Whether you’re a seasoned paleo foodie, a chronic dieter or a newcomer to the world of clean eating, there’s a good chance that you’ve struggled at one point or another with how to stick to your program in social situations. Going out to a restaurant or a party can be pure torture (read: relatively inconvenient) for those enduring any kind of elimination diet or simply trying to eat healthier, especially when the people you go out with are ordering all the unhealthy foods you still crave.
Luckily, there are ways to make your social life a whole lot easier to maintain while still making your health a priority. Here are a few tips to get you started!
Research the menus ahead of time.
Your friend calls you up and says, “We’re going to that trendy new restaurant downtown tonight. They serve cupcakes in champagne glasses for dessert so bring your appetite.” You immediately jump into a panic because: (a) Cupcakes sound amazing right now but you’re trying to kick your sugar habit. (b) You aren’t really sure what you’ll be able to eat because you’ve never been there. (c) Parking is horrible downtown, especially on a Saturday night.
Luckily, there’s an easy solution to problems A and B: go online and look up the restaurant’s menu online! As both a picky eater and someone who has completed a few rounds of Whole30, I do this all the time before going to a new restaurant. If I can make a decision before I leave the house, I am less likely to order a bucket of tater tots in a fit of hunger and panic. Knowing what you’re going to order beforehand takes away most of the pressure you may be feeling, so that instead you can focus your energy on finding the right parking garage. Planning ahead is key to your success!
Know your staples and substitutions.
Most of the time, I know I am safest ordering a salad or some combination of grilled chicken and veggies, and I am totally fine with it! Have an idea of what works for you before perusing the menu, and don’t be afraid to make substitutions. I am constantly replacing rice with veggies or asking for the sauce/dressing on the side, and most places are ok with these changes to an extent. I even keep a running list of my favorite healthy options and substitutions at local chain restaurants that allow me to stick to my program if I go out for the night.
If you decide to go out with friends, pick the restaurant. No more of this back-and-forth “I don’t know, where do you want to eat?” that seems to land you at the Olive Garden every time. (Mmmmm, endless breadsticks.) I have a few friends who are kind enough to ask me if I’m on Whole30 before we go out, but there are plenty of times I’ll take charge on a restaurant choice because I already know there won’t be anything compliant for me at other restaurants. Don’t be afraid to speak up and make the decision yourself!
Bring food to the party.
I’m guilty of snacking at parties. No matter how many people are present, there always seems to be more than enough food to nosh on between conversations and awkward one-armed hugs. I have never been to a single party where healthy food outnumbered the junk food (although one can only dream of a secret paleo society that hosts monthly parties featuring sweet potato gnocchi and cauliflower poppers). To keep yourself from gravitating toward the Cheetos, bring a healthy snack that people will enjoy and fits your own program. There are about a million ways to make a fun fruit salad, or if you are on a less restrictive program, you can always opt for healthier versions of your favorite junk food (Skinny Pop Popcorn and The Better Chip spinach/kale chips are two of my favorites). Besides, bringing food to a party is the proper thing to do!
Focus your activities on something other than food.
Fun fact: Not every social activity needs to involve a meal. If you find it difficult to stick to your program while out in a restaurant (because, let’s face it, this is no easy feat), stop going out to restaurants. Invite your friends to go bowling or visit an art festival. Watch a movie in the park. Find a museum in the area that you’ve never been to before. Have fun without bonding over how much you’ll hate yourselves for ordering the mozzarella sticks.
Avoid the scale.
In general, a lot of experts suggest avoiding the scale (or cutting back on its use) regardless of your social life, but my tip in particular focuses on restaurant visits. Most restaurants will pack your food with tons of salt, so if you’re planning a weigh-in any time soon, you may want to wait.
Stop caring about what others think.
When you change your lifestyle, especially when that leads to dietary restrictions, there will be naysayers. Don’t listen to them. Remember that different food groups and chemicals affect everyone differently. I would love to lose weight while eating endless bowls of pasta and laughing in the faces of my enemies, who have gained weight eating that same pasta, I know this is not possible for me. I know how gluten affects my skin, mood and stomach, so when people comment that I should be eating “whole grains” and “in moderation,” I’ll smile, thank them for their suggestions, and keep doing what I’ve been doing. You know what works for you better than anyone else does (except your doctor, of course), so if your friends start giving you unwarranted dietary advice, ignore them or change the subject.
What are your tips for maintaining a social life while still eating healthy? Sound off in the comments section below!