It has been a long week.
Work has been busy.
Training has been intense.
My kids behavior has been less than perfect.
Sometimes by the time Saturday or Sunday rolls around and I have cooked all the other 20+ meals for the week, I want someone else to do the cooking.
Eating out sounds like an amazing idea.
Now comes the hard part…navigating the endless choice of restaurants and menu options.
Where do I want to go?
What do I want to get?
Appetizer or no appetizer?
Dessert or no dessert?
Mexican or BBQ?
Sushi or a burger?
Maybe a little of each? Hell with DoorDash I can order from multiple restaurants and they will bring it right to me, I don’t even have to leave my house!
Damn, technology is amazing!
Can you relate? I am sure you can!
I bet you can also relate to what happens when you try to navigate the menu(s) to figure out what to eat.
We all have the same thoughts and instincts developed over thousands of years of food uncertainty kick in. Given the choice of a burger and fries or a grilled chicken salad our brain is going to say “Choose the burger and fries dummy, we need the calories!!!”.
You are torn as to what to do, do you listen to the part of your brain that says burger and fries or not? I mean it’s really just meat and potatoes right? How bad can it be?
The Downside Of Eating Out
Many of my clients are interested in body composition changes and have fat loss goals. Many times when they are not getting the results they expect part of the problem can be eating out.
When they are eating meals at home the scale moves in the right direction. Then they have a week where they are eating out and it goes back up. This cycle repeats itself over and over again.
Dr. Layne Norton has a nice graphic that depicts the problem with eating out when it comes to fat loss goals in his book Fat Loss Forever.
Above Dr. Norton is illustrating an important point. In this scenario the person’s maintenance calories are 2300. Monday through Thursday everything is on point. They are maintaining a caloric deficit at around 1800 calories and exercising like they should.
Then the weekend comes….
They manage to navigate their hectic week while being perfect with their diet and exercise so they figure they can “treat” themselves and order take out and have a few drinks. They easily consume 3500 calories.
“No big deal, I will be on point during the week and overall I will still maintain a deficit for the week.”
Saturday afternoon rolls around and a friend calls and invites them to come over and watch the big fight on pay-per-view. Next thing they know Saturday’s food intake is just as bad or worse than Friday’s.
Sunday they hop “back on the wagon”, but it’s too late, at best they averaged maintenance calories for the week, or worse they are over.
This scenario is all too common and results in maintaining weight or watching your weight go down, only to shoot right back up.
Navigating Eating Out With Cognitive Oversight
Any successful diet that results in weight maintenance or fat loss requires cognitive oversight. All this really means is that you need to put some thought into your eating habits, if not and you leave up to that ancient survival part of your brain, your brain is going to prep you for the next famine, and that is most likely never going to come.
What does cognitive oversight look like?
It can take many forms.
The most common form is following a specific diet, like Paleo, Primal, Keto, Vegan, Vegetarian, Mediterranean, DASH, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc.
All these diets have cognitive oversight built into them by restricting your food choices in one way or another. Due to the inherent cognitive oversight built into these diets, they almost always result in weight loss. Whether that weight loss is sustainable over a longer period of time and whether it results in improved health are completely different topics.
Another form of cognitive oversight might be tracking your food in a calorie tracking app. In this case you might set your own guidelines based on your own goals and you use weighing and measuring of your food as a form of cognitive oversight.
Whatever method you choose to add cognitive oversight it can help you when deciding what to eat when eating out.
When you apply cognitive oversight to eating out you may go through that inner conversation of where to go, and what to get, but at the end of that the cognitive oversight kicks in. You take a step back and think what food choice fits into my dietary philosophy, helps me reach my goals, and is appropriate for me in the situation I am in?
Is it Keto?
Is it Paleo?
Is it Vegan?
Does it fit my macros?
What kind of oils are being used?
Is this a special occasion where I am willing to throw out my cognitive oversight and enjoy myself?
Did I just “let my hair down” yesterday? Should I do it again today?
These questions help you make the best decision possible when eating out. It makes the choice easy. It quiets the survival portion of the brain saying get as much of the most calorically dense food you can and allows you to make a food choice that aligns with your goals.
If you are going to be eating out, and I know you will, it is important to realize that for the most part you are not going to know what is actually in the food you are consuming. At the end of the day don’t worry about it.
Instead focus on whether it generally aligns with your dietary goals.
Was the protein fried or grilled? What does the starch on your plate have in it? Is it a baked potato or is it a baked potato covered in butter, sour cream, bacon, and cheese? Did you get the salad with the dressing on the side or is the salad covered in dressing and topped with ½ cup of candied walnuts?
Depending on how the food was prepared can make a difference of several hundred calories and whether it hijacks your appetite or not. Again, cognitive oversight is what you need here, it will guide you in making the best decision possible.
Obviously eating at a restaurant is not ancestrally aligned. Does that mean I think you should never eat out? NO WAY!!! Having someone cook for you is a modern luxury you should definitely take advantage of if you want. What you need to do though is be mindful of how often and what you are eating when doing so. How does what you are consuming align with your goals?
Just because you are not preparing the food doesn’t mean you should ignore the cognitive oversight you would normally apply if you were eating at home. Sometimes it is OK to throw caution to the wind and enjoy yourself, but most of the time what you eat out should look very similar to what you eat at home, the only difference is you are not the one preparing it.
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