Every “diet” or nutritional strategy has its strengths and its drawbacks. “Flexible dieting” is no different. If you’re not familiar with flexible dieting, it’s an eating strategy where you get to include foods that many other diets would deem “off limits.” This is done by keeping a journal of the food you eat and eating a specific amount of “macros” (proteins, carbs and fats). With flexible dieting, it doesn’t matter what the source of those macros is, as long as you reach your macronutrient targets for the day.

The benefit to eating this way is it removes a large amount of the “guilt” that is often associated with foods and specific diets. Anyone who has ever tried a low-carb diet knows what I’m talking about. You’ll be doing so great avoiding carbs like they’re the plague, then suddenly in a moment of weakness, you indulge. What usually happens next is your attitude shifts to “well I already blew it, might as well go all in,” and you over do it. The next day you wake up feeling bloated, sick, and guilty because you ate “bad foods.”

Flexible dieting aims to remove the stigma from specific foods, and instead helps us develop more self control. Given that most people’s ideal macros for their goals will require them to eat predominantly whole foods anyway, is indulging in the occasional “junk food” really going to keep you from reaching your goals? Spoiler alert: No, it won’t.

But, no diet is without its flaws, and one of the big challenges clients face is how to track their macros when dining out. From not knowing what’s in the food they’re ordering, to not having the macro “budget” for the items they want. Here are 5 tips to help you stay on track when dining out.

1. Look Up the Menu Ahead of Time

This tip will require that you’ll know ahead of time that you’ll be dining out and where you’ll be going. There is no law that says you have to wait until after you eat something to put it in your food log. If you have dinner plans with friends and know where you’ll be going, look up their menu ahead of time, pick out your meal, pretrack it to the best of your abilities, and then work the rest of your day around it.

The idea here is similar to going to the grocery store with a planned list and budget. When you “wing it” you end up purchasing items you don’t really need, thus spending more money than you need to, and tempting yourself with foods that don’t fit with your plan.

2. Save Your Macros

If you don’t know where you’ll be going, but that you WILL be going out some where, simply cut back on how much you normally eat throughout the day or days prior to the meal out. We are a result of what we routinely do, so that means success is more about averages than it is single decisions. If you were to eat 30g of carbohydrates less per day for 3 days leading up to a big meal out, and then overate for your daily limit by 90g of carbs, you’ll have broken even on your weekly average. For example, knowing that I’ll want to get pizza from Vinnie’s (my favorite pizza shop in Concord, NH), over the weekend, I may eat a little less each week day leading up.

3. Chain Restaurants are an Option

Assuming you’re in a pinch, and you end up dining out unexpectedly, it can make life much easier if you dine at a chain restaurant. Big chains typically have their nutrition information readily available on their website, and may already be available in your food tracker of choice (like MyFitnessPal or Avatar Nutrition). Another benefit to chain restaurants is that they are typically very standardized with their portion sizes. Because it effects their bottom dollar, chains are great for producing the same meal over and over again with little variance. That means the nutrition information you find online for them will usually be fairly accurate.

4. Use Chain Restaurants as a Guide

If you prefer to dine local (Who doesn’t?) getting the nutrition information for your meal can be challenging. It’s rare that a local restaurant would have their nutrition information readily available. In this case, it’s okay to use a generic or chain substitute when your food journal. Will the mashed potatoes at the new T-Bones Restaurant in Concord, NH be exact to the mashed potatoes at Applebees? Probably not, but they’ll be close enough. Tracking your food isn’t an exact science or process. It’s simply a smart and easy way to help keep you from overeating day after day, which is essentially how one becomes overweight in the first place.

5. Guesstimating

Truthfully this is a skill and one you can only acquire once you’ve been tracking your food for a while. This is again why food tracking is such a powerful and life changing tool. I recall sitting on the gym couch one evening with a client who was feeling frustrated with the challenge of reaching her macro targets each day. She told me what she had eaten so far that day, but she hadn’t put any of it into her food tracker. After telling me what she had to eat, I guesstimated roughly how many carbs, proteins and fats she had eaten so far. When I instructed her to put it into her tracker, I was only a few grams off on each macro. That skill comes from tracking. That means I don’t have to know the exact ingredients in a dish, I can still make an educated guess, and get close enough for my purposes.

Don’t be afraid to ask your server either. Restaurant staff constantly encounter people with particular eating habits like vegan, keto, paleo, and low sodium diets. Asking them how many ounces of beef your burger is, or how much butter was put on your vegetables won’t be weird. And even if it were, what’s more important to you? Sticking to your plan, or not seeming slightly odd to a stranger?

Treat Yo Self

Flexible dieting is all about learning what’s in your food, learning how to stop over eating, and incorporating foods that you enjoy while still working towards your goals. We saw how well the “just say no” campaign of drug education worked, and restrictive diets like keto, vegan or “clean eating” (whatever that is), have a similar effect. Those methods have little in the way of personal education and empowerment. And while sticking to your macro targets is tricky when dining out, it’s not impossible, and it’s definitely not a reason to hit the “screw it” button. Just like working towards any goal in life, it requires intentionality, and a little bit of effort.

If you’re looking for gyms in concord, NH to help you with your training AND nutrition, give us a call. We’d love to help.