52 Healthy Habits: How I Broke My Eating Out Habit

Welcome to the latest edition of 52 healthy habits when each week we tackle a new habit to improve our lives. A healthy lifestyle is built on habits, it's what we lean on when our willpower and motivation run out (because we are human and that's what happens). If you take the time and energy to develop healthy habits, then over time you can reap the benefits of an easily sustainable healthy lifestyle. We don't need to overhaul our whole lives at once, just tackle one habit at a time. No matter where you are in your healthy lifestyle journey, from newbie beginner to expert, there is always room for incremental improvements. It's the small changes over time that lead to big results. 

When I talk about healthy habits, I usually talk about the new healthy habits we can develop, rather than focusing on changing bad habits. If you develop healthy habits, often the bad habits get squeezed out naturally. For example if you focus on adding more vegetables to your meals each day, you tend to fill up on fiber, feel more full for longer time and maybe eat less of the unhealthy stuff as a result. I usually like to discuss what we can add to our healthy lives rather than what we need to take away. Today is a little different. 

HOW I BROKE MY EATING OUT HABIT

One of our New Year's Resolutions was to not eat out at restaurants. We committed to prepare all of our meals at home, within reason. It wasn't necessary about eating healthfully, if we wanted hamburgers and french fries, we could prepare them ourselves at home. It was more about controlling our spending than anything else. It just so happens that it is healthier to prepare food at home. The first month of not eating out, I lost five pounds without changing any of my other habits. Happy accident. 

It's not that eating at restaurants occasionally is inherently bad. I happen to enjoy going out to eat. You can eat at restaurants, make healthy choices, make special requests for a healthier meal and control your own portions by eating until 80% full, sharing meals or taking home leftovers. Restaurant eating absolutely can be a part of a healthy lifestyle.

It is only a potential issue when it becomes a habit. Not something that you enjoy, just something you do because...well, that's what you do. If you run through a fast food drive-through for breakfast each morning, it might be a habit. If you go out to eat for lunch every work day, it might be a habit. If you go out to eat dinner every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, it might be a habit. 

We were going out to lunch every Saturday and Sunday. We would spend hours deciding where to go. Where do you want to go? I don't know, where do YOU want to go? At nauseam. It's not just us, right?. Then a lot of times it would not even be that enjoyable. We would spend $60 or more each weekend for mediocre food with not much payoff. We decided to break our eating out habit by committing to not eating out at all in 2017 (within reason, and I will get to that shortly). 

MAKE THE COMMITMENT FOR ONE MONTH

You don't have to go all in for a year like we did. Try it for four weeks and see how it goes. Look at it as an experiment. After the month is up review how it went. Did you feel deprived? Were you incredibly inconvenienced? Or did you just get used to not eating out and eating at home became your new healthy habit? Did you lose weight? Save money? That is what happened to us.

Once you have a month under your belt, you can make a decision on how to move forward. What was good about it? What was bad about it? Where there any benefits? What were the struggles? Depending on the outcome of your experiment, decide how to move forward. Maybe limit restaurant meals to once a month, or once a week or maybe keep going with the experiment.

BE REASONABLE

In case you were wondering, I am not a robot. I am a human being. I like to eat. I like spending time with friends. I enjoy special occasions with my family. When we committed to not eating out it was with the caveat, within reason. That means when my best friend got married and I went to her rehearsal dinner, I enjoyed a restaurant meal. When an old friend called me up and asked me to go to lunch, I went. When it's someone's birthday at work and the company is picking up the tab for a birthday lunch, I don't stay behind with my Tupperware salad. When I visited my family in Pennsylvania and my Dad wanted to go to Olive Garden, I was there with bells on. The idea is to break the habit, not become a drone. If there is a special occasion, a meaningful social reason or a business obligation, then those times are the exception to the rule. When It's Friday night and no one feels like cooking, or it's Saturday afternoon and we're bored, that's when it's most important that we hold to our commitment. 

SET PARAMETERS

We didn't initially set parameters for what qualified as eating out and it threw us off track in the beginning. My husband started buying hotdogs from the convenience store when we were doing construction on our house. He was working long days and had very little time for lunch.

We thought buying a drink or a snack from the convenience store was inline with our plan, so at first we considered this ok. But after some thought, realized we had created a loophole. While hot dogs weren't necessarily a restaurant meal, it certainly wasn't preparing food at home, so he stopped. If he wanted hot dogs, he would have to buy them from the grocery store and prepare at home. Decide in the beginning what is considered eating out and stick to it. We decided prepared meals from the grocery store were ok, prepared foods from the convenience store or coffee shop were not. You don't have to follow my rules. Set up your own parameters up for what works for you and your lifestyle.

HAVE A MEAL PLAN

The only way this will work is if you plan ahead. If you usually go out to eat at lunch, you'll need to spend time planning and preparing what you'll eat for lunch each day. It's a good idea to have have simple to prepare meals planned out for weekday dinners. Some nights we make turkey burgers, or veggie omelettes or have a crock pot meal prepared. The easier the better. If your nightly meal is easy to prepare, you'll be less tempted to go out to eat or order in. 

Be realistic with your meal plan. Don't plan extravagant meals on a Tuesday night when you know your time is limited. Don't put fish on your meal plan when you don't actually like fish, just because you think it's healthy. Try to marry what you think you should do with what you will actually do. Plan healthy meals that you enjoy. Then have a backup plan.

We all know life throws us curve balls that can thwart our best intentions. Have a plan for when your plan fails. A rotisserie chicken or prepared salad from the grocery store can be a quick and convenient meal while still sticking to your commitment. A freezer meal may not be the healthiest thing you can eat, but it can be a lifesaver on those crazy days when nothing goes as planned. It's not about being perfect. It's all about making the best choice available in the moment. 

INDULGE

This is by no means intended to limit indulgence meals, fun or enjoyment in food. We still eat all the foods we enjoy. We make burgers and pizza at home and buy grocery store sushi for our indulgence meals. Try looking up copy cat restaurant recipes to prepare your favorite restaurant meal at home. Plan a fancy meal at home. Just because you temporarily gave up restaurants doesn't mean you have to give up good food. I'm not a fun hater. 

How often do you eat out? It is for enjoyment or is it just a habit? Is there room in your lifestyle to cut back on restaurant meals? Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

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Coach Lea

I am a NASM personal trainer and RRCA adult distance running coach that specializes in strength training for runners. I offer in-person training in the Shredshed, online training and nutrition coaching. If you are interested in coaching, please contact me. Have questions? I'd love to help. 

While I am a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, I am not your personal trainer and nutrition coach. Since I don't know your exercise abilities, injury background or medical history, please see your doctor before beginning any new exercise or diet program. This is an opinion blog. No information in this blog is intended to be taken as medical advice or prescription. Please see your doctor and/or registered dietitian for any health concerns.