Eating out healthily and minimising food anxiety

I recently went on a holiday where we ate out three times a day, for days on end. For the weeks preceding the holiday I had been eating a mostly clean diet with food that I had mostly cooked myself. The stark contrast between my safe, routined eating habits and the gourmet fine dining was obviously a welcome change, but it was also a mental challenge.

And so this post is going to cover 2 things – how to not blow your healthy eating when eating out a lot (this does not mean one or two meals, that would be considered a normal amount). I mean more with regards to holidays, celebratory periods or those super busy weeks, and how to not stress about the fact that you’re eating out a lot! Because both are equally important if the end goal is a healthy body and mind.

Firstly, some practical tips on the eating out part:

  • If you know you have a week coming up where you are going to be eating a lot more than usual, add some extra cardio to your normal exercise routine. This doesn’t have to be a run, it can literally be 40 minutes of walking.
  • Drink a lot of water, and try to minimise alcohol. If you’re going big on the food, then go small on the drink. There are no hard and fast rules though obviously, because if it is just one night then go big on both! I mean more with regards to being on holiday and eating out daily.
  • Skip the bread. #sorrynotsorry
  • Be strict with yourself the week before so that you create and bit of caloric ‘leeway’. I am not going to go into the whole calorie balance thing now but basically it is like a bank account. You can create credit that you can use up in the near future. So by eating just below your maintenance calories for the week before, you can really rack up a considerable amount of ‘credit’ that you can ‘spend’ the following week.
  • If you want to snack between meals in the day, stick to lean protein sources and minimise carbs and fats. This is because that is most likely what you will be consuming in your meals out.
  • Make healthy menu choices! Things like asking for your food to come with dressing on the side allows you to control the amount that is used, and these things really do make a difference.
  • Plan ahead. Check out the menu online before hand and pick the healthiest option. This will prevent last minute order choices that you might end up regretting. I find that when I have too many options I am more likely to make a bad decision.
  • If you know that the portion will be very large, ask for a take away box as soon as your food comes and put half away before you even start eating. If you start nibbling away before doing this then you are less likely to stop halfway, so it’s best just to do it in the beginning.
  • Skip dessert if it’s nothing special and have a decaf coffee or tea instead. I mostly only have dessert if I am fine dining.

Now for the anxiety part. Food should never be associated with anxiety, but unfortunately for many people it is. These strategies can be helpful in relieving some of that anxiety:

  • Accept beforehand that you are not going to be able to comply with rigid dietary guidelines, so give yourself permission to not be perfect. When we stop trying to walk such a fine line, we relieve ourselves of so much anxiety.
  • I always talk about mindfulness, but it is especially important when you are eating out. Not only to be mindful with your food choices, but to be very present when you are actually eating. This will increase your enjoyment of the experience, and help prevent any guilt post-dinner. You will be more likely to stop eating when you are full, even if your meal if not finished, and this too helps prevent the anxiety that comes after we overeat.
  • Always remind yourself of this fact – your body does not see good and bad foods. It merely recognises macronutrients, and the actual substituents of foods. So while this does not mean a donut and a sweet potato have the same nutritional value or effect on your body, it is important to remember that your body will recognise the carbs, and not the actual food. This can be really helpful in terms of not being too restrictive with your food choices because you think some foods are good and others are bad. Some are merely more nourishing than others, and the goal is to eat those MOST of the time, not all the time.
  • Most importantly, if you feel any guilt or anxiety creeping in, immediately flood yourself with self love and compassion. While this might sound counter-intuitive, it is the negative feelings that come after a food experience that make it more likely to happen again. If you replace those instead with a compassionate stance, you remove all their power. Instead of replaying what you just ate in your head, look forward to your next meal and decide that you will make better choices next time. Adopt self compassion mantras such as:
    • I am only human, it is okay not to be perfect.
    • It is also okay to indulge.
    • I will get this right eventually. I am so much more than what I ate at one meal.
    • I am totally empowered to make sure my meals tomorrow are balanced and healthy.

I hope some of these tips are helpful! Let me know if you have any others I should add. Remember, as always, that life is so short, and so energy wasted obessesing over small details should be minimised!

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