is necessary for proper functioning of the human body and has personally proven to be a miracle-worker in curbing my cravings. Dr. Axe recommends at least two to three liters of water a day to feed the tissues and cells in our bodies. He further suggests that drinking even more will keep you from feeling hungry and help you eliminate toxins from your body by stimulating your enzymatic system.
However, try to avoid drinking too many liquids during the meal, as it can tend to impair digestive function by diluting stomach acid. For best results, drink a few glasses of purified water a couple hours before dinner to optimize your health and feel full without overeating. Cheers!
Another great pre-meal habit is snacking. I can think of more than one occasion where I was starving before dinner; the result isn’t so pretty. Before I knew it, all of my inhibitions went out the window and I’d annihilated the equivalent of a five-course meal. A healthy snack a few hours before your dinner date could be just what you need.
Besides leaving you famished, waiting too long between meals can cause insulin surges, leaving you with a myriad of unpleasant symptoms. So as an added benefit, a handful of nuts can keep you from acting like the Hulk at your next dinner gathering and also keep your blood sugar in check.
Know the Menu
Scope It Out
If you’ve ever sat down at a restaurant overwhelmed by the menu and felt forced to order something outside of your current routine, I feel your pain. Most restaurants don’t exactly carry bone broth and kombucha, but viewing the menu beforehand can help you navigate your options and create a plan of attack, leaving you feeling more confident and less likely to succumb to the distractions of a busy menu.
Mastering portion control can be incredibly difficult while eating out. Large portions, or what is known as the “supersize” factor, is a growing epidemic contributing to obesity. A study conducted by The University of Cambridge showed evidence that avoiding larger portions could reduce calories by almost 30 percent among adults in the United States.
However, most menus are typically descriptive enough to allow you to predict the size of the dish. As a solution, consider ordering two appetizers in place of the main course to control serving size and avoid overeating. I like to switch it up and order a bunch of sides to keep more of a variety in my meals.
Take It Slow
There’s no denying that everyone needs to slow down. Most people’s lives are incredibly fast-paced, and this behavior most certainly transcends into our eating habits. I know that I’ve rushed through a meal plenty of times, feeling unsatisfied and often bloated.
The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism said that the secret to digestive wellness is eating slow. Eating at a slower pace aids in the release of hormones that signal the feeling of fullness. Nutritionists say it takes about 20 minutes for us to realize we’re full, so take a deep breath between savory bites and reap all the health benefits of taking it slow. You may even get leftovers!
According to The Institute for the Psychology of Eating, our relationship with food is largely dictated by our thoughts, and mastering control of our minds can have enormous health benefits. The study went on to show that each of us will metabolize the same meal differently according to our own unique thoughts.
By practicing mindful eating, we can know our body’s fullness signals and even understand our emotional triggers for overeating. There’s even evidence that mindful eating is a long-term solution that can result in better management of a myriad of diseases. Instead of feeling guilty or rushed while eating, try practicing gratitude and enjoying the healthy, delicious meal nurturing your body. Healthy mind, healthy body.
Maintaining progress on a diet without becoming a hermit is undeniably difficult, but it’s totally doable. There are plenty of ways to partake in the dining experience while eating responsibly. Try a few of these suggestions out and see how your eating habits change.