How to manage Social Eating?

You have been dieting hard for the last few weeks to shed off a few of those unwanted kilograms. But you have got a few social events planned over the coming weeks that you are worried will side track all of your hard work and put you back where you started or worse.

You have agreed to go to these social events, but have no clue how you’re going to track the food you are eating out. You don’t know what type of cheese is being used, how much oil the chef has added to your steak, or what extra flavours have been thrown into your main meal to really accurately track your calories. So now you are unsure how to address the setting, do you just sit there with your diet drinks or water and not eat anything or do you tell yourself, YOLO diet starts tomorrow?

Here is a guide to help you address these social settings and minimise the impacts of eating out can have on your fat loss phase. Before any social event I always say, know what you’re getting yourself into and plan accordingly. If it is a big event or a short time out.

If it is a big event like perhaps an entire weekend away, then plan ahead, if you know multiple meals out may be consumed, let's aim to reduce some calories prior giving you a little extra wiggle room with weekly averages. Depending on the person this could be an extra 500kcal or more per day whilst away. So how are you going to get that extra 500kcal? you could remove it from the days leading up. Reality is, if you know you have an amazing weekend ahead dropping some food in the day leading up only makes the experience more enjoyable and you feel a little less guilty over that time too. If you did splurge a little harder than anticipated, just knock back a few calories in the few days after your return, makes common sense right?

If it is just a one day event, you could still knock some calories from the surrounding days but I generally recommend on the day of, being better prepared. Have protein high and nutrient dense options. Most restaurants generally reduce the amount of meat in their meals (more expensive) and add more carbohydrates and fats (little cheaper), and depending on the type of meal there can be slightly less nutritional value, like sushi or burgers. So what do we want to do? Consume plenty of meat or protein rich food and plenty of fruits and vegetables before the event, this will ensure health markers are met and you can enjoy your meal out. I would also advise doing this on the bigger events. WPI with yogurt and fruit for brekky, lean meat and vege for lunch then dinner is enjoyable.

My next question is around the setting as it's more common for those once off events to be either lunch or dinner. Is this a work or cocktail party where reality is most of the food going around is canapes or smorgas boards?

If this is the case, you're safe. It's a lot easier to minimise the calorie consumption if you show enough willpower and truly want to achieve your goals. My advice would be to opt for items you know may be calorically safer, meat and nutrient dense options as previously discussed. Fruit or some time of vege are generally always lingering around, try this first, along with that you have a basic meat only option too. Now, get creative, put together your own little appetiser and play masterchef with your friends. Or depending on the current phase of your own goals, like coming into a competition, perhaps this is better left and you come prepared with your own easy snacks like nuts, jerky and educate people around you on what your goals are, so they understand and support you. There is no shame in saying no.

Sitting down at a restaurant, this is where the panic sets in for most. Sending menus to their coaches asking ‘what should I eat’ now is the time you make an informed approach. You can’t send a menu to your coach every time you eat out and expect this to be a healthy relationship with food and socialising. So ask yourself, how often do you socialise or eat out. Is it just to catch up with friends, too lazy to prepare your own food at home or is it for a special event like birthdays? If it’s one of the first 2 options I will explain further below what you could do to work around this. But if the restaurant event is one you simply can’t avoid you have a few options depending on your current knowledge and experience with food.

As we stated earlier, know what you’re getting yourself into, the event should have been known days leading up to it, so take away 150-300kcal in the days prior and you have some more calories in the bank, if you have access to the menu you can check over the food options in advance and know what you’re going to have. I have even ordered the starters as my main, like calamari, salads or soups knowing I’ve hit decent protein prior. The other options are to pick a main meal you know may be a safer alternative like meat and vege, or you can even deconstruct items like burgers and not eat the bun. You don’t have to eat everything that is brought out on your plate, and sometimes actually arranging a share platter with your partner can be a handy way for you to pick at the amount of food you need.  It really depends on how serious you want to take it, but understand it’s going to be difficult to track all food. So be sensible and ensure you enjoy your time out most importantly, because that’s what you’re out for!

Sometimes I do recommend you try and track your meal if you are still in the process of learning this, some fast food places may already have their items in MyFitnessPal which you can use, but again this is never 100% accurate. So with this, I always leave a buffer zone, add a minimum 10% to whatever you have added to fats and carbs; the entry says 50g carbohydrates go 55-60g the entry says 30g fats go 33-40g. What’s the harm, if you have banked extra calories leading up to it already this just means you can leave the dinner table feeling you’ve done the best you can. Now this all may seem a little over the top, so that’s where I ask how deep into the fat loss phase you are and to what extent are you willing to take this?

Overtime we aim to teach you to have a relaxed and flexible relationship with food where you don’t have to track all your data, you can go to a social event eat food and enjoy it with an educated approach and know what you need to do surrounding this so that you don’t spiral back to the lack of confidence you had before, but if you do, you know what you need to do to improve it and simply need a little accountability when the time comes.

The final thing I promised I would discuss is how to address social events that aren’t specific events but just an opportunity to catch up with loved ones. Odds are some of your friends don’t track their own food or even have a clear understanding of nutrition as a result, how they approach these situations may be different to yourself. It can be challenging having people accept your current choice and supporting you through it, comments being made ‘but you look fantastic already’. We need to set a balance between social events and progressing towards your physique goal. Here are a few strategies you can implement that will keep your friends happy and your results on track.

  1. Throw your own dinner party.

By hosting your own dinner party keep your nutrition and training goals in check without there being a massive spectacle on your dietary choices. You can prepare your own set menu and share this among friends, having control on what goes into your mouth and you’re in the comfort of your own home, so if deeper into competition prep this is always handy.

  1. Picnic or BBQ.

Remember eating out doesn’t mean eating in a restaurant, if the weather is on your side, make the most of it. Friends with kids would love the opportunity to let their kids roam at the park and you can bring your own meat, salads, snack food and keep it tasty and sensible

  1. Coffee Dates.

An easy way to do your Sunday morning is to catch up with your friends, just go to your local coffee store or down to the park, order yourself a good coffee and enjoy that with friends, you don’t have to order off the menu at every social setting. If you are worried about those temptations, order a takeaway and make it a walking date with friends around a nice area.

  1. It’s not always about food.

Remember there are plenty of other ways to socialise that don’t have to revolve around food, go bowling, watch a movie, board game night, play golf or activity day at your local swimming hole. To have a good time, doesn’t always have to be about food. I understand eating out is of huge cultural importance, removing social friction and implements variety into our lives. But this doesn’t have to be an every day or weekend event.  

Finally, if you are going to drink alcohol, be conscious of the extra calories connected to this, if you don’t need to drink then don’t. But if you want to have a glass of wine or beer, account these into your buffer calories too.

At the end of the day sometimes you do just need to suck it up and take the hit. Take responsibility for your choices, and be self driven. Sticking with a higher level of accountability and adherence means you can reach your goals a little faster and diet breaks may be around the corner. Use your intuition and know when it’s the appropriate time, many people struggle being super strict 7 days a week 12-24 weeks in a row. We aren’t expecting that rigidity unless deeper into a contest prep. So if its an opportunity every so often for you to enjoy time with loved ones I hope we have given you some tools to think about when going out to eat. You may take a small step back in overall progress, but if it’s going to leave you mentally refreshed to take on a hard stint of fat loss again, I would consider it a win. So long as you can get on track with your plan the next day or even the next meal, you’ll be just fine.


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