My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.
Do you struggle to keep on top of nutrition when you attend social events during a fat loss diet? Then this article is for you.
I’m going to cover two of my clients’ favourite go-to strategies, which also happen to be two of my personal favourites, when eating out without tracking calories. So far, they’ve been applied with great success to a range of different social events, including:
Here’s why these methods work, even without being meticulous about your calories:
Are you sold on the idea yet? Then let’s get into it.
What are you trying to accomplish?
To be able to stay on track, we first need to define what that means.
Normally, you’d consider yourself “on track” if you were ticking some or all of these boxes on a regular basis:
Over time, the combination of these behaviours results in the achievement of your fitness goals, from muscle gain to fat loss to improved athletic performance.
Importantly, you don’t need to do all of the above every single day. If you’re on point with these behaviours the majority of the time, you’ll be successful.
When you’re dieting to lose fat, and you choose to attend a social event without tracking calories, expecting to hit your usual caloric target for fat loss (a caloric deficit) is probably unrealistic.
This is where my two methods come in: With either of them, you’ll be able to stay within the ballpark of your maintenance calories.
This is a more achievable target because it’s higher than your deficit calories, giving you more room for error. In addition, it helps reduce the stress of social events that most people experience because they’re afraid of overeating.
Don’t worry about losing progress if you eat at maintenance calories for one day. You don’t need to be in a caloric deficit every single day to achieve fat loss. As long as you’re in a net deficit over time (for example, within a week), you’ll lose weight.
Moreover, aiming for maintenance for a single special occasion, won’t hold you back. Quite the opposite: It’ll show you that you can lose weight and still participate in these events, so it’ll boost your confidence and future success!
Now that we’ve clarified what we’re trying to achieve, let’s consider each of the two non-tracking methods you can employ to accomplish this goal:
1. The One Plate Method
1. Choose a meal that fits into one plate. If something doesn’t fit, don’t have it.
2. Fill the plate only once. Don’t go for seconds.
3. If you want something extra, choose either one serving of dessert or one calorie-containing drink. (Not both!)
4. Aim to stop eating when you’re satisfied, not when you’re still really hungry or when you’re full to bursting.
That’s it! Simple, but effective.
With this method, you can still have a tasty meal, without depriving yourself or eating so much that you feel stuffed and uncomfortable at the end of the day.
To be successful, be honest with yourself.
Choose a reasonably sized plate and avoid piling food on top of it like you’re trying to recreate the Eiffel Tower.
Vice versa, don’t pick a tea saucer with a salad leaf and a thumb-sized serving of chicken breast for fear of eating too much. This restrictive behaviour usually results in a poor relationship with food and in a potential overeating episode.
2. The Quarter Plate Method
The guidelines are the same described in the previous section, but you’ll be paying a bit of extra attention to what’s on the plate:
1. Fill half of the plate with vegetables.
2. Fill a quarter with a low-fat protein source.
3. Fill the last quarter with either carbs or fat, or a combination of both.
The Quarter Plate Method is slightly more advanced than the One Plate Method because it includes a focus on the specific composition of the meal, ensuring that you’re consuming a reasonable amount of fibre, vitamins, minerals, and protein.
Fibre and protein are great nutrients to help you feel fuller (you can read this article for more tips on this topic), whereas vitamins and minerals can benefit your health, mood, and training performance.
On the other hand, many high-carb and high-fat foods, like pizza and burgers, aren’t very filling, and we tend to eat more of them. As a double whammy, these foods also pack a lot more calories than simpler, less processed choices like vegetables, sweet potato, and chicken breast.
Biasing your plate towards protein and fibre, you’ll find it easier to eat until you’re satisfied and to keep your calories in check even without counting them.
For instance, let’s apply the Quarter Plate Method to an average burger with fries, which can easily total up to 1000 calories or more:
These adjustments will help you lower the caloric content of the meal, and increase fibre, protein, vitamins, and minerals. A double win if I’ve ever seen one!
Which method should you choose?
Make your choice based on the type of event you’re attending, asking yourself two fundamental questions:
1. How busy are you going to be?
For bigger events, like weddings, or important ones, such as work dinners, choose the simpler One Plate Method.
This is not the time to challenge yourself with something that might seem better on paper, but in reality will blow up in your face. Set yourself up for success with a plan so easy, even a child could nail it.
For smaller occasions, like a date with your partner that you organised yourself, you can afford to use the Quarter Plate Method, because you’re more likely to have the headspace for it.
2. How much choice do you have?
Sometimes you’ll attend events with a set menu, and won’t have a lot of agency over your food choices. The One Plate Method is perfect for these because you don’t have to worry about what you put on the plate, only about portion control.
When you have more control over the menu, the Quarter Plate Method can work very well.
You may need to ask for some tweaks to be made to your plate, but restaurant staff are usually used to customers with differing needs – for example, people with an intolerance or allergy – so don’t deprioritise your personal goals for fear of inconveniencing them.
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A personal trainer who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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