As does any viable strategy in life, calorie and macro counting (iifym) has both its upsides and downsides. The biggest and obvious upside of iffym is that it’s virtually guaranteed to work if you do it correctly. Though, two notable downsides of it are that, one, it’s unavoidably extra daily work, and two, it’s seemingly incongruent with social scenarios like restaurant meals.
Tell me if you’ve faced this situation before: You’ve got your meals planned for the day, it’s all locked in, and you’re right on pace to put another daily win in the books… until you get “the text” at 4:37pm.
It’s so-and-so’s birthday, and you’re invited to an impromptu get together at the local Mexican joint.
What was once a thoughtless situation has now become uniquely acute stressor.
S**t… what do I do? How am I going to handle this?
You imagine 380-calorie-a-pop margaritas and irresistible unlimited chips that will send you careening past your daily targets.
And the woe of it all is that you know you should be excited about an upcoming delicious meal and enjoying time with your friends, but instead you’re stressed out.
Listen, It’s OK — the reason you’re stressed out is that you simply don’t have a solid strategy for how to deal with these situations. For that matter, you absolutely can (and should!) enjoy impromptu off-the-regimen meals while still being fully compliant to an effective iifym diet. This post will give you a strategy to do that.
What follows herein is certainly not the *only* viable restaurant strategy, nor is it the absolutely *best* strategy either. This is simply, after some trial and error, how I do it and what I think works best. If you’re a lazy bare-effective-minimum kind of person like me, then you might think so too.
The strategy, in a nutshell, is to simply create a big enough caloric window for the event, then to follow a few simple rules so that it’s unlikely that you’ll blatantly exceed that window.
No looking up menus online.
No logging the guesstimated components of the meal, ingredient by ingredient, while you hide your smartphone under the table.
I suppose you could try and actually count the macros of the restaurant meal – Mike Vacanti wrote a pretty good article on how to do that if you want to try – but I don’t because:
- I’m way too lazy.
- You simply don’t need to.
- Good luck trying to do that accurately, anyway.
Alright then, now for the strategy.
Clickable Table of Contents by Section
Step 1 – Create a Caloric Buffer
I have strongly harped on the importance of your system being as simple and flexible as it can possibly be – while still being effective of course – because it makes it easier to handle inevitable real life scenarios like the impromptu restaurant get together.
Part of my personal set up is to save the bulk of my caloric budget for dinnertime. One reason for this, among many others, is that it makes it easy to accommodate dining out on the fly.
My maintenance runs at around, I suppose, 2200-2400 calories, give or take. I like to eat a medium lunch as my first meal of the day, maybe 600-700 calories or so, and the key there is that when I get that early evening text, I’ve got ~1500 calories of room to work with when I walk into the restaurant. Even if I say f-it and just eat ad libitum, it’s hard for anyone to inadvertently eat more than 1500 calories in a single sitting. And if I do somehow manage go a little bit over, a few hundred extra calories is negligible over the long run.
Point being, keeping your calories in check over the long run is 96% of the fat loss (or maintenance) battle. If you’ve got that handled, you’ll be fine. The macro ratio being off here or there just doesn’t matter. Having a system that you *know* can accommodate for the occasional on the fly restaurant meal is by far the most important thing, both for your results and your sanity.
Step 2 – Book The Caloric Block to Your Tracking App
I don’t even bother trying to accurately log the restaurant meal. Way too much busy work that I’m just way too lazy to do, as I just said. Instead, I simply log a custom recipe called “restaurant meal” with arbitrary macro ratios to fill the allotted caloric “block.”
Here’s an example of what my completed diary might look like for the day:
But what happens if you miss the mark?
Answer: It doesn’t matter. read on…
Step 3 – Have Reasonable Rules In Place to “Hit” The Target
Chances are, you’ve gotten enough experience with your calorie and macro counting to know what the allotted 1500 (or however much else) calories should “feel” like. The idea is to simply have a set of rules that you always follow that will keep your eating in check.
- Eat a “reasonably balanced” entree with a solid serving of protein
- No reckless boozing
- Slow down, and stop eating when you’re full and satisfied, not stuffed to the brim and sick.
It doesn’t matter what the rules are, just that they make reasonable sense for preventing you from going overboard. The key of having a rule-set solidly in place though, as is the whole point of having an explicit system, is that you know what’s decidedly “OK” or not going into it. You remove the decision fatigue, simply follow the system, and enjoy yourself.
You have enough common sense to know what to do here, which is not to drink five strawberry margaritas and eat three plastic trays of tortilla chips, right?
Maybe you wind up 237 calories over or 148 calories under for the day every once in a while when you hit up a restaurant. Close enough.
Step 4 – Remember that Isolated Dietary “Incidents” Don’t Mean Anything Over The Long Run
It’s funny, people realize that it usually takes months of diligent dieting to garner discernible results, yet they somehow fear that a single out of control restaurant session is going to somehow negate that.
Just remember to stop, take a breath, and think logically – you simply can’t cause appreciable “damage” with a single off the rails meal, or day, or week for the matter.
Successful long run iifym looks like this:
Besides, there are upsides to going blatantly over your alloted caloric budget. You can consider it a mini-break refeed, which are essential to do periodically anyway, especially as you get leaner. Use the “momentum” of the temporary caloric surplus to train particularly hard during your next gym sesh and milk out a modicum of extra gainz. You’ll be doing that eventually anyway when you start bulking, right? Now you’re just getting a little of that business started early, that’s all.
I say this constantly, but the big overall ideal is to simply have a system that, one, you’ll realistically be consistent with, and two, is merely *good enough* to work. That’s it.
Don’t rule out occasional restaurant meals as unfeasible with an iifym diet. They absolutely are. After all, the real goal is “if it’s close enough to my
macros calories.” In fact, you can eat out fairly regularly and still solidly handle things.
You could even just take a day off and skip counting for the day all together and just go at it by feel, but, doing that more than once in a while can get sloppy and risky, so just keep that in mind.
The real danger is being lazy, not realistically planning out a system that you’ll *actually do*, fooling yourself into thinking that you’ll just white knuckle your way through restaurants only eating plain chicken with a side of unsalted broccoli, inevitably caving to insurmountable impulse, then giving up entirely for weeks/months on end. That is what we call the infamous fitness yo-yo cycle, and it’s time for anyone that comes here to be done with that nonsense. Forever.