I like food, and while this might not be the emotional attachment that I desire, it’s my current reality. I have plans to change this, which I will share as my life is altered (stay tuned), but in the process of that shift, I think it’s important to know what to do food-wise in different situations.
Honestly, the first questions to ask are, “Am I hungry?” and if no, “What emotional need am I trying to meet with food and how can I meet that need without eating?” I think many times we think we are “hungry”, we just want to eat or feel like we “should” eat. It could be the time we usually eat and our body is providing the food alarm. Or, we could be somewhere that usually involves eating, so our body tells us that we should be eating. For instance, in social situations with friends, I feel like I “need” a beer and “should” graze on some snacks or full-fledged dinner. I don’t know why social obligations are always surrounded by food, but they are and we need to remember that can be a trigger for mindless eating. I think it’s important to be aware of this!
Let’s first consider that I am actually hungry and need something to eat. However, I didn’t plan ahead for a meal and want to eat something that isn’t horrible. Maybe it’s lunchtime and I didn’t have leftovers to bring to work (this happens more often than I would like) or maybe I’m out shopping and need a food break.
I could not eat – I’ll save this discussion for a later time, but I will just say that it’s not the end of the world to miss a meal! I don’t know about you, but I definitely have some reserves on me! Maybe it’s good to use those from time to time. If I continually feed my body, when exactly does the stored fat get used?
I could go out to a restaurant or grab fast food. For restaurants, grilled lean meat or seafood with vegetables or as a salad is always a good choice. Here, it’s important to ask questions about how the preparation and ask for changes, if necessary. Since many people struggle with food allergies, restaurants are used to people asking questions and are willing to do what they can to accommodate requests. It is helpful to call in advance and realize that some restaurants are more willing and able than others to make substitutions. It wouldn’t be reasonable to assume that a fast food establishment, such as Taco Bell, will work with your food requirements, but nice restaurants may be able to.
I had an experience once where my family went to a Mexican restaurant during a Whole30, which was very restrictive. I was hungry and wanted to stay consistent with the plan, so I talked to the waiter, who then brought the kitchen manager over. Fajitas sounded like a great idea, but when I asked about oil and marinades, there were non-compliant ingredients. However, they were able to make fajitas without the marinade using a compliant oil. It tasted just as good! Also, they make their guacamole at the table, so I was able to avoid problem ingredients (I ate it with a fork rather than a chip, but raw vegetables would have sufficed too). It was a great experience and no one, the restaurant or my family, had a problem that I asked.
I would suggest a quick Google search for ingredients before choosing a place to eat. Many chain restaurants are forthcoming with this information, or at the very least, they will provide allergen information. You can use allergen information as clues if full ingredient and nutritional information is not available. For instance, if “soy” is listed as a potential allergen for something you wouldn’t expect to contain soy sauce, you may be able to infer that soybean oil was used. If “dairy” is listed as an allergen and you don’t think there’s a source of milk or cheese, maybe it’s hidden in the preparation. This information can help you decide what you do or do not want to eat.
Fast food restaurants often use weird preservatives, which you would never know without looking (see my Chick-Fil-A post for an example of a restaurant I thought was healthier than it is). Currently, Whataburger seems like it will be okay based on ingredients for their grilled chicken, vegetables, avocado, salsa, and jalapenos, but I need to investigate further because they don’t have al a carte ingredients and I am afraid that the “bun oil” they list on their sandwiches and tacos may be what everything is cooked in. That would be a deal breaker for me, but I haven’t asked, so I am not sure. I’ll let you know!
I could also make a grocery run, but I should recognize that preparation options are limited or non-existent (for instance, we only have a microwave at work). The adage about shopping the perimeters of grocery stores is great, but there are things you can eat in the main aisles, you just have to take some time and look at ingredients to see what will work for you. But, you’ll never go wrong with fresh fruits and vegetables. You can steam broccoli in a microwave, have a salad with oil and vinegar or an appropriate salsa as a dressing. You can even top it with an appropriate prepared or deli meat, provided the ingredients meet your needs. Personally, I am a huge hummus fan, and that’s great with baby carrots. Olives, nuts, some soups, some tuna, crunchy snacks (air popped popcorn, even some chips, shockingly), food bars with minimal ingredients, etc. can all be decent. The most important thing is verifying that the ingredients are in line with your nutritional beliefs.
I could go to a convenience store. My husband will tell you that I probably like gas station food too much and he may be onto something, but honestly not everything is horrible, you just have to be focused on your nutrition and not so hungry that you’re lured in by the bad stuff. Many convenience stores carry fresh fruit, healthy nuts, boiled eggs, pickles, and a variety of sparkling and flat waters with no sugar or other weird ingredients. My favorite gas station makes tacos and while they aren’t perfect nutritionally (they have a soy-based marinade that is not removable and don’t choose the oils I would), a taco without the tortilla isn’t a horrible choice. I just shouldn’t eat that every day! Look for the same brands you’ve previously evaluated at the grocery or spend a few minutes reading labels while you’re browsing. You may find some hidden gems that will work in a pinch!
I could have some emergency food with me (this is advisable) for these situations. I can go to the grocery and compile a stash of fruits, nuts, protein powder, and other items that I have previously evaluated and found to be free from ingredients that I choose to avoid. If I have a refrigerator (at work), this offers additional flexibility. My work stash includes items that are both perishable and non-perishable. I also bring my lunch whenever possible. Having this variety helps me in several ways. Obviously, it provides options in case I don’t bring lunch and I don’t want to go out. It also helps me when I don’t feel like eating my lunch that day. I can choose to eat any of my emergency food instead, and have my lunch the next day. Now, you can’t do this every day or your food will go bad, but that’s actually another advantage! I don’t like when food goes bad, so if my perishable food or lunch is nearing the end of its lifetime, I choose to eat that and eating out is no longer an option. I am not a fan of wasting food or money, so I use that to my advantage here!
I would encourage you to make a list of go-to foods that meet your nutritional beliefs and keep them with you. My list is in my head, but I should actually write it out and share it on my Foods I Love page. As time goes on, I will try to add more there. Lately it feels like all I write about is what not to have, but there are plenty of things to eat that are good!
Tune in on Monday for part two…