How To Stay On Track Whilst Eating Out
Eating out is often thought of as a quick, convenient and enjoyable experience. Restaurants provide an environment where you can relax in the company of good friends and appreciate a delicious meal. Despite this, eating out can be a major source of anxiety and discomfort for many of us. Why? Well a huge number of us struggle with keeping our weight in check. Because of this, many subscribe to a life-long dieting mindset and worry about staying on track when eating out. When faced with huge portion sizes, alcohol, peer pressure, overly salted or sugary foods, is it any wonder why?
Let’s take a look at some of the obstacles to our will power we often face when eating in a social environment.
1. Portion Size
“Eating out has become less about the quality of food and more about the quantity.”
Here in the States, portion sizes are much bigger than you’d have at home making it difficult not to overeat. Most restaurants are actually serving two to three times more than the healthy portion sizes recommended by the US Dietary Guidelines. Eating out has become less about the quality of food and more about the quantity. “I love coming here. Their portion sizes are huge!” is a statement I hear frequently when people are recommending a restaurant to me. You may be getting value for money, but eating out can be calorically costly.
2. Calorically Dense Fillers
“We eat first with our eyes.”
According to 1st Century Roman gourmand Apicius, “we eat first with our eyes,” and thanks to social media platforms, this is becoming increasingly true. So it’s not altogether surprising that portion size & presentation have become such an important aspect of our enjoyment of food. Unfortunately, enhancing our visual experience has come at the cost of our health, as cheaper & poorer quality ingredients are used to satisfy the demands for increased portion sizes. But there are easy ways to disguise a lack of taste or flavor. In fact, large chain restaurants actually employ chefs whose sole responsibility is to create mouth-watering dishes that people can’t put down. How? Usually with large quantities of salt, sugar and fat, which not only makes their meals highly addictive but excessively calorific. Take a look at the macronutrient breakdown of these meals from some popular chain restaurants.
3. My Subconscious Made Me Do It
“Humans have an innate desire to complete things they’ve started.”
A simple solution to overeating is quite simply to stop eating before you feel full. It seems like a reasonable & somewhat obvious suggestion, only that’s easier said than done when you’re in a stand-off with a juicy, 8oz double bacon cheeseburger with fries. I don’t know about you, but in my household growing up, we always finished everything on our plates for fear of missing out on dessert – in retrospect, hardwiring my brain to lick my plate clean wasn’t the best way for my parents to get me to eat all my veggies!
Even if you’re not a victim of “clean plate syndrome”, you are still more likely than not to polish off your supersized meal because humans have an innate desire to complete things they’ve started. This is known as the Zeigarnik Effect. If you’ve ever watched 24 or Homeland on TV you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. The deliberately placed cliffhangers at the end of every episode, ensure our monkey minds are preoccupied with the story line all week long. There’s no way you’re forgetting to tune in and see whether Jack can single-handedly rescue his family and save LA from a terrorist cell!
So even if we have the mindfulness to gage our sense of fullness, the odds are somewhat stacked against us when trying to source the will-power to resist finishing an entire 12″ pizza.
The Benefits of Flexible Eating
That’s where the beauty of Flexible Eating comes into play. If you track your macros, you have the awareness of what you’re consuming because you log your food on a daily basis, usually with the help of an app. That doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to overcome the challenges identified above, but at least you’re one step ahead of the average diner out there!
The biggest challenge I find that flexible eaters face when eating out is maintaining their accuracy. Flexible Eating encourages precision in your diet by ensuring that you meet your daily goals for each specific macronutrient. This precision is the reason that people are able to achieve such dramatic weight loss or improvements in their body composition. Because of the emphasis on precision & consistency, I find the following questions come up frequently when flexible eaters have to eat out:
- What if the meal you’re eating isn’t in the app?
- How do you know the quantity of what you’re eating without a scale?
- How can you track or be successful without wifi?
- How can you track without being a social misfit?
So what exactly should you do to ensure success when you have a social function or you’re somewhere that you can’t prepare your own food? Well, I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, let me share a few meals with you and give you some examples of how I went about tracking them.
Tracking Meals Out
1. New Year’s Day brunch
“Having these items already plugged in made it quicker and easier to adjust the quantities of everything I had whilst I was there.”
On New Year’s Day, Jason & I went to brunch with his parents at the recently opened 1500 South in Naples Bay Resort. As a foodie and flexible eater, I did what I usually do and went online to check out the menu in advance. I discovered I was in for a real treat! After carefully inspecting their brunch menu I picked a few things I knew I would definitely want to eat, like Chicken and Waffles, French toast, bacon, sausage, smoked salmon, oysters – yep, pretty much everything on the menu! Then I spent 5 to 10 minutes searching for comparable food items in My Fitness Pal. Having these items already plugged in made it quicker and easier to adjust the quantities of everything I had whilst I was there. Here’s what I ate and how I tracked it.
2. Richmond Night Market
As part of my superfoodie explorations over the summer, I found myself in Canada’s most food-forward city, Vancouver. Not only is the food scene fresh & hip, it’s as ethnically diverse as its international population. I decided to take full advantage of its culinary variety by venturing to one of Vancouver’s most hyped-about food events, the Richmond Night Market. First, I scoped it out by checking out the website but couldn’t find any specific detail about what food would be on offer. I’m no quitter though and didn’t stop there! Using my superfoodie resourcefulness I went to their Instagram feed and also searched for #richmondnightmarket. I was drooling within a matter of seconds! I had a pretty good idea of what food I could expect to find, so I selected a couple favorites and then planned my day around them.
Check out this Tuna Poke bowl I got from Ohana Poke. The chef was so friendly he even weighed my tuna out for me and gave me a bowl with no rice so I could save my carbs for dessert! What a legend! And totally necessary so I could devour a Hong Kong egg waffle with cookies & cream ice cream 🙂
3. B Patisserie
Whilst visiting San Francisco earlier this summer, my good friend & fellow foodie Fiona, mapped out some amazing cafes & patisseries for me so I could eat my way around the city’s hotspots. She knew I was into CrossFit so she put together one little cultural & culinary food tour that started at San Francisco CrossFit & ended at the highly acclaimed B Patisserie. Sadly K-Starr wasn’t instructing that day but the anticipation of a kouign amann or something equally delectable & doughy got me through the brutal, medball metcon! My itinerary led me past the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, up the Lyon Street Steps with rewarding views of the city, meandering through the affluent neighborhood of Pacific Heights before arriving at the very stylish & very French, B Patisserie.
Aside from mouth-watering pastries & insanely good Four Barrel Coffee, they serve Tartines – which is a fancy, French way of saying open-faced sandwich. Basically, any recovering carbophobes worst nightmare! Thankfully I was part of the Flexible Eating Nation & was beginning to understand that carbs aren’t bad. No food is truly bad unless consumed in excess. So I settled on a Turkey Lyonnaise tartine & shared a Chocolate Banana Almond Croissant with my friend Claire. I know what you’re thinking; 1. You shared macros?!; and 2. Turkey Lyonnaise Tartine can’t possibly be in the app!? Of course, it wasn’t! – I did look just to be sure though. At this point ordinarily, I would have thought about abandoning ship & not bothered tracking, but I was determined to make Flexible Eating on the road work. So I made a stab at it. Accepted that my numbers were probably less than accurate, moved on & enjoyed devouring my lunch without another thought to my less than perfect tracking.
How to be Successful with Flexible Eating
Successful people think proactively – they plan, strategize, anticipate & take responsibility.
Successful people break the chain of events that lead to & reinforce negative behavioral patterns. They’re open minded about creating new habits & links.
Successful people use mental toughness strategies to stay focused & refocus when needed.
There are many different factors that can contribute to your ultimate success. But one that’s most relevant, whether you’re a nutrition nut, macrohead, or fully committed clean-eater. It’s the idea of the continuum. Successful people don’t get stuck in an all-or-nothing mindset. They understand that everything is on a continuum.
Research has actually shown that people who struggle with change (such as with eating habits) have one key element in common: all-or-nothing mindset.
Here are some examples of an all-or-nothing mindset:
All X is good. All Y is bad. Example:
- “All carbs are evil.”
- “I can’t possibly get fat if I exercise every day.”
If some is good, then way more must be better! Example:
- “If eating vegetables is good then I should live on nothing but plants.”
If I make a tiny mistake everything is ruined! Example:
- “I missed my workout yesterday, I can feel my muscles turning to mush by the second!”
- “I went to bed late last night, my recovery is ruined!”
Any deviation from the plan is a disaster! Example:
- “I didn’t eat any fruit or vegetables today, I’ll probably die of malnutrition!”
If I make a tiny mistake I throw in the towel. Example:
- “I had a scoop of ice cream, I may as well finish the pint!”
- “I didn’t track my breakfast on Saturday, I may as well forget about tracking for the rest of the weekend.”
Thinking in such black and white terms, creates unrealistic expectations & actively harms you from making progress. To improve your body’s physique and performance and make progress in other aspects of your health and nutrition, you don’t need to swing wildly from one end of the spectrum to another. Would you go from never eating vegetables to becoming raw or vegan? No! So let’s embrace that grey area – the continuum – instead.
Sometimes progress can be as simple as staying the course. Imagine you’re out at a ball game and a friend asks you if you want a hot dog. Ordinarily, you might have thought “Screw it! I’ll take a foot long & some of those cinnamon donuts!” Only this time you take a minute to check your phone. You plug in one hot dog that seems reasonable, you make a couple adjustments to your dinner and hey presto! You made it fit your macros! Instead of allowing your environment to get the better of you, you took control by making some simple adjustments. You leave the ball game feeling satisfied, content and still on track for the day. Sure your macros might be a little off, but holy crap you just made some serious progress with your mindset and your behavior! Just look at how flexible and adaptable you were! And guess what? That matters a whole lot more than 100% accuracy because that’s what’s going to keep you consistent, happy and continue to make progress.
Here’s some practical steps you can implement that will guide you well on your path to success with flexible eating.
1. Begin with the end in mind
In his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, author Steven Covey said that the one thing that successful people have in common is that they “begin with the end in mind.”
When you’re eating out or somewhere where you don’t know exactly what’s in the food you’re eating, there’s always going to be that temptation to just say screw it! If you can’t be precise and accurate, you might ask yourself, what’s the point?! Remember what I said earlier about all-or-nothing thinking? So start by reminding yourself of your goals and priorities in respect to your health, performance, weight loss and overall well-being. Reaffirm what’s most important to you and reconnect with your key motivations.
2. Plan ahead!
If you’re eating at a friend’s or family’s house, here are several things you can do:
- ask what’s for dinner – that way you can still plan your day & feel confident with everything else you’re eating.
- take a scale with you – you can warn your friend in advance if you plan to do this, or you could just ask your friend to set aside a specific portion size of whatever you’re having, e.g. 6 oz of chicken & 200g of mashed potato.
- leave yourself a buffer – if you’re not sure exactly what’s on offer, leave a good amount of carbohydrates & fat. If after you’ve calculated your meal you haven’t hit your daily goals you can easily find some macrodominant foods at home to meet your needs.
If you’re eating a restaurant you can do this:
- ask your server about the size of the protein provided – if it’s not printed on the menu, the server should be able to confirm with the chef.
- get good at eye-balling your quantities – check out my handy Portion Control Guide;
- check out the menu online the night before and set up your day in advance;
- pick something simple that you can easily match in the app.
- take a picture of your food – then record your food after your meal to save yourself any anxiety about being anti-social. This is a good way of remembering what you had too!
3. Progress not Perfection
Get comfortable with the idea that perfection does not equate progress. In fact, chasing perfection can stifle progress. The premise of flexible eating is to track your macros to the best of your ability. Secondly (and the clue’s in the name here) it’s about cultivating a flexible relationship with food. Flexible doesn’t mean that you stop tracking, but instead encourages you to be open-minded about food choice and enjoy a sustainable diet.
Whilst losing weight may have been your primary goal when you started flexible eating, your overall progress is measured by so much more than the number on the scale. Things like the abundance of extra energy you have, how sexy you feel in your skinny jeans, your kickass performance at the gym, improvements in your health markers, and a more positive relationship with food are all indicators and measures of your progress.
To help you cultivate your winning mindset have a listen to a cool little story I tell in my video below.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with eating out and Flexible Eating! What are your strategies and thoughts on precision & accuracy? Please leave a comment below. If you’re interested in nutrition coaching please check out our page all about our lifestyle memberships.