How to dine out with peace of mind

You’re going out to dinner with your family, friends, or on a date night, but all you can think about is what you're going to eat and how it will make you feel…and it’s taking the fun away.

Does this sound familiar?

When I made the shift to eating real food, I felt great in so many ways.

That bloated, full, yucky feeling I had after my meals was gone, my digestion was working so much better, my hair was strengthening, and I felt my mood improve greatly. I was really excited about all the changes I had made. 

It took me a little while, but I started to experiment more with my meals in the kitchen and was eating a lot of delicious things. The ingredients I was cooking with were clean and simple so my grocery trips were quick, and I was feeling so much more satisfied after eating. I no longer had that constant I'm-hungry-all-the-time feeling that I had for so many years.

Basically, I was loving real food!

I started to really see what things made me feel good, what didn’t, what bothered my stomach, stole my energy, and so much more. Every meal was a chance to gather great information and I was feeling empowered by all the things I was discovering about food and my body. Only problem? What am I going to do when I have to go out into the real world and eat at a restaurant…with people…whose focus isn’t on real food…at a restaurant that maybe doesn’t have a lot of healthy choices…and everyone will judge me…and look at me weird. I started to FREAK OUT. So much so that I didn’t want to go out, ever. I would rather have stayed home and eaten my usual things, that felt good, and stayed safe. I actually canceled plans, because of this, multiple times.

Has this ever happened to you?

I’d like to note that eating the majority of your meals at home is ideal and it’s what I suggest (if possible). Not only does it save money, but you are going to be eating foods that work for you, and your body, with ingredients you choose to use, and that is wonderful. 

But what if every once and a while you do want to go out with your friends? Be social? Laugh!? Stop watching Real Housewives over and over on the couch (umm...just me!?)

Choosing to get out every once in a while is awesome, and will contribute to your overall well-being, health, spirit, and just straight up happiness. This is all really complementary to the journey you are on with your health, because it’s about so much more then what you eat!

I'm sure you've heard the advice, “eat before you go.” This can be super helpful for a lot of people, who have an autoimmune disease, or serious food intolerances, and absolutely cannot afford to stray from a protocol. This way if there's nothing they can have, they're not going hungry..that's important. If that’s you, please do what you need to do, that will give you peace of mind. I completely support and understand that, and have been there.

But I struggle with just eating before I go often affects my experience, and I usually leave really unsatisfied, feeling like I didn’t really have as much fun as I’d like to. All I can think about the whole time is that I'm not eating, what everyone else is eating, how good it looks, that I'm getting hungry again, and just want to get out of there. 

So, I’d like to offer some good tips for what to do when you’re going out to dinner and just want to have a good time and stick to your way of eating, in a way that’s not going to make you crazy by overthinking it the whole time. What sauce did they use?? How do I tell them I don’t do dairy? Was this made with soybean oil!? (yuck!!) Did I just get glutened!? 

First…ah…let’s take a breath. It is all going to be OK. We can do this, and have fun, and still feel well. Obsessing about what you’re eating can ruin the experience mentally, and affect you physically too.

Here are some tips to avoid that!

1. Check the menu before you go.

I don’t remember the last time I dined out without doing this. It’s how I always find the restaurants I want to go to. A simple google of the place can do the trick. I also love checking their Yelp and Instagram to get a better idea of the dishes and see pictures too. When I find something I can get off their menu, it gives me a huge peace of mind, and I’m excited for the night!

2. Suggest your favorite places as the spot for the night.

If you’re like me, you have a handful of go-to restaurants that are always delicious, and totally in line with what you like to eat. Suggest dining at these places! Who knows, your friends/family/or date might be relieved you’re the one taking control and picking where to go, so they don’t have to! It’s a win-win :)

3. Avoid the ice water at the beginning of the meal.

Drinking water right before a meal (in addition to during), dilutes the stomach acid and enzymes necessary for adequate digestion, so it’s in your best interest to avoid it all together, but most especially if it’s ice cold. The colder it is the more it’s going to affect proper break down of your meal and make your food feel like it’s a big brick sitting in your stomach. Since we're probably going to be eating a bit differently from the dishes we cook at home, we want to support our digestion the absolute best we can in these situations. If I’m going out to eat I have a good-sized room temperature glass of water before I leave the house and I’m good to go. 

4. Skip the sugary cocktails.

If you’re going out every once in a blue moon I’m not going to tell you that you absolutely cannot drink all together, as long as that feels ok and you can enjoy it versus diving into an all-night binger. But it’s best to avoid the sugary cocktails. These guys are loaded with multiple sugar-filled ingredients on top of alcohol. 

They’re going to spike your blood sugar right away at the beginning of the meal, setting you up to crave dishes that might make you feel like crap, and possibly upset leptin regulation (the hormone that tells us "you're full!").  If you're going to drink I suggest a glass of wine or a vodka or tequila with soda water and lime.

5. Order your own meal.

When my boyfriend and I started dating, we both admitted we didn't like ordering tapas when dining out, and it felt like a match made in heaven :) I always felt as if you get one bite of one thing, end up paying for way more then you ate, and leave hungrier then when you arrived. I understand some people love to share-it seems like it could save money (although it never did for me) and tapas are very “in” right now. But small plates are hard to choose when you have food limitations—they’re almost always made with dairy (cheese filled), gluten (on bread or with chips or crackers), or have some sauce containing soy (soy sauce, ponzu, miso), and I just prefer to avoid those things, they don’t make me feel good.

I like to order an entree, and call it a day! I can usually find a dish with fish/chicken/beef, and vegetables, and that fills me up, feels good, and makes me a happy girl. If everyone is ordering tapas to share or that’s just really all that’s offered at the restaurant, order a few of your own that work for you and don’t share! If you’re the only one doing this-enjoy your meal and feel confident in your choice. I say-who cares what everyone else thinks.

6. Don’t feel weird about asking questions or making your order your own.

If you’re out to a really fancy restaurant, or they really frown upon substitutions, it could be challenging, but for the most part many places want their diners to enjoy their experience and leave super satisfied. This is something to keep in mind when you think you’re being annoying or difficult. If you ask nicely, and are appreciative of the trouble the waiter could be going to in order to get you the answers you need, it’s all good.

Like I said, they want you to enjoy the food. It can take practice, but do not feel weird about asking for another veggie instead of the rice in your dish, or your entree with the sauce left out, or if they can cook your meal in butter instead of the vegetable oils they normally use if that’s something you’ll have a bad reaction to. It’s going to be a weight off your shoulders to order something you know is going to be good for you, and that will allow you to relax and enjoy the experience! You’ll be surprised at how accommodating the restaurant staff can be, and it’s really no big deal! 

7.  Remain calm when your dinning partners just don’t get it.

This can be tricky, especially if you’re in the midst of making some big dietary and lifestyle changes and those around you aren’t familiar with them yet. It can be difficult to explain to others. You might not look “sick” so they don’t understand why you avoid certain foods or don’t just “eat everything in moderation." They might think it’s strange or don’t understand why you wouldn't eat bread, for example.

What’s to keep in mind here is to remain confident in your choices. If you are out with others who just don’t get it or who, very unfortunately, may even be unsupportive when you’re not eating the pasta and pizza they want to order-remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, how far you’ve come, and how good you feel. Put a positive spin on it, like "I don't eat dairy because I just feel better avoiding it, my skin, energy and digestion just feel better!" And leave it at that. 

A lot of the time they could just be envious that they haven’t made the changes you have, because deep down they really want to as well and feel good like you do.

And when all else fails, dine out with those who are supportive, maybe want to learn more (you may inspire them!) or follow the same health journey as you do, because that’s where things get really fun. 

Do any of these tips work for you?? I’d love to hear what you think, and any other things that help you enjoy dining out!

Photo credit: