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So you’ve made a commitment to a healthy and natural eating way of life.  But now you’re in a fix.  How can you eat healthy when visiting friends and relatives or eating out at a restaurant?  Obviously we can’t restrict ourselves to home cooking all the time.  We have social lives, work, travel and clearly we can’t always eat the way we want or the way we should.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is that it’s not as difficult as you might think.  OF course there are the obvious choices of fresh fruit or vegetables.  But you need the protein too and let’s be realistic by saying we’re not going to be ordering a big plate of raw broccoli.  So, I’ve come up with a way to think about foods while eating out that I hope will help you make better decisions and then not feel guilty about the decisions you make.   Let’s see how this works.

To start with, I must let you know a little bit about how I behave when out to eat with family, friends or co-workers.  I’m very comfortable around people, enjoy other’s company, but I’m also somewhat introverted.  Don’t care to draw too much attention and I certainly don’t like to make a scene.  Sure, if I get a steak that’s raw and I asked for medium rare, I’ll send it back.  I’ve also been known to order a club sandwich and either ask them to hold the bread, or even just leave the bread on the plate and disassemble the sandwich.  What I don’t care to do is quiz the waiter/waitress about what kind of oil they’re using in the vinaigrette.  I’m not going to ask or challenge them if they have raw butter or whether or not their filet mignon is grass fed.  I may choose not to have any appetizers and am happy to explain to friends and co-workers why I’m not eating them.  At the same time I’m not going to lecture anyone or preach about why that stuff is bad for them.  People are free to make their own choices.

Maybe you’re like me, maybe you’re a little more aggressive and not shy about requesting special foods or preparations.  We’re all different.  And that’s fine.  What I hope to do here is help you make those decisions when eating out.  So often we hear the question, “What can I eat when I go to a restaurant?”

To help answer that question I came up with this notion of the “T’s and C’s” of eating out.  I expect most of you think of T’s an C’s as terms and conditions.  But my T’s and C’s actually stand for Toxic and Chronic.

Now before I get in to why I’ve come up with this simple system, let’s look at a couple things.  First, I believe there is a difference between weight loss and eating healthy.  Ok, sure they go hand in hand, but hear me out.  There are lots of ways to lose weight; many hundreds of diet programs weight loss through diet, pills, and even surgery.  Secondly, one can be a healthy eater and not lose weight, or you might not even need to lose weight.  Eating healthy may simply mean you want to avoid chemicals, hormones, or genetically engineered foods and eat only whole and natural foods.  So, while healthy eating and weight loss go together, I also believe they can be separate.

With that in mind, I believe there are short term and long term consequences for both health and weight loss.   Let’s take for example having a drink, a glass of wine out at dinner.  Short term consequences for drinking alcohol are pretty obvious.  Depending on your own tolerances, there are short term effects, like becoming impaired, “giddy” or more seriously too much to drink you can become a hazard.  That’s a short term consideration.  Long term refers to the chronic abuse which over long period of time could and usually leads to health issues down the road.

With me so far?  So we all know that alcohol is a toxin in the human body and the liver treats it that way.  Long term abuse can and does lead to chronic conditions.  They go hand in hand.  But here’s a key point.  Toxic does not automatically or necessarily equal chronic.  In other words, you can have that one glass of wine out to dinner with friends and that does NOT mean you’ll develop any chronic diseases; in fact some studies show many beneficial properties of red wine, for example.

Let’s get back to the weight loss vs. eating healthy for a minute and then I want to tie them together with the T’s & C’s.  If one of your main goals and needs is to lose weight, there are short term and long term consequences to what you eat.  When it comes to losing weight, there are many things you should avoid that are short term. I’ll call these toxic items on the menu.  Sugar or artificial sweetener for your iced tea will have a negative effect on your short term goal of dropping the weight. However, like the alcohol example, 1 packet of sugar won’t kill you, however, chronic, long term use WILL have an impact to your health, long term.  So, I’m trying to make a distinction between toxic, short term food items, weight loss and long term, chronic choices.  The T’s and C’s.

Let’s see if we can put this in to practice.  Here are a couple of guidelines to help you through the thought process:

  1. Toxic and chronic combined affect long term health.
  2. Toxic can and does inhibit weight loss in the short term, but doesn’t mean chronic, long term health issues (alcohol and tea sweetener examples above.)
  3. Chronic, long term use of toxic foods WILL lead to both weight gain and poor health.

With that, let’s take a look at some typical restaurant items and classify them as toxic or chronic as it relates directly to weight loss efforts.

Toxic: Sugar, artificial sweeteners, enriched flour foods like bread and breaded foods, wheat/white pasta, dressings that probably contain HFC – High Fructose Corn Syrup; juice, soda and sugary desserts.  While not a complete list, these are the food items that have a short term effect on your weight loss efforts and certainly long term consequences if consumed regularly over a long period of time; chronic.  All the items above raise your blood sugar levels which in turn cause an insulin response, which in turn causes fat storage. Toxic, short term, inhibits weight loss.

Chronic is a little more nebulous.  Let see if this makes sense.  Many food items and menu choices probably don’t have an immediate short term effect to weight loss efforts.  However, they may have long term, or chronic effects on your health over time.  Grass-fed beef vs. commercial feed-lot beef.  Wild, Alaska salmon vs. Atlantic farmed salmon.  Grilled salmon marinated in some unknown oil/butter glaze.  A few cubes of Tofu in Hot-n-Sour soup out for Chinese food.  These are just a few examples of food choices that may have long term, chronic effects – eating lots of un-fermented soy for example, but yet don’t necessarily thwart any short term weight loss efforts.

So, to try and wrap things up, What can you eat when out at a restaurant and you’re really committed to a healthy eating way of life and you are also trying to lose weight? Just remember these two things, the T’s and C’s.

  1. Avoid all the “toxic” food products listed above that will inhibit your weight loss efforts.
  2. Don’t sweat the stuff that may be a “chronic,” long term health risk if you’re not consuming these food products on a regular basis.  This may also hold true for the toxic food products, but again you’ll inhibit the short term weight loss effort.

In summary, it’s all about making good choices.  Don’t be afraid to order grilled chicken or salmon even though you may not know from where they came from (chronic.)  Long term you won’t be eating that salmon or chicken every day, but short term(toxic,) you have avoided the deep fried mac-n-cheese balls, deep fried onion rings, Ranch dressing with HFC and you drank your iced tea unsweetened.  You chose brown rice over white rice, or better yet, skipped the rice and doubled up the veggies. You may also be interested in an earlier post called “Choices.”

There you have the T’s & C’s of eating out.

This post shared on Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday!