One of the challenges you might face when trying to clean up your diet and eat healthily is eating out, especially if eating out is a big part of your social life. You might not want to stop, but how do you balance that with your health goals and diet changes? Luckily, all is not lost. Depending on where you go, it can be a bit challenging, but I have set out some simple tips below to help you navigate and find the right balance.
- If you are able to plan ahead, read the menu and decide what you want to eat ahead of time and stick to it. If you make your decision when you arrive at the restaurant, the chances are that you will be hungry and more likely to give into cravings. Deciding what you want to eat ahead of time will mean you are more likely to make a healthier choice.
- Contact the restaurant ahead of time. There are many places that offer healthy vegan options, but if you are set on going somewhere where your choices are limited, it can help to speak to someone at the restaurant to explain your dietary requirements. This means that the restaurant will have more time to accommodate you. Now, I’m not suggesting you take the piss and ask them to make something completely off menu, but having a conversation about, e.g. how the dish is prepared and whether they would be open to cooking a dish without oil, can be very helpful. It can be difficult when following a plant based diet, especially if you are an ethical vegan, to trust other people to prepare your food. Good communication is key, and early communication will mean that it is more likely to go well.
- Drink water before and during your meal. It is possible to feel hungry and overeat when you are in fact thirsty. Not only that, but if you replace any sugary drinks you might have been tempted to have with water (maybe flavoured with lemon or lime) then that is an easy, healthy choice. Even if you still drink something else in addition to the water, replacing a few unhealthy drinks with water will make a real difference.
- Think about portion sizes. I would guess that we have all been to those places, you know, the ones where they serve you a week’s worth of food in a single course! If you know that a restaurant serves particularly large portions, you could consider asking them to serve less – or even consider getting two starters instead of a main course.
- Ask for a healthy swap. If your meal would usually come with chips, consider asking for extra vegetables instead. Or go for sweet potato rather than ordinary potato. Making small changes can mean a healthy and enjoyable meal.
- Ask for your sauce on the side. I’m not a huge fan of eating salads when I’m out and about. It’s not that I have anything against salad – I really enjoy it at home – but to be honest I find a lot of salads at restaurants to be overpriced and uninspiring (just my opinion). My other issue with salads is that they are often branded the “healthy” option – but they can in fact be incredibly calorific (not that calories are inherently bad, but often people don’t realise this and therefore don’t factor it in). The reason is often the sauce or dressing the restaurants put on the salad. If you are a fan of salads when you eat out then that’s great, but my tip is to ask for your sauce or dressing on the side of your dish (in a little bowl). That way, you are in control of how much of it you eat. You can even dip your fork in the sauce or dressing before picking up your food, meaning you will eat even less of it but still get the flavour!
- Have a cup of herbal tea instead of dessert. I know, I know… I’m a party pooper! But if we’re being completely honest, how many of us eat dessert because we are still hungry… I’d guess very few. Most people eat dessert because it is tempting. If you switch to herbal tea (I like mint, especially if it is fresh), not only will you be avoiding the many, many empty calories that a dessert contains, but your digestion will probably be easier. (Again, calories are not the enemy – we need them to survive – but I’d highly recommend avoiding or limiting empty calories).
- Prioritise! If you know you are going to treat yourself, be my guest! I fully believe that the occasional vegan burger or glass of wine is fine. I think problems arise when people restrict themselves and then go nuts – when it is one extreme or the other and you end up eating 2000 calories in one meal as a “treat”. If you want a treat, that’s great, but prioritise what you want. If you know you want to eat something unhealthy, say something deep fried or covered in vegan cheese, then maybe don’t have that glass of wine with dinner? Or if drinking is what you want to do, maybe skip dessert? Try to decide what you want to treat yourself to and stick to that, rather than making the entire meal unhealthy.
You ultimately need to find something that is sustainable for you. It might take a bit of trial and error, but hopefully the tips above will help you balance the demands of your social life with your new healthy lifestyle!