Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dining Out, and Enjoying the Experience

I love to eat. I love to eat good food....and I love to eat out. These things to not fit easily into a weight loss and weight maintenance plan. But this is me, this is how I became overweight, and if I feel like I am depriving myself, I will fail and fail in extraordinary fashion sooner or later. So, there you are. What to do about this conundrum is a question with which I have been dealing since I began my weight loss. I have found that there are several habits and experiences I have had to modify in order to keep my healthy lifestyle, keep losing weight / maintain my weight loss while continuing to enjoy my life.

I still love to eat and I still love to eat good food, and good food is not always healthy food. That said, my pallet has changed considerably. For example, I never, ever, used to eat vegetables that were not smothered in some incredibly creamy, cheesy, buttery sauce, coated with salad dressing, slathered with butter, or candied in some way. Now, I love my veggies, steamed with a little low sodium soy sauce (which, admittedly is still pretty high in sodium), or some Sriracha sauce. Yum! I started this diet with shakes and hideous-tasting entrees for 12 weeks (sorry, just my opinion, HATED the diet food), and after 12 weeks of this "food," vegetables were an absolutely glorious addition to my diet. Now, I eat at least four servings of veggies a day and I probably have 3 or four servings of fruit a day.  

The title of this post is Dining Out, and Enjoying the Experience, and I have yet to mention dining out, don't worry, I'm getting there. When I started my weight loss, my goals going in were not only to lose weight, but to learn how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I did not simply want to lose weight for the sake of losing weight and looking good, though that is, admittedly, a great benefit. I wanted to lose weight and learn how to eat and live in a way that will help keep my cholesterol in check, my blood pressure at a healthy level, and will help prevent diseases like cancer, diabetes, and the myriad of other diseases that are linked to being overweight and unhealthy lifestyle. I also wanted to maintain the weight loss because I heard far too many stories about gaining all the weight back after the diet. So, this brings me back to my love of food and my love of eating out - I had to learn how to approach these things in a healthy way, and honestly, I'm still learning.

I used to eat out nearly every day, and often for two meals a day. I look at that now and cringe. I still love to dine out, but I have learned a few tricks to help me maintain my weight and health. 
  1. The "Only Eat What I Love" rule: When dining out, I only eat what I love. There is no reason to waste my calories on terrible or mediocre or even good food. It's got to be GREAT food...I have to love it. Now, when I say only eat what you love, I love Fettuccine Alfredo, this does not mean that I am going to eat it when I dine out - I also love grilled salmon, so I will always opt for the healthier, lower calorie food that I love....
  2. I apply the "Only Eat What I Love" rule to restaurants as well as food. If the restaurant food is just okay, I'm not eating there. No need to waste one of my now limited dining out experiences on a restaurant that I don't love. No more fast food - Sorry McDonald's, Taco Bell, Carl's...you are not up to par (not to mention not at all healthy, not even the "health" menu, really).
  3. ...which brings me to rule #3: Where ever possible, preview the menu. You can almost always find the menu for the restaurant you are going to visit online. Browse it before you go and come up with a few options for what to order. If you cannot peruse the menu, at least know what kind of restaurant it is, and what kind of food they serve so that you can do a little research before hand and know that, for example, Indian food is generally pretty low-calorie, but samosas are a bit higher in calories and Punjabi cooking is also a bit higher in calories...or that, if you are going for Greek food, Spanokapita is higher in calories and you should always get the dressing on the side...Livestrong is a great website for this kind of research.  If you know what you are getting into, you can plan ahead a bit and know what you will avoid, and what you would prefer. (if you love samosas and you simply must have a Samosa appetizer - like me :-) -  maybe follow it with a really low-cal main dish, for example)
  4. If there are two or more items on the menu that you "love" - pick the one that has fewer calories and / or is the healthier option. (if this is a mutually exclusive proposition, that is probably a good thing, so use your best judgment)
  5. As always, apply the common sense "dieting" tips - Salad dressing on the side, no mayo, avoid cream sauces and limit or avoid any breads, if you must have butter, go light on the butter.  Had I read this 15 months ago, I would have rolled my eyes and wondered what on earth that left for me to eat. Surprisingly, a lot. And you should really enjoy dining out, it shouldn't be a stressful undertaking. You just have to experiment and find healthy, low fat stuff you like (and, of course you can have a tortilla or a dinner roll or a piece of pie if you want - just make sure the entire meal isn't a huge feast of greasy, sugary stuff).
  6. I always plan my exercise around dining out, so that I can balance my calories. If I know I am going to be dining out on Friday, and I won't have a lot of time to exercise on Friday, I make sure that I (a) fit in exercise where I can on Friday - like early before I go to work and I make sure to get in my lunch walk at work - then I will do a little extra on Thursday and on Saturday (this isn't that difficult - just an extra short walk on Thursday, or an extra 1/2 hour of Zumba on the Kinect and a bit extra walking on Saturday)...I talk a lot about balance - and that is all this really is, balancing your intake (calories) with your output (exercise).
  7. I try to limit my dining out to once or twice a week.
  8. As always, I track everything I eat and calories, and I'm honest about it. If I go WAY over, then I know. 
I know this sounds like a lot to consider just for ONE meal. But really, it all takes only a few minutes, and you get used to it. Like I said, just experiment with flavors, you will be surprised at what you find that you love. And if you go over a few calories, don't beat yourself up and eat an entire cheesecake because you "already ruined your diet for the day." Just enjoy your breakfast, lunch or dinner out, learn from the experience, make adjustments next time, and move on. No reason to add stress to what should be a lovely meal. 

Honestly, losing weight has been a great thing for finding new and wonderful experiences, I've talked a lot about this with exercise, but it holds true with food too. I have found quite a few healthy foods that I now prefer to my Fettuccine Alfredo, my horizons have been broadened - the world of food is now bigger, not smaller. I have more, not fewer foods from which to chose. It really is quite extraordinary. Hey, if this is going to be a lifestyle, which it needs to be - might as well make the very best of it. 

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