By Eli Folick
With travel, vacations, and social gatherings increasing during summer months, opportunities for eating multiply. Family get-togethers, camping and boating excursions, offer chances to share food and experience new restaurants in new places. Many of the choices will not be healthful. However, there are tactics you can easily take to curb your culinary enthusiasm and the particular situation.
On the Go
For example, on any road trip of two nights or less, I take my own, home-made, food with me in the car. I start with a list of about 15 choices that are nutritionally dense, durable, and easy to eat at a picnic table or after being warmed in a motel microwave.
A vegetable loaf made of mushrooms, beans, one or two egg whites (no yolks), raw oatmeal, quinoa, and seasonings works well. I bake it in advance for about an hour, let it cool and divide it into six-ounce portions. I put each portion in a sandwich bag and refrigerate them. One loaf, along with some raw celery and carrot sticks and a handful of grapes makes a wonderful lunch or dinner on the go and avoids the urge for “fast food.”
For excursions that are longer than two nights, opt for healthful choices at restaurants with a salad bar. On menus, look for words like baked, broiled, diet, grilled, healthy, light, low-fat or fat-free, steamed, and low- or no salt, and make sure the preparer leaves off butter. Avoid all-you-can-eat buffets and most fast-food restaurants.
When a buffet is all there is, think before piling on your plate. Start at the salad side if there is one. Stay away from anything creamy, including salad dressings. If you see something you can’t resist, try a small spoonful, not an American-sized full serving. For chicken options, take one piece of white breast meat if possible; dark meat is higher in fat and calories. Avoid fried chicken, and peel off any skin. Dessert is best left to several pieces of fruit (not fruit salad soaked in dressing). Eat slowly and mindfully, savoring each mouthful. Pause between bites, and take sips of water.
Time with Relatives
If your summer involves a trip to a relative’s house or a family reunion, large quantities of food is a guarantee. Many of those we love take pride in producing all the family favorites, expecting everyone to enjoy, have seconds, and comment on all the delicious treats. While confronted with choices that are enticing and possibly nostalgic, you are on a journey to health and most of this doesn’t align with your food plan. Before digging in, pause, and thoroughly check out what is available. A salad dish and vegetables are probably your best first choices. In the remaining part of your plate, place a small piece of meat, chicken or other available protein. Skip the breads and desserts. If you need to refill your plate, do so with the salad.
Eat slowly, chat with relatives and friends, savor each mouthful. If you feel like you absolutely must have a piece of home-made apple pie, allow yourself the indulgence for this one meal. Many of us eat 21 meals a week and a few snacks. One meal that goes slightly off course isn’t going to interfere with your journey to health. It’s the long haul that counts. This same way of thinking and evaluating can and should be used with other events, including barbeques, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, birthday parties, and holidays.
Stress-related eating and overeating is very common. But here again, mindfulness can play a strong role in learning to overcome the pull of food successfully. When we feel stressed, we need to take action. The goal is to focus that energy into something beneficial. Anything that keeps us away from the kitchen is good. A walk around the neighborhood or a local park can sometimes help alleviate acute stress. Calling a friend or relative and talking it through can help. Just doing a crossword puzzle might be enough. Maybe knitting or painting will work. Taking a short drive in the country works best for me. The key is to replace the negative thought with a positive thought, replace the ruminating with an absorbing activity. Plan an outing, a picnic, an errand and anything else that takes your mind to a better place.
Cravings can also derail the journey to health. It’s 8 p.m., and you are sitting on the couch watching TV. All of a sudden you feel hungry, and the ad on the screen showed a mouth-water burger. You must have one! Stop. Use your head. That burger has more than 2,000 calories – the total daily recommended food intake. And you’ve already consumed three meals and a snack. To satiate the craving – and prevent having to drive somewhere to get food you don’ t need – grab something crunchy and readily available. Perhaps an apple, celery or a carrot. It’s a good idea to always keep these in the refrigerator.
When you have a craving or you are still hungry when you’ve eaten your meals and nothing more than a “bad” choice can satisfy you, stop and think for a moment: “Is this what I really want?” “Will this help me or hurt me?” “Will I regret this later?” I suggest drinking a glass of water and waiting 10 minutes before indulging. Walk around a bit. If after these tactics you still must cave, then take one bite of that certain something. Savor it, enjoy it, but limit it to a bite and move on. You have goals that are good for you. Don’t give up. Remember why you started this journey to health. You can do this, I know. I did it when I started at the age of 70.