My twenties were a tumultuous time, as the twenties should be. But in my case, the tumult posed a serious risk to my health. From being overweight to being underweight; from experimenting with my diet to not caring about my diet at all – I went through all manner of bodily highs and lows.
Life being the school of hard knocks, the party was bound to end someday. In my case, it was by being diagnosed with an eating disorder. There’s just something about the calm but firm tone of a doctor’s voice when he tells you exactly what’s wrong with your body, that forces you to rethink the choices you’ve made. So I sat back and thought about the kind of body I wanted, and about the kind of diet that would help me with that goal. I consulted a dietitian, did a whole lot of research, and eventually came up with a diet plan. Things were going great. For the first time in awhile, I felt in control of my body and my health. Then the invitations started coming in. Birthdays. Business meetings. Fun afternoons and nights-out with my pals. All of which entailed eating out.
Now I loved a good restaurant meal as much as anyone else. But the prospect of having of sitting at a table and having my friends, family and business associates inundate me with statements and questions like “You’ve barely eaten anything all evening!” or “Since when did you start turning down steak?” wasn’t a particularly attractive one.
“Even worse was the prospect of being surrounded by all that delectable food, watching my dining companions gorge on it to their heart’s delight, and being unable to resist the temptation to join them.”
So I tried my best to avoid eating out. I made excuses. A couple of times I even canceled at the last minute. But eventually, people started to notice that I was becoming a tad reclusive. So, I finally bit the bullet and went out for dinner with a couple of my colleagues. Well, one thing leads to another, and soon I was back to dining out, practically every week. Sometimes twice or thrice a week. I promised myself I’d watch what I ate, and try to keep my temptation in check. And, for the most part, I thought I succeeded.
I was wrong. The first time I looked at the scales after I started eating out again, I got the shock of my life. My hard-won control over my body seemed to have evaporated virtually overnight!
And when I thought back to all those social engagements, all those lunches, and dinners, it wasn’t hard to see why. What I thought was self-control on my part was actually just a vague feeling of guilt, which I quickly shrugged off before proceeding to eat pretty much the same way I’d done before the diet. Impulsively, I swore to myself that I’d never step foot in a restaurant ever again. But once I’d calmed down a bit a few days later, I realized that this wasn’t the answer. I couldn’t simply avoid eating out forever. But I could be a little smart about doing so.
“Self-awareness and meticulous planning were how I’d established my diet in the first place. And that would also be the key to eating out without breaking my diet.”
I would plan my lunch engagements and dinner dates with the precision of a military campaign. And then I’d be able to enjoy my meals stress-free and without an ounce of guilt.
The first step was knowing where I’d be going beforehand – regardless of whether it was me who picked the place, or one of my dining companions. I did my research and checked out the cuisine, the menu, and even the portion sizes of the restaurant I was going to. My research didn’t end there, however. It continued well after I’d stepped through the restaurant doors, and seated myself at the table. I tend to be pretty generous with my tips, so I figured that I might as well make the waiters and the managers earn it, by asking them as many questions as I needed. “So you’re finally done with your interrogation”, my dining companions used to quip, after I’d finished quizzing a waiter about everything from the ingredients of my meal, to how it was prepared, to whether there’s a low-fat or vegan-friendly version of something I liked but felt was too fatty.
One thing that really helped was the support of my regular dining companions. They knew about my predicament and were kind enough to cooperate by letting me order first, no matter how much time I took. By ordering first, I managed to avoid the temptation that could be created by hearing my friend’s orders. When it came to picking meals, I tended to stick to the most diet-friendly and guilt-free picks. A bowl of minestrone soup, vegetable curry, an antipasto vegetable platter – these were some of my go-to orders. When I felt like having meat, I stayed away from the fried stuff, and instead opted for steamed and grilled fish and chicken. And I always made sure that my the lean meat dishes I ordered came with a lot of greens. One of my smartest decisions while eating out was doing away with the side dish. I asked the waiters remove the bread and chip basket from my table or, if my dining companions wanted it, to keep it at the other end of the table. Desserts were another thing I completely avoided.
Amidst all this, I always made sure to have plenty of water. I usually had a glass or two before starting on my meal and sipped on water throughout my meal. It helped me slow down and feel full long before my plate was empty – thus doing away with the possibility of me getting any further cravings and placing additional orders. After a few months of following this plan, I could safely say that I’d figured out how to eat at a restaurant without breaking my diet. I’d successfully proven to myself that the choice between eating like there’s no tomorrow at a restaurant, or staying at home and munching on raw veggies, was an illusory one. There was indeed a third option. All it took was a little planning.