How to balance eating out with eating healthily
As we ease out of COVID-19 restrictions here in the UK, a topic I’m talking about frequently with my clients is how to balance eating healthily with enjoying meals out and seeing friends again. We’ve all been denied the pleasure of enjoying social time and food together, and of course – the temptation is to really go for it now we can! Naturally you may have some anxiety about your healthy eating habits going out the window, particularly if you are focusing on eating well to improve your energy, health or to lose some weight.
Being able to enjoy time with loved ones is really important for our overall wellbeing, so eating out together certainly has its place in a healthy, balanced life. Here are a few ways to make sure you can enjoy these treats, and still feel confident about keeping with your healthy eating routine.
Ways to balance eating healthily, while still enjoying meals out
Plan for the week ahead
Look at the week coming up and when you have meals out scheduled in. It's useful to have an idea in your head of how many times a week you’re comfortable eating out to avoid scheduling too many plans in for one week. If you have a special meal coming up, what steps can you take to balance this in your week? Could you limit sugar on other days, or limit alcohol to enjoy a couple of glasses of wine on your evening out?
Using a calendar with a monthly view can be really helpful here - you will have a visual reminder of when special dates are coming up and you can write in the steps you want to take in advance to remind yourself.
Being mindful of what’s coming up, and deciding to take one or two steps in preparation to help balance things, will you help you feel more in control and able to fully enjoy your meal out as a result.
What are your baseline healthy habits?
I encourage my clients to think about what their baseline healthy habits are. The specific habits will look different for each of us, but it’s useful to have one or two habits as an anchor to come back to. If you go through a particularly stressful period and your health goals slip a bit, by having a few habits that are non-negotiable you can make sure you keep things consistent with these particular habits and build back up from there.
For me, one baseline habit is eating a filling, healthy breakfast. Every morning I have a breakfast I know is energising for me (normally porridge with blueberries and nut butter – yum). If I go through a stressful period, and I'm exercising less or letting other habits slide, I know I will always keep up a healthy breakfast.
It’s amazing what having one or two habits to come back to can do for our mindset. You’ll feel more in control of your routine, able to bounce back through setbacks and to keep your foundation of healthy eating while you enjoy occasional treats. What would one or two baseline habits look like for you?
Enjoy meals out mindfully
It might sound silly, but actually enjoying the meals out you decide to have is so important. Often we wind ourselves up with guilt and self-critical thinking to the point that we either don’t really enjoy the meal out or end up eating and drinking far more than we need to because we feel guilty.
Spending time with loved ones and enjoying good food together is immeasurably good for our health, so it’s important to balance this alongside nutritional needs.
By planning ahead and knowing when meals out are coming up, it will be easier to give yourself permission to fully enjoy your meal. Before you go out, have an idea of what you will have e.g enjoying a dessert, or a glass or two of wine. Then give yourself permission to do so! It’s all about balance.
Invite friends round instead
If you feel you’re eating out too much to feel your best, try inviting friends over to yours instead. You can still enjoy all the wonderful social benefits, but you will have control over the menu.
Choose a simple, healthy one dish meal to give you lots more time to socialise. The Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer is full of great recipes.
Get a special non-alcoholic option in
When meeting up with lots of friends or family, the temptation to drink too much alcohol can be particularly hard. Those individual pints or glasses of wine add up and we can start to feel sluggish and low in energy as a result. When it comes to drinking, often it’s the ritual of having a special drink in your hand to socialise with more than the drink itself. If you’re conscious about cutting back, choose something more exciting than tap water e.g a sparkling water with lime, so it still feels like a treat.
If you’re having friends round, you could offer sparkling water with elderflower cordial, a wedge of lime and ice cubes for an easy non-alcoholic cocktail – top with a cocktail umbrella for something extra!
It's all about balance
Being able to enjoy occasional meals out is important for our wellbeing too. Of-course, you can opt for healthier options while eating out and be conscious about desserts and alcohol, however it is possible for the majority of us to enjoy these things in balance.
By planning ahead, and looking at how you'll balance your week as a whole to make space for a special treat, you'll feel more in control and able to enjoy it when the time comes. How have you found eating out after lockdown? Let me know in the comments below.