Eating Right When Eating Out
Imagine that you’re about to complete your advanced certification in healthy eating for type 2 diabetes. You know your meal plan backward and forward, and you can spot a carbohydrate from a mile away. All that stands between you and glory is the final exam – meet some friends or family at a bustling local restaurant, and stick to your healthy eating plan over the next two hours.
Sound easy? Think again. Eating healthy for diabetes when you’re eating out is a challenge worthy of this final exam status for several reasons. But, being aware of just where the challenges lie can shed light on some solutions, and get you an A+ on that tricky final exam.
First, think about the overall challenge. Usually your purpose for eating out involves focusing on something unrelated to food – friends, children, business, or a special relationship, for example. Then, in this state of distraction you are presented with unlimited options to eat and drink food you know very little about (in a nutrition context) in an environment that is specifically designed to encourage you to eat without thinking. In most “sit down” restaurants you can order a drink and start grazing on carbohydrates (bread or tortilla chips) before you even see the menu. And, by the way, finding a healthy entrée among twenty or thirty options is no “walk in the park.”
Making responsible decisions about food in this atmosphere is incredibly difficult. Even part of your own brain – your survival instinct – is working against you. If your aim is to both eat healthy and to relax, the solution is making some key decisions before you arrive. Here are the essentials:
- Know your goals – what is your daily “budget” for calories, carbohydrates, sodium, and other nutrients? If you don’t have a diabetes meal plan, see a registered dietitian nutritionist to get one.
- Visit the restaurant website (or consult a book or a mobile app), decide what percentage of your nutrition “budget” you will spend for the meal, and choose exactly what you will eat before you arrive. Making your selections exact allows you to avoid impulse eating.
- Expect to split an entrée or bring home a doggy bag – most restaurant meals offer too many calories, too many carbs, and way too much sodium. If you decide to opt for a doggy bag, put away the food you intend to take home before you start eating.
- Don’t forget to account for (or decide to pass on) beverages, appetizers, salads, rolls or chips, and desserts.
A little planning ahead of time may seem inconvenient But, if your goals are both enjoying the experience and companions at your meal out and staying healthy with type 2 diabetes, this is the secret.
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