How to Stay Healthy While Staying Social

Being your own wellness advocate after the pandemic

a group of friends clinking glasses over a table full of food
Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

Your friends want to have a night out now that the end to the pandemic is finally in sight. YAY!! Oh, wait…but…ugh. You can’t wait for a relatively “normal” night, but the last thing you want is to derail your progress and gain back those pandemic pounds you fought so hard to work off. Do you tell yourself “it’s just one night,” or do you make up an excuse and miss out on a great time?

With the struggle of finding something “healthy” to eat, it might be tempting to simply avoid the night out. Sometimes it feels like it must be one or the other, but health and fun are not mutually exclusive! We humans are social creatures — that’s why opting out of life and denying the health benefits of relationships and social interactions is not well-rounded “health.” Wellness isn’t about rigidity. It’s about having a plan that involves real world scenarios, like going out with your friends, which is much more sustainable and realistic for achieving your goals. So, what are the ways we can have fun with friends while staying on our path to success?

Ask yourself how you want to feel after your night out. It’s about deciding what outcome you’re looking for and then working backwards. If you want to wake up the next morning feeling proud, energized, and confident, you can reverse engineer this outcome. Plan ahead for what your meal will look like at the restaurant; know you’ll get a lean protein with veggies and if you’re sharing plates, that’s cool too, you know what you want on your plate! To help with this, remember your portion sizes — use two hands put together for veggies, one hand (whole hand, not just palm) for protein, and a fist for grain or starch. Score! Leave those measuring cups at home and your worry too. If you’re having dessert, remember the three bite rule!

If a night out has the potential to derail your goals, it might be time to take matters into your own hands. Sometimes your friends’ idea of fun won’t be your idea of health. Or at least at first. What if you suggest a walk before the feast, adding a workout class to brunch plans or ordering veggies for the table to ensure your healthful options? These are gentle, non-confrontational ways to stick up for yourself, enroll those who are interested in your healthful choices and not alienate anyone looking for an indulgent escape.

Worried about that not-so-subtle friend who might make a big deal about ordering greens? That’s understandable; the people around us can have a significant impact (positive and negative) on our goals. There are some people we want to share our journey with and some people we don’t. That’s okay! Remember you don’t have to tell anyone anything and you can tell some people some things. If you don’t want this to be a big deal, it doesn’t have to be. Instead of making your goals into a thing you exhaust yourself explaining, simply order the veggies for the table and have a line in your back pocket, just in case. That line could be “yeah, new favorite foods thanks to a year of quarantine life.” And leave it at that. If it’s easier for you, you could choose one supportive friend to tell. This gives you a little back-up at the table. They’ll know not to tempt you or pester you when the waiter offers the next round of drinks. Having someone in your corner is always a plus, provided they are the right person.

Doing your best to be prepared is important, but you’ll also have to be flexible. Even if you try to account for everything, your friends might decide to turn Wine Wednesday into a feast, unknowingly throwing a wrench (or a cork) in your diet. That’s okay! It’s more about the mindset than the food. A rigid routine can be helpful for sticking with the journey in the short term. Often this rigidity means the plan will only last for a short period of time. It doesn’t allow for life. Rigidity would say, skip the meal with friends to stay vigilant in your food choices. Flexibility says, keep your goals in mind and arrange the healthiest meal you can with the options in front of you. This applies to our fitness game too. Does that night out interfere with your usual workout time? Life happens! Let’s be flexible. Perhaps that day you exercise at a different time or do 20–30 minutes instead of a whole hour. We don’t have to choose between our friends and our workouts or our friends and our health.

Above all, remember, consistency is king! Our health outcomes are the result of habits and what we do all the time, not an occasional night out. Consistency isn’t an all or nothing concept where you eat well at home and then go all out at a restaurant! We make the best choices we can in each situation and after a night out, we’re right back to our usual routine. This might look like planning the day after the event, so it doesn’t require a whole bunch of willpower. When you remain consistent and let that night be an outlier instead of creating a snowball effect, it becomes easier to say yes to spending time with friends!

Now you’ve learned how to be your own wellness advocate: choose your desired outcome, reclaim control where you can, aim for consistency and adopt a flexible mindset. Congratulations! You’ll never have to miss out on life to maintain health. Let’s rewind to your friend’s phone call proposing a relatively non-Covid-like evening. You’ve got this! Say “YES!”

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Jennifer Trepeck

Jennifer Trepeck

Health Coach, Business Consultant, Host of Salad with a Side of Fries Podcast. IG/FB/Twitter:@JennTrepeck