Like you, I was once nervous about what I might eat at a restaurant while on the Whole Life Challenge. But this was before I realized that I can now, for the first time, permit myself to recklessly eat a few things that I have denied myself completely for decades, the main one being butter.
At the risk of sounding overly glib or insensitive, restaurant eating seems like a complete no brainer. You can eat practically every kind of meat on the Whole Life Challenge, nearly every vegetable, every kind of fruit, butter (!), and (on my level) brown rice. What’s left? Bread, pasta, cheese. Sorry, no dessert unless you can get someone to whip you up a bowl of fruit. Have tea.
When I go out for lunch, I either get an omelet, soup or a salad and ask for it with no cheese. I often have grilled chicken or shrimp on the salad, or hard boiled eggs and maybe bacon. Usually I’m braying to whomever will listen that, “this is the best salad I’ve ever had in my life!” Because, the truth is, when someone else makes your salad for you, it’s just tastes better.
For dinner, I usually have chicken or fish because I don’t eat red meat at all (though I consider bacon a food category unto itself, and I do avail myself of that at times). If I did eat red meat, I feel like I would have endless choices at restaurants. My big modification is usually this: when I order an entrée that comes with potatoes, I ask for no potatoes and an extra vegetables.
Eating vegetarian is sometimes the hardest, because restaurants add cheese to a lot of dishes in a way that you cannot extract it. Or the dish is laden with some soy-protein ingredient. I thought I’d have my pick of the litter at a vegan place recently, and there was literally one single thing on the menu that was compliant. Oh well.
Chinese food is tricky because of the soy. My favorite place does a Shrimp with Mixed Vegetables with Garlic and Ginger Sauce over brown rice, which I love.
Once I was at a Japanese place and I wanted some of their specialty rolls (I get them with brown rice). I wasn’t sure whether there was added sugar in the sauces, so I just took off a point for the day.
Recently at a Thia place there was some roasted pumpkin thing I ordered with grilled shrimp. I asked them to hold the (white) rice. I would eat this dish every single day of my life if I could.
Much more difficult is if you’re somewhere for the day where you aren’t really being “served” food – a soccer game where all you have access to are the chips at the concession stand. What I do is just bring food with me, as if I'm a cranky toddler that always needs snacks at the ready. I rarely go anywhere without a bag of almonds in tow. Often I have an apple or banana. Some people take hard boiled eggs with them. I know a woman who keeps a bag of cooked black beans in her car and snacks on them throughout the day. Having protein at your fingertips will help you through those situations.
This requires a bit more planning, but it’s neither impossible nor especially difficult. People ask me if there are any Protein Bars they can have. I’m not sure — there may be something listed on the website forum. Mostly those “protein bars” are really just glorified candy bars. If you want to feel better, you need to eat Real Food.
A few people have asked me, “What if I’m traveling for an extended period?”
Yes, it’s harder to be compliant if you’re not in control of your food. When I go somewhere, I try and stop at a grocery store wherever I am and get some fruit and nuts for my hotel room. I drink a lot of tea. I try and keep yogurts or hummus around. If I go to restaurants while away, I eat really filling dishes – eggs, meat, rice – so I don’t get hungry so quickly.
If you’ve done programs like Weight Watchers, you need to get out of the Portion Control mindset and just eat what you need to eat to fill you up and sustain you until you are in control of your next meal. I was really scared of this program at first, so I was eating the Whole Life Challenge Plan, but also counting Weight Watcher points and I was feeling like there wasn’t ever anything for me to eat because I considered a lot of things verboten.
I now often wake up in the morning excited because there’s so much I can eat. It’s not a drag to eat anymore. It’s fun. It’s just not sugary fun.
I feel like the crux of this Challenge is about being mindful about your decisions. Making everything you do for your body count in some way. What is it about a certain restaurant food that we feel especially “entitled” to, or truly deprived of if we do without? Why do we think we’re going to feel happier or better taken care of if we have full access to the focaccia basket? Focaccia really only makes me happy for about 7 minutes. I’ve actually timed it.
When people on the team of my last Challenge would go off plan, they’d usually talk about it in their reflection in either of two ways:
“I enjoyed that pizza more than I’ve ever enjoyed any pizza in my whole life.”
“That was so not worth it, I felt like shit afterwards.”
There’s really no way to predict which one of those will be your truth. You’ll try it one day, and you’ll see.
*Initial post: My Big Fat Whole Life Challenge Blog Post
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