It isn’t easy to be on a diet – just ask computer engineer Megha Das. This fitness enthusiast dreads the weekends – or any time when she has to hang out with friends. The reason – instead of the movie or the café or the food or the cocktails being the centre of attention, her self-imposed dietary restrictions usually become the focus of all her friends’ comments.
Das even encounters uncomfortable situations when she is invited to friends’ houses for meals. “I find it difficult to refuse to eat when I am at someone’s house,” she says, adding, “It seems ill-mannered when somebody takes pains to cook you a meal and you tell him or her that you are dieting or watching what you eat.”
Holidays and work related travel are worse, say most weight conscious people. “One, you are never sure what you will get. Also, most of the time you feel tempted to break the diet,” says Rohani Mehra, a journalist.
Let yourself go
Das admits to feeling she is “being judged” when she goes to parties or friends’ houses. But she needn’t make herself miserable, advises Dr Sharon Arora, a dietician at GM Modi Hospital in Delhi. “The only solution to this is to not tell anyone you are watching your weight,” says Dr Arora, adding, “Why put yourself in a spot? I advise all my clients not to proclaim to anyone that they are dieting.”
She explains further, “The key to stick to your regime and also not upset anyone is to eat moderately and intelligently. This way, your friends and hosts don’t notice anything amiss and you are able to enjoy yourself and also stay as true to your diet as possible.”
Other nutritionists and dieticians endorse this stand. Contrary to what most people think, not many advise their clients to go hungry or carry homemade food in dabbas whenever they go out. Instead, they encourage them to let themselves go once in a while and make it up later, especially, while they are on holidays. Dr Deepika Tewari, dietician, Wellness QED, Siri Fort Sports Complex, Delhi, says, “Intelligent eating can be done through diet modification (choosing food according to the cooking methodology and food with lower calorie counts) and portion control (eating less of whatever is available).”
Dr Arora adds, “The whole point of dieting is to stay fit, so that one feels good and happy about oneself. If you just go on avoiding food, and not enjoying yourself whenever you are out, then the purpose is lost. Also, a diet can only be maintained if there are incentives. So letting go and eating moderately and intelligently by choosing your calories once in a week or even 15 days is okay.”
People on some sort of a weight-loss diet, those on a maintenance diet (where they are trying to keep their weight stable) or even those who prefer to eat healthy can benefit from these tips while partying, staying in hotels or even travelling.
* If you know you are not going to be home, it’s always wiser to plan ahead, say nutritionists. Before a party, try to fill yourself up with good foods – fruit, salad, fresh juice, soup, grilled paneer or chicken and water – before you head out. This way, you will not be starving and thus will be able to steer clear of the ‘party food’ and choose reasonable portions of what you like to eat.
* “If you want, then try out everything on the menu, but in small amounts, say one spoon of each dish,” explains Dr Arora, adding, “This way no one will be able to tease you or feel that you haven’t appreciated their home-cooked food and you will feel satiated.”
* Another tip? “Pick the healthier options from a selection, based on how the food is cooked. Always avoid the fried dish,” Dr Arora advises.
The right choice:
Any kind of alcohol has a high calorie count. But diet experts give a green light to two small pegs or 60 ml of alcohol in total. Dr Tewari gives a calorie count.
* Also watch what you mix your drinks with. Aerated drinks should be totally avoided, as should artificial juices. “Mix your drinks with water or soda – the latter has 50 per cent less calories than aerated drinks. If you find soda too bland, dilute juice with water and then mix it with your drinks. This way, you consume less calories,” explains Dr Arora.
* Those who don’t drink can opt for salted fresh lime soda, sweet and salty lemonade, or fresh juices. If you have to have an aerated drink, drink Limca; it has the fewest cals.
Starters are the tricky part, say experts, because they are either shallow or deep-fried. Also, the idea of cold starters hasn’t yet caught on in most Indian homes.
* Dr Deepika Tewari advises you to tackle this situation by telling your host that ‘I want to enjoy my dinner so I am not going to eat too many snacks’.
* Otherwise, play favourites – eat snacks that are steamed, barbequed, baked or grilled. “Steamed momos, despite the fattening maida content, are better than deep-fried samosas. Shallow-fried kebabs are fine. Take a large quantity of soup, preferably clear soup,” advises Dr Arora. Other options are dhokla, khandvi and roasted fluffy rice (chivda) or chana.
This is the easiest choice you are going to have to make, because this course has the widest choice.
* As far as Indian cuisine is concerned, Dr Arora suggests you choose vegetables, especially seasonal ones and small portions of dal.
Fill up your plate with salad and curd, and then try small portions of sabzis, dal or even roti. Avoid large amounts of meat and rice and opt for fish or chicken, preferably grilled.
* Chinese food options should include sautéed chicken, fish and veggies, rather than fried.
* In Italian food, go for the pastas sautéed with veggies, minus the cheese and mayo.
* You can have fast food too. When you eat a burger, take out the cheese slice and ask for it to be made it without mayo. Then pair it with a sauce of your choice.
This is one course you should decline, says Dr Tewari. That’s because even a small amount of sweet food, in any cuisine, contains dangerous amounts of calories.
* But if you have to, try a small slice of cake or two spoons of ice cream.
* Another good option is a rasgulla, squeezed of all its syrup, and sorbets (that are mostly flavoured ice).
* Avoid Chinese sweets, as they are all deep-fried.
Finally, relax. “A day of splashing out might affect your programme and weight by 10 to 20 per cent. But if done intelligently, it might work out to a no gain or loss situation,” says Dr Tewari.