5 Ways To Forget The 'Diet Guilt' And Enjoy Your Dinner Out

Eat well without sucking the fun out of the room.

Tonight is the night. You finally landed reservations at the hottest new dining spot in town, and you've invited a group of friends to join you.

You’re glancing over the elaborate menu when the waiter brings by freshly made, warm bread and whipped butter. You begin to salivate and reach out to grab your fair share, when someone blurts out, “Ugh, carb bombs.” Screech. Silence.

As soon as you think the awkward moment has passed, another one of your guests starts in with a million questions about the fish. She asks the waiter if the chef can bake it without any butter or seasoning. “Plain?” the waiter asks. “Yes, and instead of the mashed potatoes, can I get double asparagus?” your friend replies.

You sink back into your chair overcome with embarrassment, thinking someone needs a glass of wine or a chill pill. Can you relate?

Your excitement to eat at a new place is squashed by a picky eater who is ruining your good time. Now let me be clear: I’m not referring to a person who has a food allergy or a medical reason, like diabetes, to avoid certain foods. My brother has severe food allergies. I completely understand the health risk when someone at the dinner table could be flirting with a visit to the emergency room.

I’m talking about the overly rigid eaters of the world who suck all the fun out of food and make us feel the lesser if we’re not on a health kick all the time – drinking green juice or labeling ourselves as gluten-freeor Paleo​.​ If this sounds like you or someone you know, it’s time to listen up and loosen up, so we can all get back to enjoying our meals.

Don’t Suffer From Order Envy

I love eating healthfully. It energizes me. The easiest way for me to do that, without calorie counting, is balance. I try to fill up half my plate with fruits and vegetables I am craving to get my nutrients, fiber and a full feeling in my belly.

But recently, I was out with a group of moms – getting what I thought was a reprieve from the demands of dirty diapers and teething – when I realized I was the only one even considering something other than a salad. Now don’t get me wrong, I love salad. I just know how to make a darn good salad at home, so it’s not something I will enthusiastically order when dining out. I couldn’t believe I was the only one drooling over the steak.

Though I wondered if I would be judged for not getting the salad, I stuck to my guns and ordered that steak – with fries. As soon as my plate of steak frites got to the table, the salad eaters fixated on it. Then came the waves of questions: “How are the fries? Is your steak cooked right?” This was more than casual conversation. They were jealous. Some even reached over to my plate and took some fries. (At least they asked first.) Order envy is the worst!

Tip: Don’t look to other people to approve what you are eating. You’re out to have a good time and enjoy your food. If you really want it, get it and enjoy it. Trust your body. Know that one meal or one day of non-A+ eating is not going to derail your overall health goals. You won’t magically gain 5 pounds if you choose to order that steak or slice of cake.

Don’t Be Paralyzed Over the “Right Choice”

Obsessing about healthy eating is not healthy for yourself or your relationships. It’s also not healthy to moralize food as good, bad or clean.

I mean, since when was our food ever dirty? Actually, vegetables grow in the dirt. Vegetables are dirty. So, what’s clean again? What does clean eating even mean? Actually, nothing. It doesn’t have a definition everyone can agree on. Some say it’s vegetarian​, plant-based​ ​and no processed foods. Really, so no canned beans or frozen broccoli?

It makes my head spin. These negative messages don’t help people make healthy choices they can feel good about. They increase anxiety about not being good enough.

One way I keep my goals of being a flexible and healthful eater is by listening to my body. I eat breakfast within a couple hours of waking up, and then I listen to my "body clock" to tell me when to eat. I get tempted by foods all the time, whether it's stress or boredom making me want to nosh. If I'm not hungry, I reconsider eating.

I choose to live a healthy life, and I encourage my clients, as well as my daughters, to do the same. I’m thrilled when my daughter asks for an apple instead of chocolate, but I don’t force or restrict food in my house. I don’t want our meals to be turned into food fights.

Tip: Think about some of the recent food rules you’ve set out for yourself. Are you ever worried at the dinner table? Imagine what you’re missing out on – taste, conversation and pleasurable eating, to name a few – when you’re worried about what’s in your food. If you feel good about your choices, that’s what matters. They are your choices after all. Don’t say things that might make others think you are judging them for their choices, either.

Live a Little

Different foods make us feel certain ways. Our emotions are uplifted when we do something exciting and feel wonder. Whether we're seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time or are treating our palates to an explosion of unique flavors, new experiences can inspire awe.

Tip: Be adventurous. Try something that you’ve never had before or wouldn’t likely make. No matter what you try, it’s important to realize that food isn’t good or bad; it’s nourishment above all else. You will eat thousands of meals in your lifetime. Trying and learning new things is part of what makes us happy.

Let Me Do Me

Consider this phrase if you’re like me and feel like other people’s healthy eating habits are influencing your ability to enjoy food. Order exactly what you want, and don’t let other’s beliefs or behaviors affect your choices.

In the end, we make the least healthy decisions by being overly rigid and full of judgment. Why do we have to go to extremes with food, to the point where we take all the fun out of an experience that has the potential to be so pleasurable?

A little empathy can go a long way here, even if you’re frustrated with those making you feel bad about your choices. Consider that, in many ways, someone else’s judgments are a reflection of how they view themselves and their own inner struggle, even if they aren’t aware of it.

I get good sleep and exercise to keep my mood positive. When I don't sleep enough or meet my exercise goals, I feel bad physically and emotionally. I know I need to be on top of these if I also want to make healthy choices easy on myself.

Take a Shot

If you think you may be the one putting a damper on others' dining experiences, it’s time to relinquish control and take a risk. What do you have to lose? Eating something you regularly forbid yourself from enjoying could be one of the most exhilarating decisions you make.

Life is more fun with people who like to eat and have a good time. So dig into food and to life. Most importantly, remember that it’s OK. You can be a healthy person and eat foods that bring you pleasure. Chefs call it the X-factor: the component of flavor that can’t be defined, wrapped up in emotion, passion and love.

I wholeheartedly believe everyone can reconnect to feeling good about their food choices no matter what's on their plate. Now, where are those “carb bombs” – I’m hungry.

Your Healthy Eating Habits Are Ruining My Good Time originally appeared on U.S. News & World Report.

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