I had a few dining out experiences over the weekend and earlier this week that really got me thinking about why I go out to eat. I’ve long loved to go out to eat.
Back in the day we ate out a lot and we bought take out a lot. Over the years things mitigated quite a bit. Since we went back to Weight Watchers, we’ve cut back a lot and we are way more careful of where we go and what we eat. For the past couple of years, our routine has been something like this. Go to the Weight Watchers (we go to a 10:30 morning meeting) and then go out to eat afterwards. The next day go out for lunch. On some weeks, that ends up being it. But quite often there is a 3rd dining out somewhere in there (usually when running errands and we get hungry), and maybe even a 4th event. Whenever I even thought about cutting back on my two guaranteed dining out meals, I would start feeling distressed.
A few things recently have caused me to start thinking about why I feel that way about dining out. Basically, there two two main reasons I eat out. I realized that a big part of it is that over the years I’ve used dining out as the time for me to really talk to my husband. If I have something important I want to discuss with him, or even just something interesting, I usually save it until we dine out, if possible. We usually eat out leisurely and take our time and just sit there talking during a lot of the meal.
I think part of this developed when we still had 3 kids at home. Talking while dining out gave us the opportunity to talk without interruption and to talk privately. Lately, I’ve realized that this is also the reason I enjoy walking outside with my husband so much. Except on the difficult hills, we talk a lot while walking. This is actually a nice substitute for the dining out. The problem is that from about May through October it is too hot and humid here for me to tolerate walking outside. And the during most of December and January (and some of February), it is too cold. So the window of walking outside is very small.
To a certain extent we could talk at home now. The only child who is now home full-time is our daughter who is in college. So, there are a lot of opportunities for my husband and I to just go in a room and talk while at home with little chance of interruption. We just have a habit of not doing that unless it is super urgent.
I’ve been thinking lately about changing that habit and just talking more at home, now that we can easily do that. I am sure we could do that. My husband is willing to do that. And, yet, I kept feeling a reluctance to do that instead of dining out.
It wasn’t until this weekend that I really realized what was going on. On Saturday, we went out to eat at Outback. I have been working to avoid foods that raise my blood sugar so I was careful with what I ordered. It was the start of my Weight Watchers week and I had all my points so I wasn’t all that concerned with calories. I ordered the Alice Springs Chicken with asparagus, along with a cup of chicken tortilla soup. The Alice Springs Chicken is a chicken breast with cheese, mushrooms, and bacon. There was honey mustard sauce on the side (which would have more carbs in it), but I took two tiny bites of it, decided it wasn’t great, and didn’t eat any more. I had one small slice of the bread (I wanted to see if I could tolerate it blood sugar-wise). The meal was good and I was happy with it from a blood sugar standpoint.
I went home afterwards and realized that I was a bit…dissatisfied with the meal. Even though the meal had some carbs from the soup and the bread, it was only a total of 48 carbs and it was fine in terms of blood sugar. From a calorie standpoint, the meal was 1074 calories which was 26 Weight Watchers points. Now, I get a total of 26 WW Points Plus as my minimum daily points. I ate lightly the rest of the day and ended up eating 33 total Points, 1304 calories (if we assume that Outback’s calorie counts were accurate — actually I guess the Outback calorie count includes the honey mustard sauce which I didn’t eat).
So, it was all successful from a calorie point of view and blood sugar aspect. So, why was I dissatisfied? I realized that the meal was something I could basically have at home. I can grill asparagus just as good as what the restaurant made. The soup was fine, but nothing special. Even the Alice Springs Chicken didn’t seem that hard to recreate at home. In fact, I easily found a copycat recipe. So, I could do this at home and it wouldn’t be that hard.
Why would that make my dissatisfied with the meal? It is certainly easier to order it at the restaurant, so why would it bother me that I could make it at home if I really wanted to. I had to think about this for awhile and I realized that I use dining out to eat things that I usually wouldn’t make at home and not because they are too difficult to make. That is, I eat things at a restaurant that I would never consider eating at home.
On Tuesday, I had a dining out experience where I was eating out unexpectedly. I had to get up very early for me and go to an early morning appointment. My husband was driving so I stumbled to the car (not an early riser here) and basically slept until we got there. So…no breakfast for me. What we needed to do ended up taking hours longer than I had anticipated and there was no opportunity. Finally, we were on our way home (over an hour away) and I realized it had been 20 hours since I had eaten anything so I was starving. We stopped at the first place we could find, which happened to be a Denny’s. I haven’t eaten at a Denny’s in a long time.
I ordered was the French Toast Slam. This was 2 scrambled eggs, 2 slices of bacon, 2 sausage links and 2 pieces of French Toast. With the exception of the toast, this was low carb (I am not saying that bacon and sausage are healthy to eat). With the toast it was 66 carbs. I must admit I was curious what it would do my blood sugar (172 an hour later, so not eating French toast again) and that was the main reason I ordered it. But, one of the things I thought about later was that this was the kind of food I used to eat at Denny’s in the past. I would order something with French toast or with hash browns or pancakes. These are not foods that I would make at home. Even before the blood sugar thing came up, I hadn’t bought refined bread in many years. I didn’t fry potatoes either (maybe some baked sweet potato fries occasionally).
It came to me that even though I do watch calories when I dine out, I also use dining out as an opportunity to eat foods that I would not eat at home. I see dining out as — not a vacation from calories or tracking my food — but, as a vacation from healthy eating. I rationalize it as not being all the time, which it isn’t. And, to a point, that is perhaps OK (leaving aside for a moment the blood sugar issue). That is, I don’t think it is the end of the world to a couple of times a year, for example, have an ice cream cone. The problem is that eating out twice a week (or 3 or 4 times), it all become a lot more than once or twice a year when it gets added up together.
And, the realization for me is that this is why I want to dine out. I can see myself as eating in a healthy manner at home and I discount the times I am not eating so healthy when I dine out (particularly since my overall calories eaten are fine — if I believe restaurant calorie counts).
So — where do I go with this? I realized that when I eat in a more healthy manner when dining out, I don’t really love it that much. All it gives me is a big bill for the opportunity to talk to my husband while eating food I could basically make at home. I could keep going out to eat and eating as I have been, and I’m sure I would still keep losing weight. But, I don’t think that is best for my blood sugar and for my overall health. I do think that I may sometimes want to eat out and have some things I wouldn’t have at home, but I also think that doing that 2 or 3 times a week is way too often.
It is kind of hard to think about giving up dining out since it is so engrained in my behavior. For now, I think I will stick with going out on WW meeting days, but will make that meal only foods that I would eat at home (in other words, no excessive carbs and so on). I might sometimes eat out again during the week, but still make it what I would eat at home except in rare occasions.