Think eating out and eating healthy can’t happen? Think again.
(Plus Thrive takes on NYC: my top 6 real food paleo-friendly restaurant finds in the city)
Restaurant dining and eating out gets a lot of flack if you want to “eat healthy.”
One of the best ways to save yourself from over-eating, unknown funky ingredients and money is to cook more at home.
That said, something rarely said is that eating out can happen, even with your healthier eating efforts in mind (Bonus: The food doesn’t have to be bland, boring or tasteless either). Check out how I navigate restaurants in recovery today (plus my top real-food restaurants I found in NYC this past week, all paleo and AIP friendly!).
I used to freak out any time I went to eat out at a restaurant.
Lack of control over the kitchen or menu, restaurants spurred a lot of anxiety.
Read: A LOT of anxiety.
In my eating disorder, eating out never happened. It was a cardinal sin against all my rules and firm grip of control on my food. If I was forced to eat out (such as my high school or college graduation dinners, or even birthday), fear grappled me for weeks before, as I perused the menu, thinking about what I would order, and ensuring I kept to my strict diet rules in order to justify one night’s worth of chicken and dry lettuce at whatever restaurant was on the agenda.
Fast forward to treatment days, restaurant outings were actually part of the weekly activity schedule.
Every Sunday night, I’d join 11 other girls around a table and face my fears of ordering out at some place like TGI Fridays, Chili’s, Subway, some burger joint—like it or not—as the “recovery coaches” calculated every morsel and calorie we ate to ensure we were sticking to our meal plans and not ordering “disordered choices” (often deemed as salads, grilled chicken or vegetables).
While the experience definitely de-sensitized me to the restaurant experience, it also continued to spur apprehension and anxiety over the dining out experience.Sure, I could order something off a menu, but I was still just as disconnected from my food as I had been in my eating disorder—eating out was a practicality—a matter of just eating another meal…not really enjoying the experience.
Fast forward, one more time, to my own recovery, years after treatment, and eating out has become more and more of an experience as I have personally grown (in confidence) and assuredness that food no longer can “hurt me” (like I once thought it could).
Within a context of real-world reality, food (of any sort) has no more power over you or I than we let it. In my mind, one bite off of anything on my “acceptable food list” meant one thing: “bad.”
Weight gain. Cellulite. Pudginess. Puffiness. Digestive unwellness. Something of that nature was surely guaranteed and went hand-in-hand with restaurants.
Reality check: You can’t touch this (a la MC Hammer anyone?).
Today, more than ever, I am more at peace with the fact that my body is SMART and wants to work for me—not against me. And no matter what experience brings me—in terms of being “oof my A-game” or out of routine, I know nothing can “derail me”—especially when I live within the context of eating real food the majority of the time, eating to satisfaction (not restriction or completely stuffed) and seeking out joy in the flavors, tastes and company (fellowship of others) in the whole experience.
Eating out can actually be FUN and enjoyable.
Especially when you go to a restaurant that equally appreciates experience and nourishment: good food, good quality, good atmosphere and good gut health (i.e. you’re not left with a food coma or in the toilet the next day).
News flash: Restaurant food can taste good and be good for you—not as “bad” as often times articles on “healthy eating tips” make them out to be.
Win. Win. Win.
Eating out anytime soon? Here are a few tips for making the meal an enjoyable experience (digestively and tastiness speaking):
- Farm-to-Table It. When looking for a place to eat, simply Google search this term: “Farm to table + (city name).” It’s a good starting place for getting a baseline idea of venues who value local flare and flavor. Farm-to-Table restaurants pride themselves in supporting farmers produce and meat-rearing efforts to make real food (not fake, processed, pesticide-laden food) available to you and me. Farm-to-Tables also are typically are more conscious of the ingredients and oils they use behind enemy lines too in the kitchen (meaning you’re less likely to need to request some basics mentioned below).
- Lube Up. Most every restaurant uses oil to make food more favorable and less dry. However, not all oils are created equal and a vast majority of restaurants use cheap, hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils (like canola oil, Crisco, margarine and cold processed olive oil) in their cooking. These are the same types of oils found in Twinkies, Doritos and Oreos that are associated with increased inflammation, gut irritation, brain fog and high cholesterol/high blood pressure. When possible, request real butter (not Parkay here), cold pressed extra virgin olive oil (the real deal), coconut oil (a rarity restaurants use this) or none at all (you can even add your own, like these coconut oils or butter pats, from your own purse if you order your food oil-less).
- Gluten-free Savvy. Hype. Hype. Hype. Just because the label or menu say “GF” (Gluten-Free) doesn’t automatically mean “gluten-free.” There’s a difference in “gluten-free” and 100% gluten-free. True 100% gluten-free kitchens do not cross contaminant whatsoever with gluten pans, gluten-containing foods, or utensils in the kitchen, whereas other “gluten-free” menu options may simply interpret gluten-free as in: “Not containing any bread or pasta or flour in this dish”—but still potentially handled and prepared in the same dishes and area as the glutenous dishes. Enter: The reason behind occasional GI distress if you are sensitive to gluten. In addition, several other ingredients and foods used in restaurant land, including: MSG (an additive found in soy sauce and some prepared foods), sugary salad dressings, processed nitrate-rich meats (bacon, deli cuts), and special sauces (gravies, dressings, marinades) can trigger similar gluten-sensitive or digestive ills. If you are sensitive or intolerant to gluten (or any other food allergen, like dairy or nuts), it doesn’t hurt to use your voice with your waiter to let them know from the get-go. Be kind. Make friends and 9 times out of 10, your waiter will have your back. Bonus: Pop a SpectraZyme Gluten Digest )
- Keep it Simple. No need to overcomplicate things at the restaurant. Think: Meat or fish, veggies and healthy fats/oils (avocado, olives, butter, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, coconut, coconut oil). Most every restaurant will have something like this on the menu (and it doesn’t have to be a dry salad every time).
- Rearrange It. See an ingredient like avocado, butternut squash or wilted greens in another dish, but not the one you’re looking at? It never hurts to ask if you can substitute or add ingredients to the dish you like. For instance, recently I ordered a half-chicken that came with honey-glazed carrots and a yogurt dipping sauce; but I really wanted some greens and butternut squash on the side instead. Done. You never know until you ask.
- App-It. Nothing look too appealing on the main menu? How about the appetizers? Consider ordering a few different apps to round out a meal if you don’t see anything on the Mains menu that sounds tasty. For instance: Ceviche or Shrimp + Roasted Beets + Crispy Brussels Sprouts recently made a pretty decent (yummy) meal when the entrees weren;t calling my name.
- No Stress. Eating out can be stressful…only if we let it. If you find yourself overthinking or stressing out, take a deep breath and coach yourself through it. It is JUST food. It doesn’t have the power to hurt you or really, do anything to you. And just because you ate one meal or some foods that you don’t normally eat, doesn’t automatically mean: 5 lbs. gained. Repeat after me: Eating food does NOT equal weight gain. It simply does NOT. When we eat moderately—just to satisfaction, not stuffed or not still empty or restricted, our body does an amazing thing: It moderates the food. Balanced eating is of course encouraged the majority of the time (meat, veggies, healthy fats), but that still can happen when you eat out, and leaves room too for “not-so-perfect” eating because…PERFECT does not exist. Give yourself a break.
- Listen to Your Body. I briefly mentioned this earlier, but a huge piece of eating out with no worries involves meeting your body right where it’s at. For real, you can have anything in moderation! Truly want a bite of something? You can have it. Want to order something you’re not 100% sure if you’re being “(food) politically correct” with? Order it…and listen to your body. Eat to satisfaction. Check in. Not stuffed. Not eating to just eat. Eat. Nourish. Be kind to yo’ self.
Bonus: Thrive Takes on NYC—Paleo-friendly & Farm-to-Table Restaurants in NYC
While I still LOVE cooking for myself, a recent trip to New York City left a “foodie” taste in my mouth—eating out, for the first time in a long while, was super fun and enjoyable. NYC is a restaurant town for sure—every type of cuisine imaginable is at arm’s reach. I hit up some of the best in town (paleo-friendly & farm-to-table savvy), and if you plan to visit the city soon, here’s what I found:
- Market Table, SOHO, 54 Carmine St.
Starting the trip off right, dinner happened in my fave part of town—SOHO, amidst the artsy, trendy, yuppie crowd. Nestled on quiet Carmine Street, the 12-15 table restaurant boasts an airy dining room with exposed brick walls and large windows offering a view onto village life. The menu itself is seasonal American, with tons of fresh veggies, herbs, spices and an array of fish and meats, and is influenced by the owner’s childhood on his family farm in Maryland. I got the Grilled Arctic Char with the Roasted Market Rainbow Carrots and Lemon Garlic Kale. Although other top notch dishes include the Pan Crisped Bell & Evans Chicken with sweet potato salad, bok choy and hazelnut brown butter; and Sangria Marinated Hangar Steak with grilled little gem lettuce a la caesar, and potato croutons.
- Friedman’s, Hell’s Kitchen, 450 10th Ave. + Multiple Locations
A brunch of all sorts. I was stuffed from breakfast, but accompanied some family members who hadn’t eaten yet for the day and the menu was amazing. A 100% gluten-free restaurant, my mom and sis hit up the post-Thanksgiving day Roast Turkey + Butternut Squash, Sweet Potato, Cranberry, Greens Hash with a poached egg on top, and the boys hit up the Friedman’s Burger (sans bun) with Herbed Fries, Gluten Free Blueberry Pancakes and spicy Chilaquiles with sunny side eggs, shredded chicken, salsa, avocado, cotija cheese, and red onions. Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch and Dinner, the restaurant has plenty of options for everyone in your party.
- Spring Street Natural, SOHO, 98 Kenmare St.
Another SOHO treasure with too many fresh eats and treats to choose from. The menu boasts a blend of Asian-American Fusion flavors, once again with enough diversity to please anyone in the crowd: Burgers and hearty salads, to stir fries and traditional meat and fish plus sides dishes. This was another fresh fish night for me with the Pan Seared Mahi Mahi alongside roasted red pepper mashed potatoes, grilled zucchini, avocado salad, sweet plantains, lemon vinaigrette. Word on the street from my other party members was a two-thumbs-up for the Organic Salmon with Jasmine rice, watercress salad, grilled Japanese eggplant and the Sweet Plantain & Avocado Rice with chicken.
- Bare Burger, 313 W 57th St. + Multiple Locations
Burgers are my absolute fave food (hands down), and this little joint makes my top-5 list for sure of fave burgers in the country. So many fresh options and practically every type of patty, you may have trouble deciding. Burgers include: Bison, turkey, grass-fed beef, duck, boar, chicken, black bean, quinoa—too many, plus ALL the toppings you could ever imagine: Pickles, slaw, onions, pineapple, pico de gallo, ranch, curry ginger ketchup, smoke sauce, buffalo sauce, mustard, paprika mayo, horseradish, tomatoes, mushrooms, sprouts, chicpea onions, guacamole, relish, kimichi, AND the best crispy Brussels Sprouts side ever. I ordered a collard green wrapped turkey patty, and collard green wrapped bison patty with avocado and stone mustard, plus a side of Kimchi Slaw (get your probiotics on) and crispy Brussels Sprouts.
- Hu Kitchen, The Village
After hearing all the hype online about this treasure, I knew I had to check it out. Known for it’s 100% gluten-free, canola-free, soy-free, dairy-free, NOT-taste-free options, Hu Kitchen is the original paleo restaurant.
The restaurant is set up ‘cafeteria’ style for dine-in or take out. There’s a daily hot bar with meat + sides options, including roast chicken, meat loaf and a veggie-protein option and your choice of coconut glazed pineapple, roasted sweet potatoes, sautéed greens, charred broccoli, to name a few. The ‘mash’ bar also offers bowls with various squash, sweet potato or veggie-slaw bases and a meat or chili topping. And if you’re not feeling a hot meal, hit up the cold case for a smorgashborg of options, like salmon cakes, turkey sliders, chicken or tuna salad, almond-crusted chicken tenders, chicken wings, and countless veggies—from veggie pasta salad, to crispy
- The Little Beet, 333 Park Avenue South,
The best “last supper” as part of a family-filled week in NYC—together with the people I love (and rarely get to see all at once!). We invited my New York cousins, Bill and Susan—who live in Long Island and are self-proclaimed city foodies—having lived in the area their whole lives. When cousin Bill (a non-veggie lover) saw the menu and invite to dinner, he admitted he was skeptical. “I was not too sure about this—all those different types of veggie plates. I eat corn and a salad a few times a week—that’s about it,” he said. But by the end of the meal, he was singing a different tune, “Best burger by far!! And the desserts? You wouldn’t even know they are gluten free!” In fact, everything here is once again, 100-percent gluten free (I’ve never felt so good after eating out for five days in a row in any city or restaurant experience). If you are up in NYC, you have to try this little gem (and request Tyler as your waiter, if he’s not on Broadway or in a film by the time you get around to it—he’s the pro!). The small restaurant is hidden on Park Avenue, amidst the fancy schmancy banks and diamond-wearing sort, but it’s humble and inviting cozy insides will have you with your hair down and pretense aside—no matter where you come from. No complaint at all from anyone in our eight-party group. Dinner featured a starter of apps of Hamachi Crudo with orange, jalapeno, celery, chive oil (whitefish sashimi), Cauliflower Hummus with popcorn and gluten-free bread, and Crispy Pearl Rice with a farmed egg. Followed by the crispy Herb Roasted Organic Chicken with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Wilted Baby Kale and a table share of Beets & Carmelized Fennel (pickled pearl onions, watercress, thyme-mustard dressing) and Charred Broccoli with spicy carrot remoulade & carrot chips. Some folks went out with a bang with the gluten-free Apple Cranberry Crumble topped with vanilla ice cream and the Tres Leches Sorbet (gluten-free) alongside Hibiscus Sorbet.
Live yo’ life. Eating out doesn’t have to mean “weight gain” or “unhealthy” or “gross feeling.”
Keep it simple. Eat real food. And enjoy the little moments.
Don’t forget about Vitamin P—Pleasure. One of the most important vitamins you can eat in your meals.