Getting in Shape…with Takeout Food? by Lisa Snow

lisa-snowMuch ink is spilled by today’s nutritionists and diet gurus debating “the best” diet.  Is it vegan or Paleo?  (Actually, both those diets are great.)  Should people eat local or certified organic?  (Why not do some of each?)  Should we eat low carb or high carb?  (It depends on your goals.  Are you trying to lose a lot of weight?  Or already slim and training for a marathon?  Or recovering from an injury?)

Instead of debating fine points, we as an industry should be focusing on giving people practical tips for health and wellness.  Books and articles supposedly geared toward beginners often recommend a drastic switch to a healthier diet, then proceed to offer a long section of complex recipes.  When we as trainers and coaches and nutritionists recommend these types of books to our clients on day one, we mean well, but without meaning to, we are disrespecting those clients.  We are failing to understand how hard it is to work 80 or 100 hours per week.  We aren’t walking in the shoes of someone raising three young children.  We are just not “getting it.”

Cooking at home is both fun and healthy, and maybe those overwhelmed clients will be ready for the healthy diet books and the fancy cookbooks someday.  But we (not just nutritionists, but the whole healthy eating community) need to meet people where they are today.  And where many women are today is just getting by with coffee in the morning and fast food for lunch.  What if the solution to being busy, tired, and overweight didn’t have to involve big, thick cookbooks?

Just ten years ago, the “quit eating out” nutritionists were right.  Most restaurant food was loaded with grease, cholesterol, and pesticides.  But now things are rapidly changing.  Many meat eaters are heading to vegetarian restaurants once or twice a week to get more vegetables and plant proteins in their diet.  Many restaurants that serve meat are switching to all organic meat and vegetables.  And many omnivore restaurants are offering gluten-free options.  Instead of shipping in vegetables from thousands of miles away, many chefs are now sourcing ingredients from local farmer’s markets.  Consumers are demanding more “real” food, and restaurants are responding!

Benefits of eating out at healthy, organic restaurants

  • Support locally owned businesses, many of which are women-owned or minority-owned
  • Prove to businesses that you and others like you truly want healthier choices to be offered
  • Eat healthier even if you don’t have time to cook
  • Drink more fruit and vegetable juice without having to clean a juicer
  • Enjoy meals high in fruits and vegetables instead of focusing on the number of calories
  • Meet other like-minded people

Where to find healthy restaurants

Happy Cow  is THE place on the web to find vegetarian-friendly restaurants across the US and around the world.  While the focus is vegetarian food, many, many non-vegetarians use this website to find healthy food in their hometown.  To search for restaurants that have some veg options but also serve meat, check the “veg-friendly” checkbox.  This resource is even more useful when you travel, since you can search by state, by city, or by zipcode.   You can also use Happy Cow to search for health food stores—many of which have a deli and/or a juice bar that do takeout and delivery.

Yelp  , the hugely popular reviews site, lets you search for keywords.  “Local” is not a helpful keyword (because obviously it could mean the restaurant is in your local area, not that the chefs use locally grown vegetables).  “Organic” works better – it usually pulls up the listings of the healthiest restaurants in any city.

The Gluten-Free Awareness Program site  lets you search restaurants across the country.  Even if you aren’t on a GF diet and don’t plan to order any GF menu items, this site is often a great way to find restaurants that focus on overall quality ingredients.

Don’t limit yourself to the web.  If you work with a personal trainer or nutritionist, ask them for suggestions on local healthy restaurants.  Let them know that although you’re grateful for their in-depth knowledge, right now, you just want simple advice you can take action on immediately.  (Like a great place to get organic takeout that you can bring back to your desk!)   Go to a spin class or take yoga?  Ask the instructor and fellow participants for their favorite healthy restaurants.

Do Something Today

Taking any action today is better than taking the perfect action tomorrow.   Maybe the first healthy restaurant you try won’t be your favorite.  So what?  Keep trying more places, and before you know it, you’ll have a list of favorites to share with the newbies who come after you.

If you’re already cooking healthy food at home, keep up the good work!  Stop, breathe, and give yourself credit for this accomplishment.  Try a few local healthy restaurants, but also share with your friends how easy it is to cook organic, real food for at home.  If you mostly eat out, try some new-to-you restaurants in both your home neighborhood and your work neighborhood.  Even if you don’t think you’re “a juice person,” try a couple of juice bars and smoothie places.  The results may surprise you.


Missed last month’s column? Read it now:

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Motivate Yourself to Better Health
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