On our exercise and diet regimens, we often have to let go of some of the simpler pleasures in life. Endless desserts fall by the wayside and we give up quite a bit of spare time so we can hit the gym more often.
However, while there are always some sacrifices required to get into phenomenal shape, a social life shouldn’t be something you give up. Having a social life means you often end up at bars and restaurants that don’t necessarily adhere to your diet.
While we often allow ourselves a “cheat meal,” this strategy can get subverted if you have a cheat meal on Monday and unexpectedly wind up at an Applebee’s happy hour two days later.
You need to have additional measures in place to protect your diet at restaurants, because there are just too many times where you’ll end up at one without more than a few hours notice (if any).
Here are some of the best ways to stay true to your diet in all situations.
1) Eat Before You Eat
When you’re adhering to a strong diet, the worst position you can possibly put yourself in is to be famished right before eating out. When you’re hungry, you have the least self-control, as well as the least negotiating power in waiting out for healthier options to come later.
What you want to do is eat something before a social night out. It could be a protein shake, some cheese and vegetables, some fruit and nuts, or even a small steak at home before going out.
Once you get to the restaurant you’ll be far less hungry and you can just order some salad and a chicken breast, without feeling like you’re depriving yourself.
2) Be the First One to Order
No one likes to feel like a buzz-kill when eating out with friends. If everyone before you has ordered a triple-decker bacon cheeseburger, you can feel like you’re ruining the moment by ordering a spinach salad with unsalted tuna on top.
Often this worry is 100% in your head, but that doesn’t make it feel any less real.
A psychological trick around this is to be the first person to order. If you choose a healthy option right away, then there is no pretext in the table for you to conform to.
You’ll feel more confident in your selection and less likely to waver based on what your friends do.
Ironically, you might also cause your friends to eat healthier because now YOU are the trendsetter and the rest might start following.
3) Make Your Waiter Scramble
A lot of people have some illusion that the waiter’s entire job is to write down what you order and then fetch it from the kitchen.
Give that fellow more credit. Servers have a much more complicated profession if you allow them the respect for their expertise. They have the experience to describe the restaurant’s offerings, make recommendations… and yes, make adjustments for your diet.
So go crazy asking for substitutions, whether it’s vegetables instead of fries, or some protein source instead of a starch.
Worst case scenario, they’ll say “No” or charge you a couple bucks more. Often the servers enjoy a break from their monotonous day so you’re actually doing them a favor. Plus, they often don’t even charge more for the substitution because they’re hoping you’ll give them a higher tip for putting the work in.
4) Go Crazy with Side Orders
I used to do this a ton at Mid-Western breakfast places where it doesn’t seem possible to get a meal without something deep fried, beer-battered, or drowned in gravy (sometimes all three at once).
That Kentucky waitress might raise an eyebrow when you ask for two side orders of eggs, one side order of fruit, and one cup of cottage cheese, but you’ll have a healthy and yummy breakfast very close to what you would make yourself at home.
You can do this at just about every restaurant you visit. Sometimes you’ll even get servers who see what’s going on and offer you a combination that gives you more food for less cost (Tip those servers well).
5) Get Clear Bubbles at Bars
It’s hard to have a complete social life without alcohol at least playing some part of the equation. Back in college you would have to be a bookworm hiding under a desk to avoid alcohol in all social situations.
At a bar, you’re faced with a number of sugary cocktails and high-carb beers. Even the “light beers” tend to have 100 calories or more of empty carbs and a Sierra Nevada will nail you at 330 calories for one bottle.
Luckily, if you want to get your drink on, there’s always a safety-hatch at just about any bar you visit.
“Vodka Soda Lime” is a respectable choice that has almost no calories and zero carbs or fat. It’s probably the most socially acceptable cocktail for a man to order as well (no punches in the arm for ordering a sea breeze) and will have the least effect on your waistline.
You can also go for a “scotch & soda” and try mixing in other liquors with club soda. Cocktails like these don’t generally have the masculine bonding-with-your-bros effect that pounding beers do, but it at least lets you have fun at the bar without being a fish out of water.
Overall, you have much more control over your restaurant experience than you think. Always make sure to max out your resources before settling for food that doesn’t align with your fitness goals. Most of the time, you’ll find that it was far easier than you expected.