It’s your husband’s birthday. Your best friend’s bachelorette party. Your 10-year-old’s birthday dinner out. You just got asked out on a date at a trendy Italian restaurant that serves garlic knots that were blessed by the Pope. There’s no way you are getting out of going out to dinner.
“But wait!,” the angel screams from your right shoulder. You’ve been eating healthy for 3 whole days in a row, and you’re finally feeling like this new lifestyle could actually work for you! You’re telling me, after all this willpower you’ve displayed, you’re going to stay strong in the face of bottomless fries (sing the jingle with me: “Red Robin… YUM!”) and a milkshake that comes in TWO cups? (Really? Why don’t you just tell the waitress you want to order two milkshakes? Oh, wait. That would be four.)
What do you do? Do you have what it takes to rise above the risotto? To overcome the bloomin’ onion?
It’s not only possible to find a satisfying alternative and resist the temptation to fall off the wagon; you may even find it enjoyable. “There’s hope!,” the angel says with glee. (Okay, angel. Cut the harp music.)
The trick is to focus on the goal of eating to fuel your body. Indulging on fried, fatty, processed meals and treats may satisfy us in the moment, but it leaves us feeling guilty and gluttonous later.
Here are a few tips to kahn-sider from lifelong heifer, Melissa Kahn:
1. Most restaurants have salads on the menu. But don’t be fooled! They’re designed to pack in a whole lotta calories atop a bed of green deception. However, lettuce not drown in a sea of bleu before it’s too late. You are in charge of this Titanic (sorry to be offensive, but I was one, too—250 pounds!), and you have what it takes to swerve your way around this iceberg. Think like Jack: “I’m on top of the world!” Sure, the first few times your friends and family may notice or comment on your new approach, and it may feel like they are eyeballing you like the deli patrons watching Harry and Sally contemplate bed etiquette. But eventually, they will take notes as they observe your new lifestyle change and think: “I’ll have what she’s having.” I promise.
2. To turn a perfectly beautiful 1500-calorie salad into something a bit lighter and healthier requires only a few changes. Cobb salads are easy: Ask your server to hold the bacon and bleu cheese, and if you’re feeling extra sassy, leave off the eggs, too, although the added protein may be recommended if you’re active. Most are served with grilled chicken, but you’ll want to make sure it’s “grilled” and not “crispy,” which is menu-speak for fried three ways to Kentucky and back again. Substitute the ranch dressing and opt for a vinaigrette, and take that glorious, garlic-drenched breadstick, and gift it to an oblivious friend or teenager with the metabolism of the statue of David.
3. If salad’s too bland or unappealing, consider ordering a chicken dish or fish entree. Menus can seem to offer a variety of healthier items (some are marked with an asterisk, denoting them as healthy) but be careful: Restaurants are known to pull the wool over your eyes by topping a perfectly reasonable portion of protein with a ladle of alfredo or butter. Ordering an entree, even if it seems healthy from the description, requires a little navigation. Ask for the protein (chicken and fish are usually best) plain and grilled, and be sure to specify that you want the kitchen to hold the sauce. You can enjoy a “grilled to perfection” chicken breast atop a plate of steamed veggies, and walk away feeling good about your choices. If you’re not satiated, ask your server for a pat of butter, or start with a side salad (vinaigrette is a great option for dressing, and leave off the buttery crumbly croutons and cheese if you can).
4. Another option for those who want to go with the flow of the occasion: Order an appetizer as your dinner. Most appetizers are large enough to be eaten as a meal, and you’ll cut your calories in half, compared to most entrees. This is a great budget-friendly way to eat out, as well. Or, why not suggest splitting a meal with your spouse, child, or mother-in-law? Ok maybe not the mother-in-law, unless she’s unusually friendly. But I digress. The point is: In most cases, splitting your meal is easier on your belly and your bank account, and as an added benefit, you can avoid the social stigma associated with dieting by eating like one of the cool kids.
5. Lastly, watch your liquid intake. It’s easy to justify the hidden calories in a glass of wine or Arnold Palmer, but remember: Your goal is to fuel your body, and water is the only essential liquid you need. Ask for lemon or lime to spruce up tap water, or order a glass of sparkling water in a wine glass, because, let’s face it: You look sophisticated when you’re drinking sparkling water. Make sure you keep your pinky finger extended. It adds street cred. (And burns calories, I think.)
Here’s the takeaway: Order “outside the box.” You may not see anything on the menu that appears healthy on first glance. And most of the time, you would be right. Restaurants are notorious for drowning their entress in a sea of heavenly butter, cream, or bbq sauce so they can justify their prices. Instead of accepting defeat and starting up the orchestra as you sink into your sorrows, set an intention to talk to your server about simple modifications that suit your new lifestyle. Most servers are more than accommodating and will be sure to give you the attention you require if you ask politely.
Bottom line: You can enjoy a pleasant meal by focusing on your goal of fueling yourself. By the end of the meal, your friends and family probably won’t even notice what you ate. You’d be surprised how staying true to your values and keeping your commitment to yourself may even make you the life of the party: You’ll be able to offer more to the conversation and celebrate the spirit of the occasion without bearing the burden of guilt that weighs you down.
Questions? You can “Ask The Heifer” by tweeting to Melissa on her twitter @MelissaKahn7.