You’re trying to lose weight, lower your cholesterol, or eat less sodium. At home you do fine. But, then a colleague asks you out to lunch, you meet friends for dinner, or you attend a family gathering, you lose your resolve. Why do many of us check our good intentions and good eating habits at the door? Is the food just too irresistible or is there something else happening?
Every time you eat there is far more going on than just the food. The choices you make reflect the company you are eating with, where you are, what is available, the time of day, and even whether you are standing and circulating or sitting at a dinner table.
When people get married their eating habits frequently change. Women report eating more meat and full fat milk, clearly the husband’s influence. Grandparents or older relatives can affect choices at family celebrations where traditional foods — often high in fat, calories and sugar – are served. At holidays, it is expected that everyone will splurge a little. Even though you may be trying very hard to stick with your diet, you’ll be teased and tempted to take “just a little taste” which often turns into a whole portion.
It’s hard to order a salad when everyone around you is ordering prime rib. Tablemates may express disapproval if you try to be virtuous, and that is especially tough when you are eating with your boss or a client. There are ways around all these situations, but sometimes it takes creativity.
When you stand and eat, you’ll eat more than when you are sitting. Cocktail parties with food stations and circulating servers can push you to eat more than you realize. Move as far away from the food as possible. Fill your plate with foods that won’t undermine your good intentions – fresh fruit, fresh or roasted vegetables, shrimp. You can even put a not-so-good choice on your plate but don’t eat it, just keep it there to minimize teasing. If you have a large cool drink in one hand and a plate in the other, it’s difficult to eat. You look like you’re munching but you’re actually holding the plate and sipping the drink. You can even lower the calorie load of a cocktail by asking for a wine spritzer, instead of plain wine, or a tonic with lemon instead of a mixed drink. Once the glass is filled no one but you will know the difference.
When confronted with a buffet – never the best choice if you can avoid it – remember variety leads to overeating. Go through the buffet line just once and take only a few foods, 3 at the max. Research has shown when we take fewer choices we eat fewer calories. If you go up more than once, make the first trip only salad and forget the dressing or have very little; on the second trip go with the 3-choice rule. Load up your plate with lower calorie foods, so it looks full. And, don’t be first in line. The longer you wait to eat, the less time you will be sitting at the table with an empty plate, tempted to return. If all else fails, take a trip to the restroom when your tablemates head for their first round in line.
At a sit-down dinner, go easy on alcohol because it both enhances your appetite and lowers your sense of fullness. Some studies have shown that people who drink before dinner can eat as much as 40% more calories. Here again, bubbly water with lemon or a wine spritzer are better choices than a cocktail. Start with a clear soup or salad; both fill you up with fewer calories. Order an appetizer serving as an entrée. Or, if you are uncomfortable doing that, ask for double vegetables instead of fries. Choose broiled poultry or fish, instead of fried. Order a filet instead of prime rib – still beef but a much smaller portion.
Dessert is tough and you may get pressured to order. Ask if anyone would like to split. Claim you are stuffed and just have sorbet or fresh fruit. If all else fails, order and eat just half. Most people encourage you to order but few will say anything if you leave leftovers on your plate.
Understanding that your surroundings affect what you eat, allows you to put in place strategies to help you make the best choices in a given situation. None of us can be 100% virtuous every time we eat. Compromise is okay. The goal is simple — make good food choices most of the time.