“There are no have-to’s, just choices” –Eleanor Roosevelt
The keen observer will notice that this is the third place on this blog, and the second in a Daily Granola post, where I’ve quoted Eleanor Roosevelt. In her words, I continually find a great deal of wisdom. Wisdom that can be applied to many areas of our daily lives. That said, I’ve got a bit of a confession to make regarding my use of both her ideas and the ideas of others, as they may appear on this blog.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am a quote junkie. Always have been. And, I imagine, I always will be. Have I mentioned yet that the Master’s Degree I earned in May, the one of which I speak very briefly in my favorite granola bar post, was in the field of English Literature? Quote junkie, indeed. I’m afraid it may in my blood.
I quoted Eleanor at the beginning of today’s post because her words reflect my attitude toward eating, in general, and, more specifically, toward dining out. It’s been my experience that many of us feel beholden to restaurant menus. Or obligated to eat whatever our host places in front of us at a dinner party or holiday gathering. No matter how unhealthy it is. Without saying a word.
If we’re actively on a weight loss mission, or, for any reason, trying to improve our diets, we often feel guilty after splurging this way. For succumbing to feelings of pressure–a sense of duty, if you will–to conform. To be pleasing. Or polite. And, so we overindulge silently. And, often, ashamedly.
Well, my dear readers, I say, no more! Today, I am going to share with you some tips for making smart, healthy choices when dining out, whether you’re at a restaurant, holiday meal, or other social gathering. (Before I continue, I feel the need to say that, I, too, splurge once in awhile. I don’t mean to insinuate that we should never indulge a bit on holidays or other special occasions. This post is meant to help combat frequent overindulgences and/or to help those who may find it difficult to stick with a meal plan outside of their own homes.)
Whether I am making difficult food choices in restaurants, or when dining in someone else’s home, I’ve got some pretty thick skin. Having celiac disease has forced me to develop gumption in these kinds of social situations. As has my choice to avoid animal products. The reality is that most folks, even family members who are well aware of my dietary restrictions (all choices, as I see them, though some have much harsher consequences than others), don’t give them any thought when they know I’m joining them for a meal. And I don’t always have the option to choose to dine at gluten-free friendly establishments.
So, what’s a girl to do? Starve? Or opt, instead, to chomp on a steak and a few whole wheat dinner rolls, simply because they are on the menu, and the foods I choose to eat are not? Nope! Not this girl. Here are some tips for dealing with tricky situations, if you feel yourself at the mercy of someone else’s menu:
1.) Take a stand, if you have to. You are not actually at someone else’s mercy. That’s right. You can still make choices! Whenever I visit a new restaurant, especially one that does not have a gluten-free menu or vegan options, I hope the chef and wait staff will be gracious enough to accommodate me. However, if they refuse, I will leave. (I have walked out of some restaurants for this very reason.) As far as I am concerned, any restaurant that refuses to accommodate me is not deserving of my business. This strategy, of course, is easy enough to implement if you find yourself dining with one, maybe two, friends. But what if you are in a large group, say, at a business-related function, and you can’t stomp off in defiance to dine healthfully at the bistro next door?
2.) Ask for modifications. And request as many as you need. Ask that high-calorie sauces be removed from the plate or placed on the side. Request for menu items to be grilled rather than deep fried. You do not need to feel guilty or awkward about doing this. Remember, you are the customer. You are paying the restaurant good money to provide you with a meal that you want to eat. Think of a restaurant menu as a roadmap. None of its choices represents a final destination.
3.) Bring your own munchies. If I know I am entering a dining situation in which there are no gluten-free and/or vegetarian options (This usually occurs when I’m eating at someone else’s home.), I may snack liberally beforehand. Or I smuggle a baggie filled with either fruit and nuts or granola in through my purse.
So, if I don’t get to enjoy much of the meal being served (I can typically eat at least a few items.), I am not left feeling hungry.
4.) Cook! For the first Christmas dinner I attended after having been diagnosed with celiac disease, I brought a gluten-free, vegan side dish (one hearty enough to act as my entree). The meal was at my aunt’s house, and, of course, I consulted her beforehand. I explained my dietary restrictions and asked if I could bring a dish, one that both fit nicely into her menu, and that everyone might enjoy. That way, I was not stuck gnawing ravenously on carrot sticks while everyone else at the table was feasting on a four-course meal. And I didn’t have to feel like the odd woman out. I got to enjoy Christmas dinner with my family without having to deal with any raised eyebrows or uncomfortable questioning about why I refused to join in the celebration.
5.) Respond to scrutiny with confidence! Even though the majority of my family and friends are aware of my dietary restrictions and the issues that sometimes stem from them, I am still, occasionally, criticized for my choices. Including the choice to adhere to a healthy diet. And that’s ok. Whenever we make unpopular choices, those that deviate from others’ expectations or from some kind of “norm,” there will always be people in our lives who fight us. Who refuse to accept our decisions or ideas. And who are, sometimes, downright unkind. Let them be. If you are confident in the healthy choices you’re making–confident that those choices are turning you into a happier, healthier, stronger person–you have no reason to let someone else’s ill-will make you feel poorly. In fact–and this I can promise you–if you are criticized, most of the criticism you receive will come from those who have not yet found the courage to change their own bad habits. Misery loves company, as they say.
I also promise you this: The first time you refuse to succumb to pressure, be it the pressure to order straight from the menu at a greasy-spoon restaurant or to scarf down the steak slathered with hollandaise sauce that your host plops in front of you at a dinner party, you will reap a tremendous feeling of self-satisfaction. You won’t feel the guilt or shame of overindulging. You’ll feel proud. And you will begin to understand the power that resides in your ability to make difficult choices.
Have a wonderful Friday, everyone!