For years I struggled with what diet was right for me, as well as my clients. Should they cut out dairy and grains? Go vegetarian? Eat whatever they want just as long as it fits in their macros? Calorie restrict, or carb cycle? It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the fads that pop up every couple of months, truly and painfully overwhelmed. After six years of being a personal trainer and health coach I have finally come to the definitive conclusion that I live by now. Purely and simply, it is to just eat naturally with the ultimate goal of staying healthy and strong, of mind and body.
Now, by naturally I mean nothing processed, which would not include store bought breads, cheeses, boxed goods, canned goods, frozen prepared meals, and fast food. Meals should be nutrient dense and fulfilling, to both your appetite and the functionality of your body. They should have colorful fruits and veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats. Consider your body a machine. You need to feed it quality fuel in order for it to function properly. I try to buy meat that is anti-biotic free and grass fed, eggs that are farm raised and cruelty free, and fresh locally grown vegetables. If you haven’t tried anti-biotic free or locally grown produce, I highly recommend you do. Your body will feel the difference.
That being said, you should note that I haven’t mentioned anywhere the words “calorie-restict”, “count your calories”, “watch your fats”, “fat free”, “dairy-free”, “gluten free”, etc. Personally, my own body does not feel great after eating breads or dairy no matter how fresh and organic it is. But that does not mean that everyone will feel the same way. I have had mozzarella so fresh and natural that it spoils the next day. This kind of dairy is fine in my eyes. It’s the kind you get at your corner Italian deli that is hand made every day. The same goes for breads that are fresh baked and preservative free. So this brings me to my current topic that I find a lot of people feel extreme guilt over; eating out.
I happen to eat out a lot, about two or three times a week, and my clients and friends seem shocked that I do. I am in fairly good shape, an athletic weight lifter who tries her damnedest to eat healthy. But you know, sometimes you just need a good meal out! And you know what? That’s absolutely ok! You don’t have to be so hard on yourself! Just as long as you follow a few guidelines, and here are my guidelines to eating naturally while eating out:
- Choose quality restaurants. Nation wide franchises freeze a lot of their foods, which mean they aren’t always fresh. I’ve been to Red Lobster enough in my teenage years to realize now what frozen sea food tastes like. And it tastes like everything on the menu. Nowadays New York restaurants pride themselves in locally sourcing their food, so it’s hard to find a place that doesn’t have fresh food. The seafood at Blue Water Grill on Union Square compared to the seafood at Red Lobster in Times Square is a world of difference. Your body will feel the freshness, not to mention your taste buds.
- Choose an interesting, unique and fresh appetizer. That doesn’t necessarily mean a salad, but most restaurants have incredibly unique and refreshing salads. A big thing now is beets and goat cheese. How much more simple can you get? Goat cheese is one of the most minimally processed cheeses, and the freshest. And beets are nutrient dense and refreshing when paired with a citrusy vinaigrette and creamy goat cheese. Another great option is fresh seafood; shrimp cocktail, fresh oysters, ceviche, raw clams, tuna tartare. The fresh, protein packed appetizers cannot get anymore fresh. In my opinion, appetizers should be light and refreshing and just keep you satisfied until your main course. Mozzarella sticks, nachos, flat breads, and fried things usually aren’t the most natural, and leave you feeling bloated and greasy before your entree even gets to you.
- Choose a protein packed entree. Unless you’re in the mood for pasta and you’re at a great Italian restaurant, I would stay away from pasta as a main course. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes pasta is just what you need. (I am a sucka for orecchiette with sausage, broccoli rabe, oil and garlic and if I see that on a menu, I can’t resist.) But there are so many options on most menus that act delicious and fuel your body at the same time. Some I’ve had are braised short ribs with potatoes and a veggie, half chicken with mushrooms and mustard-chestnut sauce, seared swordfish steak with sweet potato-chorizo hash, even a burger on a house made brioche bun. All these components are lean proteins with vegetables and delicious flavors and sauces. They are nothing to feel guilty about, especially if this is a weekend cheat meal.
- And now the struggle…dessert. If you know me, you know that I have been on a war against sugar for a while. Sugar in general is just not good for your body. It promotes disease, negatively effects your immune system, produces more insulin and fat production than your body should, along with affecting your mood. It’s more addictive than drugs, for gods sake! But anyway, if you also know me, you know I suffer from an incredible sweet tooth, and dessert is almost always inevitable. So here is my simple solution. During the week, don’t snack on sweets at home. Opt for fresh fruits when your sweet tooth kicks in. Snacks like nuts and raisins, bananas or apples with peanut butter, mango sprinkled with chili powder, or just a bowl of fresh fruit, are great when the cravings strike. Because then, when you’re out to eat, you can indulge in whatever you want. This one and only time is a great time to enjoy your dessert and not feel guilty! Enjoy it, savor it, remember it. However, if you still want to stay natural, there are options. Sorbets and ice creams, house made, are good choices, as well as fruit and cheese platters. Creme Brulee is simply made as well. Heavy cakes, while I thoroughly enjoy, can set you over the edge and put you into instant nap-mode. I usually opt for a simple, yet delicious and out of the ordinary dessert.
I’ve eaten in hundreds of New York restaurants, and very rarely am I disappointed. During the week, I cook myself fresh foods and I exercise to keep my body healthy and strong. The one or two times a week that I go out to eat are special to me, and so I cherish them and enjoy them, not regret them. So you go out and have that gourmet cheese burger! You have that giant steak with a mound of mashed potatoes! Ice cream? GO FOR IT! Just always remember to respect your body and your mind, and thank it for being good to you. Cherish the times you get to try something you might not always eat, and never feel guilty that you’ve allowed yourself this treat for all your hard work. Stay healthy, and be well of mind and body. 🙂