You decide it’s time for a change.  You want to start eating healthy.  You think it would be better if you had more salads, less pizza.  It’s summer, and there’s no better time than right now to finally- finally, you’re going to do it this time, you’re going to stick to your diet.

But the Blackhawks are playing!  And everyone is ordering pizza!  And they have $10 pitchers!  Ten dollars!  Maybe you don’t like beer.  Dollar Margaritas!  They’re grilling brats and burgers in the back—this dive bar smells like heaven!  All your friends are oozing melted cheese from the mouth, caramelized onions falling from their lips back on to their plates while you sit there, stabbing the leaves of your salad over and over again with building resentment.  They ask why you’re punishing yourself and as you raise the cucumber on your fork, you sigh and say, “I’m on a diet.”

This doesn’t sound like very much fun, does it?  Ostracizing yourself in the name of greener foods?  But truth be told, unless you’re dealing with a food allergy (which we’ll also touch on), eating out doesn’t have to be a reminder of all the things you can’t eat.  It should still be enjoyable, and here’s how:

The first thing you need to do is get yourself into a rhythm.  There’s no sense in obsessing over any single meal if the rest of your life is out of balance.  This means not skipping breakfast four days out of the week and replacing it with a Grandé Caramel Macchiato from Starbucks.  This means setting a workout schedule and sticking to it.  The stress that comes with wondering what one meal will do to that six-pack you hope to have by mid summer doesn’t need to be there, if you can stay focused on the bigger picture.

My suggestion is to think of things in terms of ratios.  How often are you going to the gym versus how often do you allow yourself a “cheat meal?”  How hard do you workout versus how healthy are you eating on a consistent basis?  By thinking in these terms, it’s easy to motivate yourself to work harder now, for more rewards later.

Second, you need to have a basic understanding of what carbs, fats, protein, and calories all do for your body.  It is useless to count carbs if you don’t know the difference between good carbs and bad carbs, carbs that are high on the glycemic index and carbs that are low.  The reason being, people often lump foods into general categories like “healthy” or “bad for you,” but they don’t actually know why.  Eating a lot of fruit can be good for vitamins, but it can be bad for someone desperately trying to drop weight.  Why?  Because fruit is high in sugar, and sugar means high on the glycemic index, and high on the glycemic index means your insulin gets spiked. When your insulin gets spiked, your body goes into fat-storing mode, thus doing the exact opposite of what you were hoping to accomplish.

Once you’ve done a bit of research (this can all be found in less than 15 minutes of Google searching), then you can start getting creative with the foods you know you should be eating.  For example: if you’re trying to eat less carbs, take some time to research your options (recipes), and then apply that knowledge at restaurants, family dinners, and elsewhere.  If you know your diet allows for 300 grams of carbs in a day, but you really, really want that basket of fries at your favorite burger joint, then get the fries!  But then for dinner, instead of having your usual brown rice and fish, cut out the brown rice (carbs) and just have the fish (protein).  Again, it’s less about one meal and more about the big picture.

Now let’s say you have a food allergy.  I myself am allergic to both wheat (everything in the typical American diet) and dairy (everything else in the typical American diet).  Eating out can be hard, but the thing you have to remember is that most places are willing to accommodate—you just have to ask.  I’ve had the most greasy dive bars bring me out a plain chicken breast, a plain baked potato, and a small salad.  The options are there.

A few pointers for people with food allergies:


1)   If the server hesitates when you say, “I have celiac disease” or “I’m allergic to wheat,” and answers your questions with phrases like, “There shouldn’t be any flour in that,” then this is a warning sign and you should proceed with caution.

2)   Fries are, in themselves, gluten free, but are also usually fried in the same baskets as the chicken fingers and onion rings, which are not gluten free.  Oddly enough, the worst-for-you fast food restaurants are some of the only places with fryers dedicated solely to making French fries.

3)   Most dressings are not gluten free.  Anything that looks delicious, and creamy, is most often thickened with wheat flour.  Oil and vinegar is your safest bet, although sometimes Balsamic can work too.  Still ask.  Always ask.

4)   The greasier the restaurant, the higher probability your food is being cooked on the same surface as something else with flour.  Use your own discretion and talk to your server.  If they are clueless, go with a 100% safe bet like a plain salad or a plain grilled chicken breast, and then remember not to eat there again.

5)   Tapioca isn’t always gluten free.  If it’s a mix, it is usually also thickened with flour.  If you’re ordering something tapioca based that the restaurant claims as gluten free, make sure you ask to have the server read the label for wheat flour.

In the end, this should all be taken with a grain of salt.  If you’re a regular gym-goer, and you eat out every once in a while, you have nothing to worry about and should enjoy that piece of pizza and that double chocolate milkshake—especially if you’re bulking!  But if you eat out regularly, and your workout schedule is more of a suggestion list than a habit, then there are other things you need to address first before you start worrying about what this one meal is going to do to your body.

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