September 14, 2009


By Tina Haupert
For the past week, my husband and I have been living with friends before we move into our new apartment. We've been having a blast, but spending extended time away from my kitchen has left me feeling like I have no control over my diet. As a guest in my friends' home, I haven't wanted to impose—but I didn't want my healthy habits to go by the wayside. Not to say that my friends aren't concerned about their health (they are!), but it has taken a little adjustment to their lifestyle to uphold mine. So how has my jeans size held up? Here's the good, the bad, and the fatty.

An impromptu barbecue tested my willpower
We had all of the necessarily components of a great barbecue on hand: hot dogs, hamburger patties, pasta salad, potato chips, and beer. I didn't want to pass up the fun in favor of a dull salad, but I didn't want to go overboard on high-fat BBQ fare. So instead I nixed unnecessary calories where possible. I passed up cheese on my hamburger and boosted its flavor profile with cucumber slices, spicy mustard, and a scoop of salsa. I was craving salty potato chips, so I added a few to my plate, but I kept my portion sizes in check and shared my bottle of beer with my husband.

Having little control over meal planning forced me to be flexible
In order to accommodate everyone's preferences, each of us picked a weeknight to cook dinner for the "family." I kept on track by loading up my plate with veggies, whole grains, and low-fat proteins, and eating smaller portions of the foods that I didn't enjoy as much. Not having control over my meals also encouraged me to try new dishes—like Chicken Olé—that I wouldn't normally prepare for myself. And a hidden advantage? All that meal planning meant lower grocery bills. We even had enough extra money in our budget to dine out at the end of the week!


Family dinners forced me to redistribute my calories
Our family dinners were great stress relief at the end of a long day at work, but they weren't great for my waistline. I loved making dinner an occasion by setting the table, enjoying a glass of wine, and lingering after the meal for some good conversation, but I wound end up eating more calories than I normally would if I hadn't been living with friends. Instead of eating like a bird at dinner and potentially offending the evening's chef, I redistributed my calories over the course of the day so I could spend more calories in the evening. I cut about 100 calories from breakfast and lunch and ate a smaller afternoon snack, which meant I could savor dinner with my husband and friends without guilt.

My friends focused their meals on meat, so I ate small portions
I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't eat a lot of meat. I tend to focus my meals on veggies and whole grains, so eating meat every night in one week was a bit too much for me. I filled up my plate with salad, steamed veggies, and whole grains, so a small portion of beef or chicken was usually plenty for me. Eating this way, I never felt deprived and I didn't hurt the chefs' feelings by passing on their meal.

Everyone wanted fast food, so I made the best of it
My husband and friends couldn't wait to hit up the new fast food restaurant that opened nearby. I knew that the menu choices wouldn't be nutritious or low-calorie, but instead of making a big deal about it, I made the best of the situation and enjoyed the experience. Before we left the house, I looked online at the restaurant's nutritional information to make an informed decision about the menu selections. Instead of using all of my calories on one, calorie-dense item like a cheeseburger, I opted for two lower-calorie selections. I had a small order of tater tots and a vanilla ice cream cone, so I could enjoy a couple of different tastes. The salty and sweet flavors were the best of both worlds, and I didn't ruin my diet for the day.

Living with friends let me share my love for healthy living
In a new environment, it would have been easy to take a relaxed attitude about my eating habits. Instead, it strengthened my commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Our family dinners allowed me to chat about a number of health-related topics around the dinner table—like the benefits of organic meat, weight lifting tips, and cookbook recommendations. What's more, I took my friend Marie to her first yoga class and introduced her fiancé, Dave, to Greek yogurt. They both appreciated my enthusiasm for leading a healthy lifestyle, which, in turn, encouraged them to enhance their own lives. My friends also said that they hadn't eaten so many vegetables in their lives, so I guess I was a healthy influence on them!

Read Tina's daily food and fitness blog, Carrots 'N' Cake.

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