That that don't kill me, can only make me stronger. I need you to hurry up now, cause I can't wait much longer. Kanye West, Stronger

Monday, March 17, 2008

Eating Out Without Filling Out

I admit I am a New York Foodie. I was hesitant to adapt the title, but I have been called it enough times to succumb. My love of restaurants is about more than just the food. I love to know who the owner is, what other restaurants they own, who the chef is, where have they worked, what stars eat there, etc. Atmosphere, decor, and service are also extremely important to me, right down to the place settings. On my first orgasmic trip to Tiffany’s, I bought Table Manners for Teenagers, I was 12. Believe me a lot of time goes into setting down each utensil if the restaurant cares. The food should by artfully arranged on the plate, looking every bit as fabulous as it is going to taste! The staff can really tell you a lot about whether the owners care about your experience. They should be gracious, extremely knowledgeable, not rushing--and in NYC attractiveness tends to be pretty important.

You don’t have to dine exclusively in hot spots (Butter) or celebrity chef owned places (Babbo) to eat well, some hole in the wall places have the most charm (Cafe Habana). If you are on a budget, brunch is the best way to experience NYC dining. For me a weekend without brunch is like Lauren Conrad without (fake) drama-something’s missing.

Just have to include this brunch quote from SITC:

There are very few things this New Yorker loves as much as Sunday brunch. You can sleep until noon and still get eggs anywhere in the city, alcohol is often included with the meal, and Sunday is the one day a week you get the single woman's sports pages: the New York Times wedding section.

On to the food, so here is my intention for this post. Food is fuel; food is also a cultural connector and a passion for many. However, I realize eating out can be stressful for some people. I want to emphasis that I believe you can eat out, eat what you love, and not gain an ounce.

One of the great things about eating out in the city is that you can liberate yourself from calorie counting because the nutritional information is almost never available. I am not saying that calorie counting is bad or ineffective if it works for you, but for me, it’s far too time consuming, and tends to be obsessive or guilty inducing.

So I am going to give you my thoughts on eating out without filling out. I am also going to give you tips straight from the nutritionist I visited a few months ago, marked with an *.

Some of the tips are more stringent than I the ones I follow, so they are italized. I included them because they are safe and healthy, but I would probably only employ them in the following situations:

1.) I was getting married in a month
2.) My last name was Moss and my first name was Kate (negative)
3.) I had eaten 5 meals at the Shake Shack/Chipotle in the last 3 days.

So you have to decide if they are right for you.

I say they are safe and healthy as opposed to some of the tactics used by some super slim people I know. My point is that if you see a body that is too good to be true, it could be genetics; it could be a health issue you don’t know about, or it might have to do with measures involving a lot more than self-restraint, exercise, coffee and even coke.

So on with the tips.

Tip #1 *Check the menu beforehand. I don’t always do this because I like to be surprised, but it can be good to find a few healthy options before you go. The nutritionist I visited said that she makes sure the place has something she can eat. I can’t imagine telling a date I wouldn’t go to a restaurant they picked because there was nothing I could eat.

Tip #2 *The ONE request rule. This is huge. This can transform your relationship with eating out if it makes you uncomfortable. You can only ask the waiter to make one substitution for the entire meal. So if you want your omelet with egg white only, don’t ask for it to be cooked without oil. If you want you salad dressing on the side, don’t drill the person about the way the cook your fish. If you want your fish cooked with olive oil not butter, make that your request. So let’s say your fish comes drenched a top a pool of teriyaki, just move it to a separate plate, so you have a reasonable amount of sauce.

I like this one because it frees you from getting caught up with a million requests and to relax and enjoy your meal. I never could understand the point of order a scooped out bagel! It seems like ordering a pizza and saying crust only please!

The one request rule makes you more fun to eat with. Also it ensures their will be no bodily fluids in your food. Piss off the waiter, and watch out—it happens even in the best places. PS Don’t lie; they know you are not “allergic” to butter. I understand some people do have allergies and restrictions in which case demand away.

Tip #3 *Use your starches wisely. Starches have a place in your meal, but they can add up quickly (wine, sweet sauces, croutons on your salad) and not satiate you the way other food groups do. So if you want a starch with your meal, figure out how to forgo the bread basket--or limit yourself to a half serving. When I am ordering a salad to go, I sometimes say no bread first because I can never say no to the focaccia slice once they hand it over the counter. Although I do happy accept it sometimes. Remember your first wine is free, the second counts as a starch, so plan it in and enjoy it!

Tip #4 *Pick a pair of appetizers, one that is mainly protein. This is one of my staple strategies. I love to get something like mussels marinara with a goat cheese, pear, walnut salad. Then I can have my slice of bread if I want it. This is great because you are not getting too much food. Obviously, fried appetizers are not your best choices. So stick with cheeses, seafood, veggies, small plates of pasta etc.

Tip #5 If you go for perfection, order a salad and two veggie sides. This was a suggestion by the nutritionist, but it was too stringent for me. I feel like I might be ten pounds lighter if I was always perfect and ordered the lightest meal possible, but I wouldn’t be someone anyone would want to go out to dinner with! It took me a while get to a place where I have a very healthy relationship with food and my body. It was worth the work I put into reframing my ideas for the resulting freedom and the pleasure I take in enjoying all the foods I love in moderation.

Tip #6 If you get stuck at a place where there is nothing healthy, remember you don’t have to finish! Pizza is just not something I go crazy for. If I am stuck at a pizza place, I order a salad, and eat a slice. If I decide ¾ of the way through I am satisfied, I stop—foods with fat do fill me up much faster than the typically low-fat things I prepare at home! I also remember to savour the time with friends as much as the food.

Tip #7 Don't feel guilty about peer pressure!
I know how it feels when all your friends what to order appetizers, entrees, desserts, multiple drinks. You shouldn't feel bad if you want to make a healthier decision. If they give you crap, it's probably more about them than you. Once in a while it's fine to go a little overboard, but I wouldn't fit in my jeans if eat heavy, multiple course meals EVERY time I went out. My advice is to not make it a big deal, and order what will make you happy. If someone questions why you are order a veggie burger and steamed vegetables when everyone else is getting fried chicken, corn bread and mashed potatoes. Say, this place is so good, I bet they have a killer veggie burger--or that's what looks good to me today. If you don't want an appetizer and an entree, just say, it's weird that I am always starving, but today I'm actually just not that hungry. Don't get into anything having to do with weight, or "being good," just enjoy the food and the great company.

Since I eat out several times a week I do pay attention to making healthy (but delicious) choices, otherwise I would probably be sluggish all the time. But on special occasions or at really amazing restaurants (The Modern) I order absolutely anything I want. If you eat when your hungry and stop when your full, it is unlikely you will ever have a weight problem. It's the damn emotions that get in the way.

So what do I order?

Well I typically have no problem getting all my grains, fruits, veggies (and sweets) in, but I am not always good about including protein in my diet. I am too chicken to prepare fish at home, so I usually take the opportunity to order it while I am out.

So in an American restaurant or steakhouse:

I will probably order a fish dish, with a steamed or sauteed veggie. I’ll have whatever carb comes with it and eat a reasonable portion of it.

Again I often do the double appetizer-requesting both to ome with the entrees.


Fish tacos in corn tortillas with sautéed spinach and beans

Veggie fajitas—loaded with all the fixings, but I skip the chips and margaritas. Although I do enjoy sangria from time to time.

Enchiritos with extra salsa and salad with jicama and avocado

Italian: my fav! I order whatever looks best to me! Otto is one of my favorite places because they keep portions small! I love the pasta a la norma, which is pasta with eggplant and ricotta.

I am a big pasta primavera fan, but I typically eat all the vegetables, and find myself satisfied with a small portion of pasta, maybe ¾ cup.

Oh and mussels fra diavolo over angel hair.

I also take advantage of the simple salads and broth based soups Italian places offer.

If I am going more tapas style, I will get a salad, eggplant caponata and/or broccoli rabbe with pecorino, a cheese selection with fresh jams, and enjoy some fresh bread.

If there is an amazing sounding risotto, I might pick that.

Thai: Love veggie spring rolls in rice paper, avocado grapefruit salads, papaya salads, and lettuce wraps. Sometimes I do a sautéed dish.

Greek: I love sampling a little bit of everything, pita, hummus, babaganoush, feta, eggplant, bulgar dishes, roasted cauliflower, kolokythoanthoi, dolmas:you can’t really go too wrong if you stick to plant based items.

Sushi: Any kind of brown rice veggie roll (I’ll do white if they don’t have brown). Squash is one of my favorites. I typically love to order an avocado salad, a roll and edammame.

Brunch: I have never been a breakfast person. My parents had to fight with me to eat it, feeding pbjs and cheesecake even! Now I am better, but as mouth watering as bananas foster brioche french toast and Belgian waffles with fire roasted peaches sound, I just don't like the taste. Occasionally, I will try chocolate chip banana pancakes--they sound so good, I wish I loved them! My favorite brunch is actually pretty healthy, a HUGE fruit salad with yogurt, paired with whole grain toast and preserves. If the place has great baked goods (Balthazar), I'll go for a croissant (love them) or muffin (ditto) instead of toast. I have never been an egg person, the texture is a bit weird to me. But I finally learned to appreciate frittatas, especially loaded with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and goat cheese. 7a is one of my favorite hole in the wall places to have a brunch.

What to do about dessert?

Order whatever looks best! I almost never pass up dessert. But I do always share, by the 4th, 5th or 6th bite I am usually as satisfied as I am going to be, no need to take 20 bites to experience cheesecake. I have to admit, it doesn't always stop me!

Nutritionist recommendations:* kinda boring, but if you are into that sort of thing: sorbet, fruit (with fondue is acceptable), berries.

Note that none of these rules apply in foreign countries. Leave no carb behind, never neglect the bread basket or pasta plate, drown yourself in olive oil, knock back the vino and gorge on gelato. When you get home the scale will probably read lighter than when you left it. I do not know why this system works, but I have proven it over and over :)


linds said...

Great post! I love that you pick so many topics to write about, it makes your blog so exciting and I always look forward to reading it! I love how upbeat you are and how you recognize that being healthy is about eating well, exercising AND having fun without being neurotic about the first two- you have a very refreshing balance. I really like the nutritionist tips that you included with this one as well as your own strategies and thought processes. Perfect timing for me too lol my parents are visiting me for a few days and I'm feeling like a queen eating out every meal but I know I'll be back in the gym next week so it's perfectly ok :) Anyway keep up the great work, you are always a pleasure to read!!

Melissa said...

Thanks so much Linds!

I try to write about what people ask me about, so I love suggestions. And of course, I always have a few of my own post ideas up my sleeve!

Have fun with the parents. It's always great to get treated to free meals!

kristin said...

This was such a great post! I really stress about going out and ruining my diet because I just go with the flow and pig out with my friends and these tips are very enlightening and promote health and happiness! So I either am antisocial and order in the Pump (NYC health fare) or go out and just go all out and plan to not wear skinny jeans for a week. Sad! I need a happy medium and your tips are a great start! I like your honesty about taking a long time to develop a healthy relationship with food. It's hard! Thanks for the inspiration. My trick at Kashkaval is to order the veggies to dip in the fondue instead of the bread :-)

Anonymous said...

Great tips! How did you wean yourself from the "trashy" mags?

Betsy said...

such great suggestions!! thanks!

fyi...the brooklyn half has been moved to the first weekend in may!!! hope you can still run it! it kinda messes with my plans but i'm going to make it work.

Anonymous said...

I love New York! I've only been there once (it was unplanned--flight cancellations), and I ate cheaply too. Those were all great tips.

Thanks for commenting on my blog.

Leah said...

This sounds weird but my feet sweat when I exercise. Does this mean I am not wearing the correct shoes? I imagine runners aren't slipping and sliding in there shoes. I don't run, but they still sweat even doing dumbells.

Leah said...

Sorry one other question to add. A place near me with the same type of idea as tasti d-light or pinkberry opened up. Needless to say I am addicted. How do you prevent youself from falling trap to fro-yo? I know there are so many better things I should be having-such as fage. But I love fro-yo so much!

Melissa said...

Hey Anon,

Well it was threefold:

They went up in price, I wasn't paying more than $2 for crap.

I realized they were the same thing over and over and not really satisfying. I also felt bad about contributing to paparazzi (sp?) behavior. I felt like I could spend my time reading something that would make me more intelligent, not less

I also started a few new magazine subscriptions, now I have more than I can read, so I can't justify buying any more!


This is totally unprofessional advice. but I have known people with sweaty feet, if it is out of control, you can get a prescription.

I would also say that it probably isn't your shoes as much as your socks. I'm sure they make moisture wicking, sweat resistant socks. So you might checkout a sporting goods store and see what is available.

I really love my Asics light weight running socks, on a total side note.

Melissa said...

Hey Leah,

I definitely ate Tasti every night during senior year of college. Once I moved out of the neighborhood, I couldn't get it, so I just sort of stopped. I tried getting the mcdonalds cones for a while. Fortunately, I don't like pinkberry. Now if I get tasti, I am so unsatisfied.

But as far as addictions, I fall in and out of them. It's hard to conciously stop. There could be worse things, so either plan it into the rest of your healthy day. Or cut down by having it everyother day, then every three days. Hope this is helpful!

VeggieGirl said...

AMAZING post, Melissa!! I always check the menus beforehand, since dining out as a vegan can be more difficult; and often the "surprises" are that there's nothing on the menu, haha ;0) oh and I TOTALLY agree with you about scooped out bagels - what the hell is the point?! If you're going to eat a bagel, eat the whole damn bagel! :0D

Love ALL the tips for eating out!

Mike Spoodles said...

This is an extremely helpful post! Thanks for all the tips!

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite reads of all time.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite reads of all time.