family at dinner table with woman laughing

I remember the first time I got a check-in from a Stronger U Member after they had just gone out and eaten everything in sight at a buffet. You know the kind of buffet I’m talking about. One of those cheap Chinese food buffets where it starts to feel like a game of how many plates you can stack on top of each other. I remember how clear it was that she felt like she had royally screwed up. How uncomfortable she was because of her digestion was off, and how down on herself she felt for blowing her plan.

The thing is, that may have been the first time — but it certainly hasn’t been the last. For as long as I’ve worked with people, I’ve seen people struggle to manage themselves at a buffet or open food plan event. It’s like any place where the normal rules of eating are thrown out the window we suddenly lose sight of how to manage ourselves.

It’s like we see that “All-You-Can-Eat for $7.99!” sign and immediately become a different person.

What we have to remember though is that is NOT meant to be a challenge. Yet we have this mentality of “Gotta get my money’s worth” don’t we? Know how I know? I’ve seen those stories first hand during my check-ins. It typically goes something along the lines of: “Coach, I didn’t plan on having a breadstick, but it was there and it was free.” or “It was a wedding and it would be rude to refuse cake.”

I get it. Those things are tempting and it’s normal to feel the pressure when we’re hit with those kinds of options or pressures. But we have to stop that line of thinking and behaving. This way of thinking gets us in trouble. It turns buffets, or any social situation where there is an open food plan like weddings, pot-lucks, holiday meals into a time where we overindulge, go off plan, and maybe wind up with some heartburn.

But why? Why is it that we do that to ourselves? Is the food really that good at the $7.99 buffet or are we not prepared mentally to handle ourselves around the unexpected? This is something so many of my own clients deal with, and I know they’re not alone. And since buffets are the easiest and most convenient place to go put myself in my clients’ shoes, you know what I did?  To properly research the topic I headed out to the nearest Chinese buffet. This can be written off as a business expense, right!?

While I certainly went to the Chinese buffet with the intention of enjoying every bit of it, I also wanted to plan and try to manage myself as well as possible. I’m happy to say I came back home from the buffet totally stuffed but happy with how I did. Here are the 8 steps I used to navigate the buffet and stay on track with my macro-tracking goals.

1. Mindset.  

Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Before you even step foot into a buffet, you need to GET. YOUR. MIND. RIGHT. This starts with dropping the mentality of “getting your money’s worth”. Realize that whether you eat 400 calories or 4000 calories; you still paid the same price.  Eating more isn’t sticking it to the man, just yourself. (Damn the man, save the Empire! You know I had to put a 90’s movie reference in here.)

  2. Do a lap.  

Don’t rush up and start piling food on your plate. Walk down each aisle and the perimeter to view all of the food options. Most times the “good stuff” is toward the back. You know, the stuff like lean protein, veggies, fruits, etc. Restaurants do this on purpose. They put the cheaper, high volume foods right next to the plates at the beginning of the line. They want you to fill your plate with rice and noodles because by the time you get to the end, where the more expensive food is, you won’t have room on your plate.

  3. Plan.  

Everyone is going to have a different plan depending on their goals and their macros, but this is where you take the time to think about “what do I actually want to eat, what can I fit into my plan, and what healthy decisions can I make that I’ll be proud of myself for afterward?” I decided that I was going to fill half of my plate with steamed broccoli and green beans, have a couple pieces of sushi, 2 crab rangoons, and try the lobster roll. With the rangoons and lobster roll, I wouldn’t have room for ice cream, but that was a choice that I made.

4. On your left!

You hear this phrase from runners and cyclists when trying to pass someone from behind. In that scenario it makes sense, but a buffet isn’t a race and it isn’t the hunger games. You don’t have to be the first person in line.  Being first can cause you to feel rushed with people waiting behind you in line and you can quickly pile food on your plate just to get out of the way. There’s no need to elbow anyone to get that last spring roll, because you know what, there is always more in the back. In fact, I bet there are hundreds of spring rolls ready in the back.

5. Choose wisely.

Buffets can be an opportunity to try different foods.  However, that doesn’t mean you have to try EVERY food. A “sample” of every food can easily rack up multiple plates of food and you never feel like you actually had a meal. Instead, pick 1 or 2 items to ‘try’ and then stick to foods that you know you like and help fit into your macro plan. If there are more foods you want to try, come back another time. If you’ve been to enough buffets you realize they are pretty much the same!

6. Slow down, mate.  

Take time to enjoy your food. Put your phone away and focus on tasting the food. How IS the crab rangoon here? Hmm, is that chive they put in there?  Enjoy the company at your table. Put your fork down and have some water.

7. Clear your plate.  

Yes, I said clear your plate, not clean your plate. Even though you planned out your foods, you may end up with leftovers if you realize you are full or if you didn’t like an item. Don’t let piles of plates sit around on the table.  This can lead to nibbling here and there at yours or your friends’ plate.

8. Mindset.  

Let’s bring it back around again to MINDSET. This is the most important area that you can focus on. If you are a money or numbers driven person you can think of it this way. You have invested money into hiring a nutrition coach to help you reach your goals; yet when you go to a buffet and go off plan — you are willing to cram hundreds, even thousands, of calories into your mouth to feel like you got a deal.

I enjoyed my “research” at the buffet and found that the crab rangoons were ‘meh’ but I’d recommend the lobster roll (yes, I know lobster wasn’t really lobster and it was imitation crab meat, but it was yummy). The next article to write is about buffet etiquette because OMG YES there is ‘buffet etiquette’ and NO ONE was adhering!


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