Dining Out: How to Navigate the Menu, Eat a Fabulous Meal and Have a Win For the Day!
There is almost nothing I love more than being in a bustling-but-intimate, loud-with-good-acoustics, well-lit restaurant with great food, good wine and close friends. I LOVE dining out but, as we all know, when we have body composition goals like losing weight and leaning out, going out to eat can cause anxiety/anger/sadness/all of the above. But I am on a mission to prove it does NOT have to be that way! I know there is still a way to go out to dinner once in a while without setting you back with your goals. How? you ask.
Well, first, let's talk about what a plate should look like.
It's going to vary slightly for everyone but ideally, a dinner plate should have protein, veggies, a good fat and perhaps a starchy carb in the following portions (using our hands as measuring devices as seen here because, seriously, you're not going to bring a food scale to the restaurant with you, right?):
Protein: The size and thickness of 1 or 2 of your palms for women (about 3-6oz), 2 or 3 for men (if you're not training hard, maybe stick to the lower end and if you are training hard, go for the higher end)
Veggies: If the veggies are raw then go nuts! If the veggies have been cooked (likely in oil or butter), women could have 1 fist-sized serving (about 1 cup) and 2 for men.
Starchy carbs (like potatoes, pasta and rice, sweet potatoes, fruit): For women it's 1 cupped handful (about 1/2 cup) and for men it's 2. Again, if you've trained hard that day, women might go to 2 and men might go to 3. You might also decide to skip, especially if the meal is super rich.
Healthy fats: Honestly, if you're dining out you're probably getting over (or well over) the "recommended" amount. But if you're curious the serving for women is about 1 thumb or 2 (1 thumb is about 1 tbsp) and for men it's 2 or 3.
Your restaurant plate isn't going to necessarily come out looking like this since portion sizes are usually huge but now you know the pieces of the puzzle that should come together to form a well-balanced meal that can keep you on track! You just need to stick to the serving sizes above!
Here are some examples of great menu items that could fit your needs (all of these are from local Evanston restaurants, by the way; keep in mind their menus do change but the point is awesome dishes exist!):
Pork tenderloin (protein!) served with cracked wheat green herb salad (starchy carb!), grilled asparagus (veggies!), black garlic and thyme vinaigrette (fat!). It's all there!
Whole pickled Indiana shrimp (protein!) & mushroom (veggie!) larb, spinach (veggie!), toasted rice (starchy carb!), baby garlic, gray shallot (and assume there's fat in the cooking of the food).
Dover sole filet (protein!) stir fried (fat!) with baby bok choy, pea pods, carrots, ginger, and green onion (veggies!)
From La Macchina:
Free range chicken (protein!) with lemon, grilled asparagus (veggie!) and rosemary potatoes (starchy carb!)
You now know how to build your plate so let's talk planning because you know if you fail to plan you plan to fail and that can lead to anxiety. Instead of dreading dinner with the aforementioned melange of anger and sadness, be proactively goal-oriented:
Dining out and sharing meals with friends is one of life's absolute treasures and pleasures in my opinion. It should be enjoyed to the fullest. While you're on the road to reaching your goals, the dining experience will look different than it did before but it does not have to look like the picture of deprivation. Focus on what you can have, not what you can't.
Finally, let the dining experience be about connecting with the people you're with. We are ultra connected these days that we take human connection for granted. Be present and soak it all in. And let me know how dinner was!
Let the Rules Set You Free
I, like most of my clients, had a weight goal I wanted to hit. In my case it was to lose 3-4 lbs by May 8th for the StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor certification I was working toward (my kettlebell weight would be based on my bodyweight). Any other day of the year I wouldn't even know what I weighed on the scale, I would simply want to feel confident in my own skin. May 8th was the first day in my adult life that a number on a scale would actually matter.
I sat down with my coach (because every coach needs a coach!) to craft my master plan. I already knew counting calories made me INSANE so we decided to use hand measurements and a food diary instead. I only had three weeks to lose these last few pounds so my guidelines were far more strict than how he or I would normally coach clients but after our meeting, I knew exactly how many veggies, lean proteins and good fats I needed to consume for breakfast, lunch and dinner on days I didn't train, on moderate training days and on hard training days. I would have absolutely nothing processed, zero added sugar, zero alcohol. CLEAR RULES. I can follow rules in my sleep!
But FOOD. I also love FOOD. Once I left the gym, I got a little sad as I immediately started thinking about everything I couldn't eat: Cake or chocolate (or even fruit), bread, creamy sauces, glasses of wine. I knew I had a lot of travel and big networking events right before my certification that would involve all of the above and I just cringed.
But then a Valerie Waters quote came to mind: "The rules are not meant to make you feel deprived in some way. It's exactly the opposite -- it's your ticket to freedom." (This is from the foreword in Josh Hillis' book Fat Loss Happens on Monday) Suddenly, I started to think of all the recipes I had on hand (on my Pinterest page) that fit all of my requirements and it turns out I had tons of options! Deprivation, be gone! I went home and wrote out a weekly food plan, went to the grocery store and executed. (And to those of you who, like me, are mega tight on time: I made one-pot meals and had a lot of the same food every day but that was OK because my goal was important enough for me to do this for the short-term. You can't imagine the amount of spinach I went through...).
So, OK, it's one thing to follow the rules at home. How on earth could I follow them on the road? Well, let me tell you!
First I went to Louisville, KY for a two-day meeting. I decided to drive which allowed me to pack lots of healthy snacks to have on hand to make sure I didn't get to a point where I got so hungry I'd cave and reach for all the donuts in the world. Going out to lunch and dinner with my colleagues was a little challenging, sure, but since I knew the rules, I knew what to look for on the menu: Lots of veggies, a lean protein and a healthy fat. (If you're curious I had turkey slices, hardboiled eggs and cherry tomatoes for breakfast; a field greens salad with salmon for lunch; and a bunless burger with avocado, lettuce, tomato and a side of grilled asparagus for dinner the first day of meetings and all of that food was awesome and tasty and I was absolutely satisfied).
The following week I was in Kansas City, MO. I flew but rented a car at the airport so I could drive to a grocery store and get some breakfast items and snacks to stay on track (because I find that the absolute toughest meal to get right on business trips is breakfast). I was already ahead of the game in terms of losing those last few pounds at that time so I reassessed the way the rules were laid out: I decided to loosen the grips just a little bit (my coach is going to cringe...). I knew ahead of time this might mean not losing anything for that week but getting to eat awesome BBQ while hanging out with some super rock stars in the fitness industry was well worth it. The key was keeping the rules in place (including the protein portion sizes for the BBQ in question) instead of leaning on the all-or-nothing mentality of, "Well, I already messed up so I'm just going to keep eating crap because I'm doomed." Yes, I had BBQ with lots of sugary sauce and that was a conscious choice but I also had loads of veggies on the side, thankyouverymuch.
Does this regimen work for everyone? Hell no! And the only reason it worked for me this time was because I knew it was short-term. If you take nothing else away from this post, please cut this out and put it in your pocket: Whether you have one food or exercise habit to work on or five, the takeaway is the same: When you have your rules and habits in place that you feel confident following, they should free you from struggling to make food/exercise decisions or shooting in the dark to see if something works. You are set free to execute the plan and live the rest of your life!
If you're curious, I lost those last few pounds successfully and passed my certification (subject for another post). This entire experience has not only made me physically stronger but I think it's also made me a better coach. And I'm honored to get to share some of what I learn with all of you!
Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions or simply "like" the post!
That's Dr. Meggie Smith to you! Meggie, who owns Chiropractic First in downtown Evanston, contacted me to help her get back into a workout groove because she wanted to get in shape and get a kickstart into a better wellness routine.
When new clients come to me, most of them will initially tell me their goal is to lose weight. Sometimes as we dig deeper in the consultation, clients will also mention they wouldn't mind getting stronger. Then, when I ask if there's any exercise they've ever wanted to conquer, the answer is usually to do a pushup or a pull-up. And I LIVE for that! That's when my brain starts buzzing with the possibilities! Because when you start setting performance goals and make it a point to get better every day, you DO get stronger and you start appreciating your body as it is NOW which leads you to loving yourself more NOW which leads to taking care of yourself better NOW. Of course it's normal to also want to lose a few more pounds or get leaner-looking arms and legs but I can tell you from lots of experience that your physique goals will only happen and stick long-term if you love your body in the present tense.
I tell you all of this because Meggie is a perfect example of latching onto a challenging exercise and working hard inside and outside of the studio to get better and better at it. And guess what: She's stronger overall and appreciates what her body can do for her in the world and THAT is a gift you can only give yourself.
So without further ado, meet Meggie!
What were your initial goals when you started training?
My main goal when I started training was to get back in the habit of working out. I used to love my frequent gym trips because they were great stress reduction and "me-time." As my schedule became less regular, I fell out of the habit and needed help getting momentum back into my exercise regimen.
How do you think your sessions have helped you out?
I'm stronger, I'm able to do a lot of exercises that I couldn't do when Izzy first showed them to me and my sessions keep me on track.
What do you enjoy most about training?
Learning new things and being able to do exercises that I initially couldn't do.
Is there anything surprising that you've discovered with strength training?
I've been surprised to "find" muscles I really didn't know I wasn't using. Now I really enjoy noticing how I walk and move differently when I use the muscles Izzy has helped me "find".
How would you describe your philosophy on working out and nutrition?
Cooking, eating well and exercising make me happy. When I am sad or stressed, it is usually because I haven't been eating food I cooked or haven't been making time to work out. I eat a mostly Paleo diet, but as long as I'm cooking mostly for myself I don't get too worried about the occasional noodle or piece of cheese.
What advice would you have for anyone just starting out?
You can do it! Starting is hard. But it gets easy pretty fast. Even people who have been working out for years have times when they fall off their program and have to start again. We all feel like we are just starting out time and time again in our lives. So just start! It's not that big a deal. We all do it.
Anything else to share?
I really appreciate Izzy's commitment to targeting muscles that I didn't know I had, didn't know I needed and took seemingly forever to start recruiting correctly. I had no idea what she was talking about for a long time or why it mattered so much, but she stuck with it and now I can move and be in the world much more powerfully! Yay.
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