Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Guest Post - Rethinking Dining Out

Jennifer and I met and became fast friends at work fifteen years ago. Jennifer has always loved eating out at restaurants. After talking to her about my experience with cognitive behaviour therapy to change my eating behaviour, she sought out a program with similar goals. 

When she started the program she specifically stated that she was not going to change her behaviour when it came to dining out at restaurants. So, I was surprised how quickly her ideas (within months) about restaurant eating changed of her new CBT-based program. 

I asked her to write about her change in heart about restaurant eating; her new outlook, her strategy for eating at restaurants. Jennifer's 50 pound loss in 9 months demonstrates that you don't have to choose between all or nothing. You can continue to eat out at restaurants and make healthier choices too.

Thanks for sharing Jennifer!

I swear I was born with a menu in my hand.

As long as I can remember, I've enjoyed going to restaurants.  When I was eight years old I begged my parents to let me order from the adult menu. At that young age, I was worried there wouldn't be enough food in the kiddies’ portion.  As I grew up, the ambiance, taste, smell and social aspect of restaurant dining became an important part of my life.

Throughout our friendship, Kara and I frequently discuss our relationship with food. Last year, I decided to tackle my own eating behaviors and signed up for Medcan’s Weight Loss Program featuring a medically managed behavior modification with a cognitive behaviour therapist.

At Medcan, the results on the scale from weekly weigh-ins are less of a focus.  But let’s face it; I sought therapy because I wanted to lose weight for health reasons.  When starting this program I vowed that I would not change my restaurant eating routine.  After all, it was my social outlet and a favorite hobby.

Initially, I lost 21 pounds in two months. However, I quickly grew frustrated once I hit a plateau and maintained the same weight for three weeks. I discussed this plateau with Christine, the program nutritionist and she told me two things I’ll never forget:

"Add 300 calories to a meal eaten at a restaurant to take into account the bigger portions and fat, salt and sugar used to prepare their food. If the food you ordered tastes really good, you know they've added fat."
"You need to rethink about your approach to eating at restaurants. Drastic changes aren't required - just some minor modifications to start."

To re-think my approach towards restaurant eating, Christine offered three suggestions to modify my behaviour:

Reduce the number of times eating out:
I admit it – I was eating out three to four times per week. She suggested limiting the number of times to eating out at a restaurant to two times per week.

But how could I give up this ingrained routine that I love so much? Not only was I giving up restaurant food, but I was also limiting the social aspect of eating out.

Christine suggested non-food activities such as going for a walk, watching a movie or participating in a sporting event as an alternate.  Non-food activities proved to satisfy my need for social interaction. To be honest, I didn't really miss the food.

I am surprised when I receive little resistance from friends and family when I suggested non-food alternate activities.  Instead of dinner out, a friend and I went bowling; to make it more exciting we bet who would win.  We were so competitive that we didn’t bother with beer or food!

Choose the restaurant ahead of time
Selecting the restaurants ahead of time has become a go-to strategy.  At first, this took some convincing with my friends as we typically take turns selecting the restaurants.  It’s no surprise that we naturally choose restaurants serving  comfort food such as wings and fries.

However, after researching venues and successfully suggesting new restaurants for dining, I am the designated restaurant selector in some of my social circles – and I am working on the rest too!

Now I can control the type and quality of the food that we eat, increasing the chances of eating a lighter and healthier choice. The other advantage is that I can pre-select a lighter entrée so I can order a glass of wine at the restaurant.

Learn to Love Home Cooked Meals
Renewing an interest in home-cooked meals means eating less frequently at restaurants.

I love seeing the look on my husband’s face when I have prepared a new dish.  Last week I prepared an Indian dish consisting of lentils, rice and saffron. Since I am in control of the ingredients, my meal was lower in calories than a restaurant version.

I fear deprivation.  Eating home-cooked meals is a tool to manage deprivation. I can decide to use (or not) the 300 extra calories required for a restaurant meal and enjoy a glass of wine or walk to the local gelato shop.

My therapist also helped to reframe my perception: I asked why some people can eat as much food as they want, but I can’t. He replied: chances are, those people don't eat this way all the time. He also suggested hanging out with people who had the same thinking with respect to food like Kara. When we meet for lunch, we bring our own food from home and go for a walk too.

As you can see, I haven’t given up my love of restaurant eating but I have changed the way I think about it.  Restaurant eating is no longer the be all end all as it once was for me.  I still enjoy dining in restaurants everywhere, but I now enjoy other activities such as cooking, watching movies, bowling and walking.