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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Eating Out

In this fast, convenience society of ours we eat out so much more than our parents did. One of the most frequently asked questions by newly diagnosed type 2 diabetics is "what can I eat when I eat out?".

I just went around the world for seven weeks via nine cuisines. Every meal was eating out; but I didn’t put on weight and my blood glucose levels were good as I travelled. Here are some of the tips that I’ve learned, to make sure I don’t undo the good work I’ve done at home when I’m eating out.

1. Be strong. We were brought up to clean our plate, not to waste food. But now that "waste not, want not" attitude to food on our plate that can kill us. Be strong enough to leave food on your plate even though you paid for it.

2. Order appetisers or soups. One is often enough for a meal, but if it isn't have a second appetiser. Or a soup. In the USA, UK and Australia I very rarely order a main course. In other countries the serve sizes tend to be smaller but I still often left food on the plate.

3. Make it clear to the waiter or server that you absolutely do NOT want chips/fries even though they are included with the meal. Often they will substitute vegetables or salad if you ask. If unwanted foods do appear, it can sometimes help if you transfer them to a side plate and then ignore them.

4. Avoid fast-food franchises where possible; although in some countries they can be useful for other things such as clean conveniences. In that case I order the least dangerous food item I can to "pay" for using them; whether or not I eat it depends on the situation. Actually, I quite liked McAloo Tikki in India the one time I tried it. Then I read the nutrition detail when I got home. I won't be trying it again.

5. Don't ask for low-carb or diabetic meals. Both will only confuse your waiter. Just pick the best you can from the menu and do what you can to modify it easily, such as substituting vegetables for fries or potatoes and similar.

6. When fast food is the only choice, be strong again. Eat the burger, toss the bun. Don't order up. Don't drink post-mix sodas - you have no control over which button the waiter presses or even which line is connected to the diet soda when they run out of diet syrup. If you can't buy a bottle or can - drink water or coffee or tea, with sweetener if necessary, not sugar.

7. If you eat at a restaurant you are likely to return to, test one hour afterwards to see what happened. That may affect your decision on returning or your menu selection when you do. Test, don't guess.

8. If possible, share meals with a partner. Order one meal, extra cutlery and an empty plate, then split it. Where it isn’t possible because of language barriers or embarrassment of others order a main course and a side salad or starter – just to get the plate – then mix between the two.

9. For low-carb breakfasts, many European hotels include buffets where you can choose appropriately. In the USA and UK, if an appropriate breakfast is not available or prohibitively expensive, I check out the local area on an evening walk after arrival and note where any diners or breakfast cafes are. Bacon and eggs at the diner or a "Full English Breakfast" minus it's carbs at a cafe not only may be cheaper but the walk there and back can be part of the day's exercise.

10. If in Asia - leave almost all of the rice on the plate.

Use your imagination, but always remember that the portion sizes on your plate are chosen by the chef to entice you to return, not by your doctor to improve your health.

Cheers, Alan


Shell said...

Alan, Thank you for this reminder of how to eat when going out. I sometimes do eat out - and find it hard. Your suggestions make it much less scary.
Thanks again!

Melissa Whitfield said...

You have some good ideas. Have you ever traveled to Arkansas? If I do fast food (I have 3 kids so we do frequent fast food restaurants), I try to stick with a salad or just the burger without fries. I'll try to carry water with me, which helps. The Applebee chain restaurants offer "weight watcher" meals. Have you tried these & how are they in your opinion? I tried following the weight watcher plan for a 10 week period, but didn't like the time it took to "count points" all day and to obsess over everything you are eating. I think we can make healthy choices without all the stress of counting points. I like your idea about testing, testing, testing... that's the best way to learn how certain foods affect your readings.