How to Stick to Your Meal Plan and Still Have a Social Life
No matter the time of year, sticking to a structured nutritional plan can be a battle of the mind. But the battle can be even more difficult in the midst of summer barbeques and with patio season constantly testing our will power.
As a contest-prep coach and weight-management specialist, as well as a figure competitor currently preparing for a show, finding the balance between achieving health and fitness goals and being able to enjoy the fun of the summer is a challenge I experience daily, personally as well as through my clients.
Although it might seem impossible at first, by changing your mindset and setting yourself up for success it is possible to maintain your nutritional program while still enjoying your summer. The summer isn’t ruined just because you’re on a “diet.”
Here’s how you can have your cake (and ice cream and burgers) and eat it, too - without sacrificing your social life or fitness goals.
Let Go of the All-or-None Attitude
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when trying to stick to a nutritional plan is adopting an all-or-none attitude - i.e. either 100% sticking to a diet or 100% eating everything.
"So often, due to the 'all or none' attitude, I see people overlook simple and unnoticeable diet swaps, changes, and add-ins that make it much easier to stick to a plan without feeling like you’re dieting."
The interpretation of a “diet” as being temporary or short term reflects the inability to sustain it as a part of everyday life. When approached this way, a diet ends up being cyclical and fleeting. It’s most often during the summer season that I see clients fall off the wagon, and it’s because they maintain a mindset that it’s impossible to stick to a diet while still enjoying life.
With only a few months of fun in the sun, no one wants to feel restricted or like they’re missing out on social opportunities. So more often than not, nutritional goals are put on hold for the season while the focus turns to indulging and relaxing. Unfortunately, this not only postpones the achievement of health and fitness goal, but often undoes previously achieved results. In essence, it results in taking two steps back.
Don’t let the season navigate your goals for you. By making small changes, planning ahead, and changing your thought process, you can achieve continued dietary success throughout the summer months, ensuring enjoyment as well as achievement.
A constant challenge when sticking to a nutritional program is that you start feeling like all social events revolve around food. Realistically, the majority of them do - especially in the summer. Hello BBQ!
"The moment you turn down a social event or outing specifically due to dietary restrictions is the moment you define your diet as being non-sustainable - and most often the time you throw in the towel."
But isolating yourself and avoiding potentially tempting situations is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for failure. Instead, by choosing to continue to enjoy and attend social events and maintain your usual level of social activity, you will reinforce within your mindset that maintaining your diet is doable despite you required food choices. The moment you turn down a social event or outing specifically due to dietary restrictions is the moment you define your diet as being non-sustainable - and most often the time you throw in the towel.
One of the easiest ways to stick to a diet plan during the summer is by being creative. So often, due to the “all or none” attitude, I see people overlook simple and unnoticeable diet swaps, changes, and add-ins that make it much easier to stick to a plan without feeling like you’re dieting. Why not save calories where they won’t be missed while still enjoying your favourite foods?
"If you take a more flexible approach to dieting - and are less focused on whole foods and more focused on macronutrient needs - these swaps are great ways to make the most out of your macronutrients."
I’m all for indulging every once in a while, but there are many easy ways to enjoy your favourite non-diet-friendly foods that won’t sabotage your fitness goals, but will still satisfy your guilty pleasure cravings.
- Use a sugar-free barbeque sauce instead of the full-sugar?
- Make your own burgers using lean cuts of meat?
- Make a fat-free version of your favourite condiment?
The options are endless! If you take a more flexible approach to dieting - and are less focused on whole foods and more focused on macronutrient needs - these swaps are great ways to make the most out of your macronutrients.
I know you’ve heard it a million times, but failing to plan is planning to fail. But if you prepare a game plan for how to navigate whatever social situation you’re going to be in, nine times out of ten it will be possible for you to attend and enjoy your summer outing while still meeting your nutritional goals.
By assessing restaurant menus in advance, asking your host what’s on the menu and offering to bring something if there’s nothing diet friendly, or bringing your own meal along if it’s appropriate, you can almost always meet your needs without missing out on the fun.
This isn’t to say you should be dragging a cooler with you every single day of the summer, but making the extra effort the majority of the time ensures that you’re at least maintaining your previously attained results, if not progressing even closer to your goals.
Suck It Up
Sometimes you’re going to have to deal with the disappointment of not being able to enjoy exactly what you want at every summer outing. Just because you’re at a restaurant, on a patio, or at a BBQ, doesn’t mean you have to indulge in all of your favourites, even if you want to. By attending and ordering to fit your diet plan, you can still enjoy the event and the company. Really, the focus shouldn’t be the food anyway.
"[I]f you prepare a game plan for how to navigate whatever social situation you’re going to be in, nine times out of ten it will be possible for you to attend and enjoy your summer outing while still meeting your nutritional goals."
By reminding yourself that your diet isn’t an all-or-none situation, sticking to your program when and where you can, and making the right choices the majority of the time, I do believe you can indulge every now and then. But do it when you can make the most of it and enjoy it to the fullest, not just because it’s convenient. You’ll be glad you did!
Balance Is Best
Whether you’re eating for physique, function, or both, I believe you can find the balance between continued success toward your health and fitness goals and still enjoying the summer to its full extent. Balance is best, and by making the extra effort to ensure you’re meeting the needs of your nutritional program the majority of the time, you will be on track to not only enjoy your summer, but to feel good about the progress you’ve made despite the added challenge.
For more ideas on low-calorie swaps and how to enjoy your summer BBQ, see my article “Creative Dieting: Clean Eating Doesn’t Have to Be Boring,” where I outline some of my favourite ways to lower the calories, increase the volume, and stay satisfied on a clean diet!
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