Eating in a Pickle: What to do when you’re eating out

Well, I’m back from New York, and I had a grand time!  The City that Never Sleeps is definitely filled with some great energy! 

So back to the topic at hand – Eating in a Pickle.  In my last post, I discussed Scenario #1: You need something quick to eat.  I talked about keeping emergency food stashed in your freezer and choosing healthy “fast food.”  Now let’s talk about Scenario #2.

SCENARIO #2:

You’re out to eat with a client, colleague, or friend, and you want more than just a green salad with balsamic vinaigrette.  What do you do?

As I’ve said before, food has an amazing way of bringing people together, so usually when I spend time with friends and family, there’s some form of eating involved.  And suffice it to say, when you’re entertaining co-workers or a client, wining and dining is usually in order.  So how bad would it look if you brought a Tupperware of salad into the restaurant (you’d probably get kicked out) or if you ordered nothing but a green salad while your client ordered the 24-ounce New York steak with mashed potatoes, a pint of beer, and the chocolate-lovers cake for dessert?

You have to survive in the social world of eating without completely compromising your nutritional values.  Contrary to popular belief, it’s not impossible to do.  There’s usually something on the menu that you can eat without feeling completely guilty or freaked out afterwards.  Sometimes it might take some special requests to the waiter to adjust, but it’s doable.

So let’s start with my usual guidelines when choosing menu items.  These are actually the same guidelines I discussed in my last post.  Same idea here:

  • The meal must include some kind of lean protein and fibrous carb (fruits and vegetables).  If it includes a starchy carb, it must be either made from whole grains or there shouldn’t be too much of it. 
  • Nothing fried
  • No creamy or cheesy sauces, minimal butter and cheese
  • Stay away from anything that’s likely to include MSG, be overloaded with sodium, or use plenty of artificial ingredients.

Sometimes you have to ask the waiter to modify things for you.  Usually they’re pretty open to doing that.  Here are some other rules of thumb I follow, some of which sometimes require special requests:

  • Ask for salad dressing and sauces on the side
  • Always order the vinaigrettes (skip the ranch, thousand island, and blue cheese)
  • Make sure to ask for whole wheat toast and order it dry
  • Always pass on the sour cream
  • Order the side salad instead of the fries
  • Always order the non-cream-based soups (broth-based are better – chicken noodle, garden vegetable, etc.)
  • Just say “no” to any pastas with cream-based sauces – pastas tossed with pesto, tomato sauce, or EVOO are better
  • Always hold the mayo
  • Ask for brown rice
  • Always order water (never soft drinks or sweetened teas)

So, here are some restaurants you might find me at, and what I usually choose to order (when I’m not using my 10% cheat meals):

  • Subway – 6” Turkey sandwich on wheat with all the veggies, pepperjack cheese, and a touch of dijon mustard (280 calories, 4.5g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 46g carbs, 5g fiber, 18g protein)
  • McDonald’s (yes, when I’m in a pickle, you might find me here) – Asian salad with grilled chicken.  I usually only use about 1/4 of the packet of dressing (300 calories, 10g fat, 1g saturated fat, 23g carbs, 5g fiber, 32g protein)
  • Starbucks – Tall Americano with a touch of cream and a 1/2 packet of Sugar in the Raw, Perfect Oatmeal with dried fruit and walnuts (ask if they can put some of their vanilla protein powder in your oatmeal)
  • Red Robin – Grilled turkey burger, hold the mayo, order a side salad instead of fries (512 calories, 22g fat, 51g carbs, 3g fiber, 29g protein)
  • Panera – Half Orchard Harvest Salad with Chicken + Cup of Lowfat Chicken Noodle Soup (370 calories, 18g fat, 4g saturated fat, 32g carbs, 4g fiber, 23g protein)

And here are some local restaurants you might find me at if you’re in the Bellevue/Redmond/Kirkland/Seattle area:

  • Taphouse Grill, Bellevue/Seattle – Seared Ahi Salad (dressing on the side) or Peppered Ahi Tuna Sandwhich, very light on the wasabi aioli, with the coleslaw or side salad instead of fries
  • SushiMe, Bellevue – any fresh sushi, go easy on the fried varieties
  • Pho Hoa, all around the greater Seattle area – Pho Tai (noodle soup with eye round steak) or the variety with chicken, or Bun Ga Nuong (grilled chicken with vermicelli noodles and vegetables)
  • Village Cafe, Redmond – Half order of the Popeye Omelet, substitute the hashbrowns with fruit cup, and if I must have pancakes, I order the buckwheat variety and dip it in the syrup rather than drench it with syrup…and I never butter my pancakes
  • Cactus, Kirkland/Alki/Madison – Sonoran Spa Chicken

Hopefully that gives you some ideas.  As with the last post, when you’re in a pickle, you never know what exactly is in the food you’re ordering.  Just do the best you can to make wise choices, and don’t be afraid to ask for modifications.  Just because you’ve made a choice to eat well doesn’t mean you have to give up your social life or your career.

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FAQ #2: Do you eat healthy all the time?

Do I eat healthy all the time?  Let’s review my menu over the past few days, shall we?

  • Monday – Protein shake with soy milk, Vietnamese-stye chicken wrap from TJ’s, shrimp pasta spaghettini, chocolate lava cake
  • Tuesday – Protein shake with soy milk, won ton noodle soup, almonds and beef jerky, raw foods meal replacement bar, protein shake, recovery drink (during my workout), homemade turkey chilli
  • Wednesday – Protein shake with soy milk, veggies, buckwheat soba noodles, and beef brisket in miso broth, raw foods meal replacement bar, wild greens with turkey meatballs, cottage cheese and raspberries

So, let’s review:  Do I always eat healthy?  Hm…chocolate lava cake doesn’t strike me as very healthy. 

Okay, I admit – to the average American, the above menu actually looks pretty damn healthy.  In my previous life, the menu would probably have included a lot more fast food, creamy dishes, and various deep-fried edibles. 

It took a few years, but I eventually stopped eating fast food multiple times a week, and took a more conscious approach to what I was eating.

My husband of course helped me along the way.  He loves to research.  It’s not only what he does as part of his day job, but what he does during his free time.  He researches the latest in fitness trends, biomechanics, ways to grow his business, and nutrition and supplementation.

So, he’d come to me all excited about the latest findings he read about in some fancy study.  It seems that nutritional best practices are always changing and are confusing as hell.  One day eating starchy carbs post-workout is good, the next day it’s bad.  One study concludes that red meat is a superior form of protein, the other concludes that its acidity is bad for you.  One person says fruit smoothies are a good way to get your daily fruit servings, the other says there’s way too much sugar in them.

No wonder everyone is confused, including myself.  After years of trying to keep up, I’ve come to the conclusion that while I’ll try to abide by the latest findings, I’ll always adhere to the following basic principles:

  1. Eat small meals (aka “eating opportunities”) spread out throughout the day – about 3 hours apart – rather than 3 gigantic meals. (Helps maintain blood sugar levels and speeds up your metabolism.)
  2. Eat whole, organic foods.  The processed stuff contains way too many ingredients I can’t read.  And if I can’t read it, chances are my body won’t know what to do with it.
  3. Eat protein with every eating opportunity, preferably from a lean source such as chicken, fish, lean beef, etc.  Balances out the carbs, regulating the blood sugar levels and helps build your lean body mass (i.e. your muscles – which are a fat burning machine!)
  4. Drink tons and tons of water
  5. Eat tons and tons of vegetables
  6. Stay away from beverages that contain calories, especially those with high sugar content (JUST SAY NO TO SOFT DRINKS!). Drink fruit juices minimally, unless they’re straight from the fruit and contain some pulp in it for fiber.
  7. Stay away from ANYTHING deep-fried or smothered in cream.
  8. Reserve the right to violate any and all these rules 10% of the time. 

What does that last one mean?  It means that I’m human.  I can’t be expected to eat healthy ALL the time.  It would just be torcherous and inhumane to deprive me of my chocolate lava cake.

It means that I will adhere to these rules for about 38 of my 42 eating opportunities during the week, but I will let myself eat whatever the hell I want (in moderation of course) for the other four.  It means that I will and should reward myself for a job well-done.

And it’s a give and take.  If I’ve been doing really well with my workouts for the past few weeks, pushing myself hard and not skipping any workouts, I may cheat a little more.  If I’ve been lazy, I’ll try to compensate by being better with my nutrition.

Oh, and vacations?  Game over.  But I will plan accordingly and be extremely meticulous with my workouts and nutrition for the weeks leading up to it.  And I will also accept the consequences of my debauchery and detox when I get back.

So no, I don’t eat healthy all the time.  Neither does my husband.  (That chocolate lava cake came with two spoons.)  And neither should you.  You’ll be much more successful if you let yourself cheat once in a while.

Cheating can be a good thing – especially in the form of chocolate lava cake.  Oh, and cheesecake ain’t bad either.

An ooey, gooey, chocolatey piece of heaven on a plate.
An ooey, gooey, chocolatey piece of heaven on a plate.