One of the biggest challenges of maintaining a healthy lifestyle is managing the seemingly constant barrage of food images tempting and encouraging us to indulge. “Eat me!” they scream at us, enticing us with gooey cheese dripping off of a slice of pizza, chocolate drizzled over a perfect slice of cheesecake, and every salt crystal glistening on a golden-brown soft pretzel. Watching T.V. or movies requires navigating a minefield of product placement to resist caving. Indeed, during my lifestyle change, I cut back considerably on T.V.–especially shows on the Food Network–because I found myself craving so much of what I saw on the screen, even though I wasn’t hungry.
So what happens when you go to a restaurant and the visual stimulation of people’s food and menu pictures are coupled with the aroma of food? Stepping into a restaurant immediately sets us up to fail, with enormous portions, multiple course offerings, and complimentary foods like tortilla chips and bread. To survive, it’s important to have a strategy upon entering restaurant, as I discussed in My First Restaurant Visit.
A simple way to cope with over-sized portions is to ask for a small side plate then take home the left-overs for another meal or two (or three?). Even as restaurants talk about smaller portions, they continue to serve a full day’s worth of calories in a single meal — or even a single dish.
Another strategy is to ask the server to not bring bread or tortilla chips to the table. That way you won’t be tempted by filler foods. That’s often not an option when you’re with others, so decide how much you’re going to have before you even arrive at the restaurant, put it on a plate, and just stick with that.
One of my favorite options is to make the appetizer the meal, along with a side salad (of course!), and then have dessert. I like this approach because I rarely make appetizer-type foods, like stuffed mushrooms, at home, but I really enjoy them. They tend to be smaller, so I might order a few to get a variety, especially at ethnic restaurants.
If others are ordering an appetizer, I get one then, and another one or two with a salad for a main course. I also love vegetables, so sometimes I order one or two sides of those with a salad. I also felt less full when it came time for dessert when I hadn’t eaten both an appetizer and an entrée, which I think is a great trade-off (especially when the latter involves chocolate).
These strategies helped me to be far less stressed-out when eating out, knowing I wasn’t likely to undo what I’d accomplished. I felt like I could indulge without blowing my calorie count for the day. I also appreciated everything I ate much more–especially the dessert–and got to try a wider variety of items. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle requires learning to cope in real-life settings, which is exactly what my strategies helped me to do.