By Leo Babauta

Two of the most difficult situations for most people when it comes to mindful, healthy eating are social eating, and eating while traveling.

When you’re at a party, a work lunch meeting, eating with friends or family … it’s hard to be mindful of your eating, because you’re paying attention to people talking to you. How do you pay attention to two things at once? And because of this difficulty, we often overeat or drink too much.

Traveling has its own set of challenges: you don’t have your usual healthy options available, sometimes you have to grab a quick bite at somewhere convenient, other times you eat at places filled with rich, heavy or fried foods.

In this article, I’ll share some of my thoughts on dealing with these challenges.

Social Eating

Social eating is one of my biggest ongoing challenges, and while I haven’t completely licked it, here are some things that have worked for me:

  1. Plan ahead. Know that you will need to have more awareness of eating than usual, with the constant distraction of people talking to you. So remind yourself: be mindful! And constantly reminds yourself of this during the social gathering.
  2. Eat ahead. Sometimes it’s smart to eat something healthy before you go, so that you have gotten your dose of veggies and protein, and won’t be lacking in nutrients at the social gathering, nor will you be incredibly hungry and tempted to stuff your face.
  3. Eat in small doses. Some people tend to load up their plates or order lots of food at once, but this means that if you’re not paying attention to your eating, you’ll likely eat it all even if you’re already full. So take only small servings if possible, and then if you’re not mindful of your eating, you won’t do much damage by eating the entire serving.
  4. Have cues. While you might not be able to pay close attention to your eating as you eat, you can remind yourself to notice when you’re done eating a small dose and are about to get more. So each time you’re about to get more food or drink, pause and think, “Why am I getting more? Am I actually hungry? Or am I eating/drinking to have something to do while I socialize?” Each refill becomes your mindfulness cue.
  5. Aim for healthier choices. While you might be surrounded by a huge amount of junk food or rich, heavy food, there will usually be some healthy options — veggie sides, salad, water or tea instead of alcohol. You don’t need to only eat the healthy stuff, but you’re better off if you choose the healthy stuff most of the time.
  6. Indulge in small bites. There’s no need to completely stay away from the treats, but you don’t need a ton of treats in order to satisfy a craving. If you feel like eating fried clams, fine, but just have one or two, and eat them slowly and fully savor them. Same thing with that molten chocolate cake — just take 2-3 bites, and savor them slowly.

Traveling & Eating

How do you eat healthily while on the road or in the sky? It’s not as easy as sticking to your usual healthy routine, but it can be done without too much trouble. Here are some of my best techniques:

  1. Plan ahead. Think through your options before you travel if possible, and do a little research to find healthy restaurants in the area you’re traveling to. Put them on a Google Map you create for your trip so you can easily find them later.
  2. Buy groceries. Pretty much every place in the world has grocery stores, so if you can make a stop at one and buy some things for a healthy breakfast, you’ll have an inexpensive and healthy option to start your day at least.
  3. Make lunch your indulgence meal. I like to eat at good restaurants when I travel, but doing it for every meal would be expensive and fattening. So I usually pick lunch as my indulgence meal, because you can get really good food at great restaurants for cheaper. Many good restaurants have a special set lunch menu or a buffet that aren’t available at dinner. I try not to overdo it at lunch, but if I do, I can usually walk it off by exploring the city I’m visiting.
  4. Eat a light dinner. A quick sandwich, salad, falafel or similar can usually be picked up in a small food stand, or you can stop at a grocery and pick up a few things for a light dinner (baguette, fruit and wine in Paris!) that you can eat in a park or somewhere that shows of the beauty of the place you’re visiting.
  5. When socializing during travel, follow the tips in the previous section. Eat ahead, eat in small doses, have cues, aim for healthier choices, indulge in small bites.