Saturday, August 2, 2008

Eating Out

Have you ever gone to a buffet (or even a restaurant) and thought, "there is no way I can eat here and not gain weight. They have nothing healthy! This is going to be a disaster..." I used to have that thought when my husband would take me to Outback (a family favorite) or when the kids wanted to eat at Granny's Buffet. All the fried stuff... the sodium in the prepared food... the huge portions. It can really add up and throw you off your eating plan. But over the last year, I learned to eat reasonably at places like these. I learned to control my portions, choose vegetables, ask for food to be cooked without oils, and drink only water. But there was still one place I have never quite conquered yet: the Indian Buffet.

Now of course I can hear people shouting, "Um, HELLO, do not even GO to these places! Just don't go out to eat when you are trying to lose weight. Avoid the buffet, lady. You really don't need it." Yeah, we have all heard that before. And while it IS good advice, it is not a perfect solution for everyone. Our lives are all different. For me, I have built a life that includes a lot of food. I spent the last 20 years baking, cooking, taking kids to fast food, and eating out whenever possible. I have had to curtail a lot of this activity, but with a family, it's not practical to eliminate EVERYTHING. I am still going to make Christmas cookies for my kids. I am still going to bake pies for Thanksgiving. But the daily baking has stopped. And similarly, while the weekly pizza deliveries have stopped, we still order it about once a month. And although we no longer eat out at buffets once or twice a week, we still go on occasion.

Yesterday I found myself at my daughter's very favorite place: the Indian buffet. This is the one place I have never really figured out. It's all calorie-dense stuff. I have never seen a steamed or remotely un-sauced or un-fried vegetable at this place. Lots of white rice and buttery naan bread, and always the creamy curries and deep-fried pakoras and samosas. It was one of MY favorite places, too. I probably have about 25 pounds of Indian food on my behind right now. I have been simply avoiding the place but yesterday was the day. And you all know how determined I am not to slip up in August, and to have a great weight loss, so of course I had to pull out all the stops to find a way to eat there without gaining ANY weight.

I sat down beforehand and thought about it. They do always have a little dish of iceberg lettuce and cucumbers on the side. They do always have tandoori chicken pieces. They're not fried or breaded, just baked in a clay oven. And I started thinking about what things I usually eat there. Which ones do I really enjoy? What can I do without? Well, white rice is a lot of calories and not a whole lot of taste. Nothing special. So I could skip the rice. I do like the chicken. And I just LOVE the Chicken Makhani ("Butter Chicken"... um, yeah, that sounds real diet-friendly...) but it is in a very rich, creamy sauce. I think it's made with butter and cream.

After much thought, here's how I did. I had a glass of water. I got a small bowl of lettuce/cucumbers with maybe a half tablespoon of dressing on it. I chose a small piece of tandoori chicken, and took a spoonful of chickpeas (leaving most of the sauce). I skipped all the rice and fried stuff. Then, I took a small dessert bowl and filled it with Chicken Makhani. I ate it sooo slowly, dipping a quarter-piece of naan into it. I really enjoyed it this way. I paid attention to the food on my plate instead of continuously eyeing the buffet like a hawk, thinking about the next round of food. I went back once time and got a bit more of the same. I stopped *before* I was full.

When I went home, I compensated for the extra calories by not snacking and having a very light dinner of beets, beet greens, watermelon, and cantaloupe. I stayed well within my calorie goal, I biked for 30 minutes, and I took a short walk after dinner.

Result: no gain today. This is a first. I have always, ALWAYS gained a pound or two of bloat or water or whatever after eating at the Indian buffet. I see this as a major victory.

As I was writing this post, I almost just deleted it several times. I thought, "man this is stupid. This is just too much. No one cares about your buffet trip. What a boring post." But then instead of deleting it I decided to go ahead and post it. After all, it is my life. It is reality, boring or not. I promise I will have something more interesting to say later this week!!

Let me leave you with something that might be helpful to someone:

Lyn's Tips for Eating Out

1. Drink water or unsweetened iced tea as a beverage. Zero calories.
2. Don't go starving. Have something small like a piece of fruit before you go. (I had a small peach before I went to the buffet).
3. Skip appetizers and bread baskets unless it is something *really special.* And even then, just a sample is enough. If everyone else is having them, and you are struggling, ask for a small salad as your starter.
4. Salads: ask them to leave off the cheese and the croutons. Get a non fat or light dressing if possible. Ask for dressing on the side. Then you can dip your fork into the dressing before stabbing each bite of salad, and get just enough dressing to flavor each bite.
5. Keep sipping that water...
6. Eat slowly. Savor it. Have conversation. Put down the fork for 5 seconds. You food won't get up and run away.
7. When looking at the menu, focus on lighter options, or even the "senior" menu. Do not even look at the fried stuff.
8. Go for fish or a vegetarian option, or chicken breast. But if you have your heart set on steak or lasagna, have it. But follow the rest of these tips...
9. Get vegetable sides. NO french fries. Most places will give you a side of steamed veggies or a fresh fruit cup instead of fries if you ask. You can even ask for extra veggies. Just because the menu says something comes with mashed potatoes doesn't mean you can't say, "no potatoes please, but please bring extra green beans."
10. Ask them to prepare your food without oils. Skip anything breaded. Skip anything majorly cheesy.
11. When your food arrives, cut the meat or lasagna or whatever your main course is, in half. You can eat all of the veggies and fruits if you want them, but try just eating half the main dish. You can take the other half home for another meal or you can just leave it on your plate (rather than on your hips).
12. Take a break halfway through your meal. Just excuse yourself and go to the restroom. Take a five minute breather. It gives your stomach time to tell your brain you are getting full. This really does help. Try it.
13. Try not to butter or salt your food. Most restaurant food is pretty salty already.
14. When you have eaten enough (half your main dish), set your plate to the side. Put your napkin on it. Don't keep picking at it. Leave it alone.
15. IF you are considering dessert, make sure it is really worth it and you really do want it and have room for something more. Ask someone you are with to split a dessert with you. Or just ask for one bite of theirs. Often, that is enough. If you are ordering your own dessert, try to get something with fresh fruit in it. And only eat half. If whatever you order has a crust or whipped cream, leave it. Just have a few bites of the "good part."
16. Do not let one meal out turn into a day or a week of bad eating. Learn to incorporate LIFE into your healthy lifestyle. Get right back to eating lighter. Compensate by having a few lower calorie meals afterwards.

Now if I can just learn to cook my own, healthy version of Chicken Makhani, maybe I can get the family to skip the buffet altogether! Recipes, anyone?


Katschi said...

Here's one to try:
It looks crazy fat calorie-wise , though.

Learning how to dine out is a better choice, IMHO, than trying to avoid it all together.
Great tips, Lyn.

Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

Those are great buffet tips. The most important is, if you do overindulge, forgive yourself and let it go. Tomorrow is another day.

Anonymous said...

My son's 20th bday was last night and we went to Outback. (The first words out of the waitresses mouth were, "Would you like a bloomin' onion or cheese fries to start?" Ummm, is it just me, or do those words sound like "would you prefer to begin your meal with arsenic or cyanide?" (The menu items may kill you a little more slowly, but the fat grams and calories are INSANE!) I had the grilled salmon and veggies that comes with rice and a side salad w/ their delicious low-cal tomato dressing. No bread. Unsweetened tea. Delicious.

I think your post was amazingly insightful and helpful. (Don't worry about writing boring posts, we don't have to read them!(said with a mischievous grin)

ryry the adventurous said...

Hooray! I had a similar incident this week with the Indian Buffet by my work... same thing, lots of water, ate slowly, fortunately this buffet had a great dish that was a relatively light chicken and veggie mix that was delicious.

Great Guide!!! Should be attached to all restaurant menus... hehe.

Katschi said...

Here's a recipe for Tandoori Bites that looks like something I might even try:

Helen said...

I have the very book for you, and it does have a recipe for chicken makhani, or as she calls it in the book, "makhni murgi'

the book is "Curry Leaves and Cumin Seeds" by Jeeti Ghandi, and it is a healthier approach to indian cooking. I have tried a number of the recipes and they are great. the only thing missing is a food/nutrition count but I might try some and put them into the Sparkpeople recipe calculator.

your post was not at all boring. These very things are how we all learn how to make this journey a life-long one towards health and wellbeing, and not just a flogging torture path to yet more failure.
It's by having strategies that we learn to change our minds about how we eat.

Linda said...

I liked your post as well. About the only buffet I go to around here is Chinese, but I have the same issues. Fried stuff and everything bathed in oil. I try to always pick a ton of broccoli from among the dishes with veggies, and I get excited when they have sauteed veggies! I don't like going there because it is always filled with overweight people - I am serious! At advanced weight, I feel guilty even being there eating. I try so hard to eat the good stuff, and I cringe at the amount of fat-filled fried food most people eat. Okay - sorry, I'm being all about me. Sorry sorry sorry.

Loved your tips for buffet dining!

Dinah Soar said...

You are a woman after my own heart. I adore the Indian buffet.

I'm so glad you didn't delete this post. I think it will help a great many people.

I suffered form thinking there were places and situations I had to avoid when dieting. But that's not reality and won't work in the long term. You can eat pizza, you can eat buffet, you can have birthday cake--and lose weight or maintain as the case may be.

I used to fear buffets until more recently. Now, at a buffet I choose one or two items I really want, ignoring if it is high in calories or unhealthy. Then I add some nutritious filling items that aren't routine ordinary things I can eat/get anytime. That way everything feels special. And if my choices don't measure up taste wise, I replace them. I make a point to really savor my choices because each one was carefully chosen.

Michelle said...

Not boring at all! I adore Indian food, but haven't gone to an Indian restaurant since starting my weight-loss effort. Maybe, armed with your tips, I'll give it a shot.

Jim said...

You said:
"As I was writing this post, I almost just deleted it several times. I thought, "man this is stupid. This is just too much. No one cares about your buffet trip. What a boring post." But then instead of deleting it I decided to go ahead and post it. After all, it is my life. It is reality, boring or not"

I'm glad you didn't delete it, because most of us go through those same struggles. My challenge today was when I ate at an Italian restaurant. I did pretty well, ordering unsweetened tea, and a grilled salmon dinner, with a side salad. I had no dressing on the salad. So far, so good, but then I sat there and ate all the croutons in the salad, and a whole bunch of the bread. I guess I could have done worse, but I sure could have done a lot better.

Ceres said...

I find eating out very challenging in general, and I'm always prepared to see a gain in the scales the morning after. I also usually have alcohol when I dine out, which doesn't really help me :-)
I have avoided buffets, as I'm sure I would go overboard. I guess in an Indian buffet I would stuff myself with Tandoori chicken.
So, good job Lyn, for exercising moderation and being rewarded for it! And thanks for the excellent tips!

Lindsay said...

Great post and great tips on eating out. When I first found this site I thought what in the world could a person say about food this often? Well you have lots of great stuff to say! Keep it up! I will keep coming back.

new*me said...

great post and I have never found even one of your posts to be boring. You blog about life and those of us on similar journeys can see ourselves in your shoes. You offered some great tips. Great job on the no gain!

Chai said...

I just discovered your blog and I must say, your such an inspiration! Keep up the great work!

Melissa said...

All great tips. I do most of these, the most important thing is planning ahead and mentally preparing yourself to behave which is where most people mess up. Thanks for sharing!

Lynne said...

I say just go out to get your fix - to go once in a while is fine. You plan, you go, you eat what you have planned and you don't have to dwell on the calories... ENJOY it -- especially knowing that you were in control and you don't have to gain weight... PS I LOVE LOVE INDIAN FOOD!!! Channa marsala, garlic naan, pickles, chicken tikka, YUM!!

Sarah said...

Great post. You are learning how to live with food. I used to wonder how skinny people ate out. They do what you do. I also enjoy Outback-- I can eat well there while my husband enjoys his bloomin onion fat and whatever else...

BTW-- have you ever made your own pizza? We recently bought a bread maker and now we are making our own. We were pizza takeout people 6-7 times a month!!! (I'd often lobby for Dominoes, they have a great nutritional website and pretty good thin crust or a local place that also does a thin crust.) But now that we have the breadmaker we just use it to make the dough and then top with whatever we feel like. It allows my husband to pile on the pepperonis and sausage while I heap on the veggies. Fun for kids I would imagine. A little time consuming in that the dough takes about 1 hr. 45min, but it bakes up quick...

Anonymous said...

There was an Indian Buffet near where I used to work and I loved the Butter Chicken. I made it at home once, which is why I realized why it was called BUTTER chicken. I recently put modified the recipe to make it South Beach friendly, but I haven't made this version.

This is for 4-6 servings. Uneaten servings freeze well.

2-3 TBS butter (would have to be 1-2 tsp olive oil)
1 onion cut into thin wedges
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp garlic pressed (or jarred)
2 tsp ginger pressed (or jarred)
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1-2 tsp chili powder
1 TBS coriander
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into small cubes
1/4 - 1/2 cup ground almonds (I couldn't find my ground almonds when I made this and made it without them. It was still tasty)
8 oz can whole peeled tomatoes with juice
1 TBS tomato paste (I rarely use tomato paste as it always makes the resulting food too sweet. Omit unless you can find some that is unsweetened)
1/2 cup plain LF yogurt

Heat oil in large pan, add onions and cinnamon and cook until onions are soft. Add the garlic and ginger, turmeric, chili and coriander and heat through. Add the chicken and stir constantly until chicken turns white. Pour in almonds, tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir together. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add yogurt and stir just until heated. Remove from heat. This has a lot of sauce and you'll want to serve it on brown rice. When planning side dishes, it's helpful to know that the sauce is a lovely orangey red. Yum.


Karyn said...

Great eating out tips, Lyn. And congratulations on making good choices in a tempting atmosphere!

And I do not consider this to be a boring post....I love to hear what you (and others) are actually going through - what challenges you face down - how you overcome, etc. Don't quit writing the "boring stuff"!

Heather said...

great tips! I used to get that fear too...the how I can eat here without gaining tomorrow!! fear. but what I have learned is that you can really make just about anything work. Ive been in some pretty stick situations and had to make the best choicse that I could. but thats life, and it doesnt always work out the best or the easiest way. you just have ot learn to pick those best options rather than saying, well Im going to gain no matter what I eat so Ill just get whatever I want. thats the trap to avoid and if you can do that, then you will be able to eat anywhere you want and not worry about the scale so much.

that chick said...

wow, thanks for posting! this is a super helpful post for me.

Anonymous said...

here are my two favorite indian recipe sites:

i was VERY inspired by your post-- i really liked that you mentioned being able to enjoy your selection from the buffet without watching it like a hawk thinking of the next plate. that is something i strive for, and it was great to hear that it can be done. at times, i can feel like a food junkie, and i want to be able to "live in the moment" and enjoy a good treat without just thinking of my next "fix".

keep up the good work!

nmburleson said...

Lyn, not boring at all! Thanks for sharing that. Great job, you should be VERY proud of yourself!

deanna said...

I think this a great post - and I always stand by "this is my blog and I can do what I want" attitude/logic/whatever!!

The eating out tips are fabu, I always struggle and this helped a lot!


Big Girl said...

Those are great tips. I'll have to keep them in mind. Good job on not over doing it at the buffet.

MB said...

I'm so glad you didn't delete this post. I don't go to buffet often but I can use the great advice. You have come so far in the past year while I've been stress eating my way through it.

Honi said...

hmmm well Last night was WANTED in big capital letter Mac and Cheese.. and I wanted to make it from scratch.. how could I do it with out making it to bad for myself.. light cheese, 1 egg, whole wheat mac .. 1/2 tsp of butter salt and pepper.. the only thing I will change next time is that I will use the velveta light.. trying to use the real light shredded cheddar cheese did not work well with the skim milk.. but it was okay just not perfect.. Steve and I always share dinner when we eat out thats been a HUGE help in portion control for me.. sounds like You did a great job though!

PamW said...

Of all the tips, I like the one about the napkin best. When I begin to think that I should stop eating and am still tempted to keep picking at the plate, I put my napkin on it along with any other trash lying on the table, straw wrappers, papers from the napkins, other peoples napkins, etc. If I don't do this, I know that I will keep on picking up just one more bite and this helps me to stop myself.

Poonie said...

I try to steer clear of Indian too, as it is such a nightmare place to make good choices. I tend to go for the grill stuff like tandoori or tikka, with a plain salad and I usually share a mixed vegetable curry with someone. It is still full of calories which is why I need to share it. The rice is not actually as bad as you might think, it is usually basmati rice which is very low GI. It's the bread you really need to give a wide berth to. It is a very occasional treat for me to have Indian. I have every admiration for your successful trip to the buffet. Well done!