No matter how long you’ve been training or being mindful of your nutrition, the biggest pitfall you’ve encountered is eating things you haven’t prepared yourself for or hadn’t planned for. You’ve been dieting hard all week, lifting heavy, maybe even doing some dreaded cardio sessions and then at the weekends it all seems to go wrong. You manage to wipe out that entire week’s deficit in just one meal. Does this sound familiar? It’s something that I commonly see when I take on new clients.
It seems that as soon as you set your mind on a fat loss goal, you are instantly invited to events involving eating by just about everyone you have ever known. Weddings, birthdays, leaving do’s, reunions, stag & hen parties, business meetings to name just a few. You might think that there are just two options – stay at home and eat your plain chicken breast, brown rice and broccoli or completely ruin your progress in the name of being social and not wanting to appear weird by ordering just a salad. Well, there is another way, several in fact.
Here are my top 5 ways to have your cake AND eat it (although you may have to skip the cake).
1. Do your homework & plan ahead
Most restaurants have copies of their menu’s online now, particularly larger chains. If you know where you’re going in advance you can have a little look at the menu before you go. This is particularly handy if you follow a macro based diet as you can plan the rest of your day around this meal to ensure you hit your macro’s or at least get close – perfection is not necessary. Some restaurants will give you a full macronutrient and calorie breakdown for you to just plug into MyFitnessPal. Although this is quite handy, it would be wise to not trust everything you read online. If the restaurant doesn’t have the nutritional information online, you can try searching on MyFitnessPal. Someone may have already had a go at estimating it. Failing that, you can just log it as something similar from another restaurant or chain.
Get used to the fact that eating out may require your best guess and that will have to be good enough. The more you do it, the easier and less stressful it will become. Obviously something like a steak with potatoes and veg is going to be a lot easier to guess by sight than a pasta dish covered in sauce.
2. Restaurants add 20% to your bill but not your food
Although a lot of restaurants do provide calorie and macro breakdowns, this is by no means an exact science. The way one chef prepares a meal may differ greatly from another. Restaurants will also under report calories in a bid to make their meals seem healthier. They recognise that if people think they are being virtuous with their food choices and that a restaurant looks after their nutritional needs then they are going to get repeat business from clients that are concerned about their weight. Whether you manually count your calories or track them using a smart phone app, it’s worth adding a bit extra on to the number quoted on the menu just to be on the safe side. If you find the dish (or similar) in MyFitnessPal, play it safe and log it as 1.2 servings. As the saying goes ‘you might not track calories, but your body certainly does’.
3. Don’t panic buy
We know that calorie and macro counts aren’t always accurate, but what if you don’t track your intake? Tracking is not for everyone, especially for those who find it tedious or become obsessive about it. If you just want to enjoy a healthy lifestyle and have no performance or competitive physique ambitions then tracking isn’t necessary. Many people simply prefer to use a more qualitative approach. This is basically just making sensible choices at each meal and OCCASIONALLY enjoying some small indulgences. But we’ve all been in this situation. You have eaten really well all day, without tracking you have still made sure to eat as sensibly as possible all day. You sit down at the restaurant and start to browse the menu (having not looked it up before hand). All of a sudden your stomach forces its way into your head, knocks your brain unconscious and before you know it you’ve eaten 2000-3000 calories before you realise what’s going on. Your brain regains control, only to realise what’s happened once the waiter \ waitress is walking away with your shiny clean plate and you are left in ‘guilt mode’. That enjoyable social occasion has turned sour and left you feeling guilty and de-motivated. It’s hard to recover from there and is often a trigger for a lot of people to just give up on their goals altogether.
4. The buffet table aka the Achilles heel of dieters
Whether it’s a house party, a wedding reception or a children’s party – the buffet table for most people is the arch nemesis to their fat loss goals. Of course you COULD load up your plate with sliced peppers and carrot sticks but who has ever done that? It’s far more likely you are going to reach for the cocktail sausages, sausage rolls, chicken nuggets, crisps, party rings, pizza…….. ok, ok, I’ll stop. My point is that food seems to taste so much better from a buffet, even if it’s the sort of thing that you would never normally eat. But perhaps the worst part about buffet food? It’s almost IMPOSSIBLE to feel full, no matter how many plates worth you throw down your neck without realising. There are things you can do to try and minimise the damage though.
Eating a large protein and fibre rich meal before you get there might help as it will leave you feeling full and you may not feel like much, if anything. Step away from the buffet! Try and find a comfy seat or table as far away from the buffet as possible and settle in for the duration of the evening. People will still mingle and you can still be sociable – it just means that they will have to come to you. By standing up and walking around you will invariably find yourself being drawn towards the buffet table by a strange gravitational pull. Or if you want to get some extra cardio in – get on that dance floor. You can dance the night away and leave having burned more calories than you’ve consumed. Of course, this only works if it doesn’t take half a dozen drinks to even get you to go near the dance floor.
5. Eating in support of your goals & for enjoyment are NOT mutually exclusive
Believe it or not, there is more to life than training and nutrition. It might sound like an odd thing to say but quite often we get so caught up in it that we forget to enjoy life. Whatever your relationship with food – whether you see it as fuel, medicine, comfort, enjoyment or a mix of all of these, it should certainly not rule your life. Eating well and training regularly will no doubt improve the quality of your life and your health but it is just one element of many. Finding that mental balance between enjoyment, performance, body composition and health can be almost as allusive as the actual goal itself. The reality is that the most important factor in long term progress is consistency. A bad meal or a bad day are not ideal but they are rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things if you are consistent most of the time.