Nothing has a bigger influence on staying in shape than nutrition. Eating a clean diet that includes a wide selection of fruit and vegetables, lean meats and low-GI carbohydrates is vital. So too is staying within your daily calorie allowance.
But nothing sabotages healthy nutrition more than eating out. The problem is, restaurants are hard to avoid. Most of us love to meet up with friends for a meal, while many people have to eat out regularly with clients in the line of work. And people today lead busy lives and often have to grab a meal on the go, which can really throw a spanner in the works.
But does it really have to be that way? Does sacrificing your dream of a six-pack become unavoidable the moment you pass through a restaurant door?
I used to be a bodybuilder, and when bodybuilders diet for a contest they do endless hours of cardio and weight training in between eating tasteless, boring meals. Invitations from friends are turned down, and life becomes miserable. I once thought things were supposed to be this way, but now I know differently. That’s because I’ve made the transition from tunnel vision to seeing the bigger picture!
Right now I’m preparing for a muscle-modelling competition, which is similar to bodybuilding but involves different posing routines and puts less emphasis on size. I enjoy my food, I eat out at the weekends, I don’t turn down my friends’ invitations to summer barbecues, and I’m generally a very happy person. Did I mention that I don’t do cardio either?!?
When it comes to restaurant selection, I tend to avoid Italian and Indian eateries. That’s because the meals are very heavy, involving sauces containing hundreds of hidden calories that you don’t even consider when ordering. What’s more, they leave you feeling bloated, tired and uncomfortable. So what foods would I recommend?
Arabian restaurants are my favourite. When eating out, I basically want some tasty meat, a nice salad and a serving of carbohydrates. Variety is also welcome. In Arabic restaurants you get all those things, and it doesn’t have to be costly. A mixed grill usually includes chicken skewers, lamb skewers, minced lamb and chicken or lamb shawarma. It’s very likely to come with some nan bread, salad or rice – sometimes even all three – and only costs about £12-15.
It’s way too much for one person – yes, even 250lb me! – so I share it with my girlfriend. She eats the bread because I don’t eat gluten, but that’s no problem: I just opt for rice, and we order an extra side of taboulleh salad and hummus to share. Add some fresh juice if that’s something you like, and – hey presto! – you have a delicious, nutritious meal for two for about £25. For a few pounds extra you can even relax with a shisha pipe afterwards, making your evening the ultimate Arabic experience.
I absolutely love Japan and Japanese food. There are many traditional dishes but, since most people think sushi when they contemplate Japanese food, let’s go with that!
As I mentioned, I love variety in my food – and sushi has loads of it. Sushi rolls consist of rice (sushi rice has some sugar and vinegar added to it, but it won’t kill you), raw fish, seaweed, some sesame, eggs and vegetables. What more could you ask for? You may not necessarily want to make sushi a staple of your daily nutrition, but it’s an absolutely perfect meal when eating out.
I’d recommend ordering a variety of nigiri sushi to share with your friends. This will allow you to try a little bit of everything on the menu (I always want to try more things than my stomach can accommodate when I’m in a sushi restaurant) without getting uncomfortably full. Genius! Sushi might be a little more costly, but it’s delicious and well worth it.
French restaurants always deliver. Yes, they often do fancy meals that may contain a number of ingredients we want to avoid. But they also have a great selection of healthy meals.
A starter such as scallops or smoked salmon is ideal, and can be followed with a salad including pear, walnuts, blue cheese and chicken for those seeking a low-carbohydrate option. If you’re feeling a little hungrier, try steak and potatoes with a side of honey-glazed carrots or beans – delicious.
If you really want a pudding, go for it – but don’t make it a habit. Rather, consider it a reward for a good workout earlier in the day. Hey, you could even try a small glass of red wine; so long as you don’t do it more than once a week, it won’t cause too much harm. Classy and healthy – voila!
On the go
If you work in central London, outlets such as Pod and Eat provide healthy meal options boxed and ready to eat.
They typically have a high protein and fibre content, and are usually low in carbohydrates. Generally, these restaurants offer a variety of options that you can choose from according to your goals. But if you want something in between a meal in a plastic container and restaurant food, and don’t have much time to wait around, burritos are your saviours!
Since I don’t eat gluten, I opt out for a naked burrito, but a wrap is also fine. Fill it with rice – unless you’re following a low-carbohydrate protocol – and add peppers, beans, your favourite meat and some tomato salsa. Guacamole is also a great addition (healthy fats and awesome taste), and is a must for a low-carb burrito without rice. But if you already have rice in there, this might just be a bit too much extra fat and calories (unless you have just finished a workout, of course). Where else can you get a warm, healthy meal for £6 that’s ready within three minutes?
As you can see, eating out doesn’t have to be unhealthy. You just have to make sensible choices. And if you do, it will not only cost less and leave you feeling better after dinner, it will also keep you on track for achieving the body of your dreams. No more binge eating, no more bloated stomach, no more feeling uncomfortable – and plenty of fun dining out. Happy eating!