Why I hate eating at restaurants.


Most people love to dine out.  What’s not to like? You don’t have to shop, prepare or clean up after the meal.  You just open up a menu and order whatever looks good.  A server brings you the food, you eat it, pay and go.  Easy peasy.  So why do I hate eating at restaurants and think you should too?

Let’s talk about the hidden costs of eating out.  For one, it’s super expensive compared to buying your food and preparing it on your own.  Is it 70% more expensive?  Probably.  At least 50%.  You’re paying for the restaurant’s physical location, someone to purchase and prepare the food, your parking spot, the restroom, those red and white mints wrapped in plastic that come with your check that no one eats.  All of it.

But you’re also paying another price, and this is the real reason why I hate eating at restaurants.  Not only am I paying 70% more for my food (ouch), but I’m also not getting what I want.

Food quality varies…

When I shop for my own food and bring it home to prepare, I’m buying organic, seasonal food that I’ve personally selected.  The quality of the food I’m eating is in my control.  In a restaurant, not so much.

Chances are pretty good I’m getting nothing organic, unless I’m eating at a restaurant that makes an effort to buy organic, and then very often some produce is just not available organic at certain times of the year.  So I’m eating food that is full of toxins and pesticides and is also very likely, certainly in the case of corn and soybeans, a genetically modified organism (GMO).

Like most businesses, restaurants need to turn a profit in order to survive. They often buy the cheapest products that meet their needs.  Of course, this varies greatly, depending on whether you’re eating at Long John Silver’s or Thomas Keller’s French Laundry.  For most people, I’m guessing their daily dining choices are much closer to Long John’s.

Paying for tiny portions…

Quantity is another problem for me at restaurants.  I like salad.  Often, salad is the only thing I can eat at a restaurant.  So I order salads, but grudgingly.  Most restaurants put out crappy salads. Salads are like the acknowledgements or epilogues of books.  No one reads them and no one cares.

Sure, I understand, most restaurants have salads on the menu because they have to, not because it’s their specialty.  So they’re typically small and unremarkable, and often intended to be paired with an entree.  If they are meal size, they’re certainly not my meal size.  Maybe meal size for a size 0 model on the eve of a cover  shoot.  Not for someone that actually enjoys eating.

I’ve learned not to be shy about ordering 2 or even 3 salads.  Heck, I even ordered 4 salads at a restaurant in Boston once, and ate all 4 of them.  Easily.  It sure didn’t feel like I ate $52 worth of salad when the bill arrived.  I’m pretty sure the server assumed I had an eating disorder.

Terrible choices…

Not to mention restaurant menus.  They’re unimaginative and oh so predictable.  Especially in American restaurants.  Burgers, fries, chicken, steak, pasta and the aforementioned bits of lettuce and tomato masquerading as salad.  Gahhhh!  Can’t someone throw in some hummus, rice bowls, wraps, or anything that doesn’t come on a bun? Oh right, that wouldn’t be American style food.

I typically eschew the menu entirely and make my own entree from the side menus.  For example, when eating at a Mexican restaurant, I order sides of tortillas, beans, rice and guacamole to make my own veggie tacos.  Often I get bigger portions and pay less.

This isn’t your home kitchen…

I haven’t even gotten to the kitchen yet.  This is the worst part of eating out and it’s just so ridiculous.  Restaurant kitchens attempt to put out food that people like.  So they’ll come back.  It’s quite logical, I realize.  So I really shouldn’t be blaming the kitchens.  It’s the general public that’s to blame.  It’s the public that wants their food cooked with oil, butter, salt and all other manner of unhealthy, artery-clogging ingredients that supposedly make food taste good but really just ruin it.  I mean, if you have any tastebuds.  Which apparently, the general public does not.

How else would you explain those fries that come out with a weeks worth of sodium doused on them, after being fried in oil?  Or the pasta that comes out drenched in oil and marinara that is salty enough to raise a person’s blood pressure just looking at it?  It’s really quite pathetic how processed the food is that the general public wants nowadays.  Most food served in restaurants is downright unrecognizable from it’s original form.

Of course, the first thing they reach for is the salt shaker when the food arrives at the table.  God forbid they be able to taste what’s in front of them.  Even steamed vegetables, which I’ve ordered before, receive an automatic dousing of oil and salt prior to being served.  I mean, who wants to actually taste their broccoli?

You would never cook in your home kitchen the way a restaurant chef does.  Of course you don’t have a deep fryer (please tell me you don’t), or the amount of spices and other condiments available in a typical kitchen.  Even before the food arrives at the restaurant, salt and spices are added to increase the shelf life and taste.  For example, most raw chicken is pumped full of sodium when it’s packed.  Ditto for all those processed lunch meats. Some brands of french fries are also fried prior to packing, then fried again after reaching the restaurant.

Make no mistake, restaurants are not a great place to be if you’re trying to eat even remotely healthy.  Though some restaurant menus now include nutritional information (thank you California), there’s a pretty good chance these numbers aren’t even close to what you’re actually getting.  So you have no idea how many calories and fat grams you’re taking in when eating out.  Which is a good thing, since it may be heart attack-inducing.

The solution is easy…

I have an idea.  Go buy your own food at the grocery store.  Bring it home.  Cook it.  Eat it.  You won’t get a bill delivered by a surly server afterwards, and you’ll have control over the quality and quantity of what you’re eating.  You’ll also pay a lot less, even when buying higher quality organic produce.

Of course, this is assuming you have rudimentary cooking skills.  By rudimentary I mean you can boil water, which means you can make rice or potatoes or pretty much any soup you desire.  If not, learn those skills.  Practice creating a handful of recipes that you can make over and over again.  Buy a freakin’ crock pot. Get good at eating leftovers.  They’re delicious!

Basic cooking skills will save you more money, time and health than you can imagine.  Once you get some of the basics down, you’ll create food that is better than you can get at any restaurant.  Which is actually pretty liberating.

Sure, I understand that there are times when eating out is necessary.  Like when traveling, for example.  I just returned from Chicago and ate out twice a day for 4 days..  Though I did, for the record, make at least one of those a day at Whole Foods, which is technically a grocery store.

The point is, restaurant eating is full of hidden minefields to your bank account as well as your health.  Don’t eat out just because you’re lazy or you lack the ability to plan ahead.  Go get your groceries.  Make some food at home.  Bring it with you to work.  You’ll save time, money and your health.

Remember, no one cares about your health more than you do.  So why are you paying someone else to prepare your meals?  Since you are what you eat, food shopping and preparation should be handled by you and you alone.



The importance of finding your WHY.


Whether running a marathon or making big changes to your diet, you can’t forget the importance of finding your WHY.

On Sunday I ran in the Chicago Marathon.  I wanted to run a sub 3:30.  I ran a 3:35.

Right around mile 21 I suddenly had the feeling I was sinking into mud. I was trying to run through quicksand. Each leg weighed 100 lbs. For marathon runners, this isn’t an unusual experience. This is why at the beginning of marathons it looks like a busy ant pile, with lots of passing and maneuvering, while at the end it looks like a funeral procession. A really slow funeral procession. For zombies.

But I’m not disappointed with my performance.  Well, maybe a little.  I guess you can say I can’t be disappointed, based on my training.  I slacked off a bit in the last 4 weeks. Okay, I slacked off a lot.

So I basically got what I deserved.  I didn’t achieve my goal.  I didn’t get a PR.  I suffered and struggled more than I should have.  I wasn’t properly prepared or trained to run a sub 3:30 race.   More importantly, I didn’t have a great WHY for wanting to run a sub 3:30 time.

It occurred to me on the flight home, as I reflected on my performance, that marathon running and changing your diet have a lot of parallels.   If you’re not prepared and trained to make a change as difficult as what you eat 3 times a day, 7 days a week, you’ll fail.  You’ll get to that 21st mile and the leg pain will set in (food cravings) and you’ll go back to the food you know doesn’t make you feel good.

How do you prepare and train to make a dietary change?  If you’re running a marathon you have speed workouts, long runs, recovery runs and just a shit ton of running.  With dietary changes, you have grocery shopping, meal preparation,  eating out and a huge amount of discipline.  While all those are super important to both marathon running and dietary changes, the most important preparation is finding your WHY.

No, it’s not a fancy acronym.  Finding out your WHY just has to do finding out exactly WHY you’re doing what you’re doing.  Why are you running a marathon?  Why are you eating healthier/going vegan/going fruitarian?  In examining your WHY, it gives you a great opportunity to head off difficulties down the road.

For example, my WHY for eating a vegan, high carb low fat 100% raw diet is this:  I want to be the healthiest version of myself possible, with the least amount of harm to animals and the environment.  It’s not, as I started out thinking, to eat all raw.  Or all fruit.  That’s not a great WHY.  It doesn’t provide great motivation when times get tough.

It may seem like semantics, but to say I’m only eating  (fill in the blank) really doesn’t resonate.  Your WHY needs to be personal to you and perhaps even touch on something your passionate about.

I place a very high premium on feeling my best.  I also enjoy running, cycling and competing against myself and others.  To do this well, I need to eat food that makes me feel my best.  Based on my experience, this happens to be fresh, whole, ripe, unprocessed fruits and leafy greens.   Not cooked foods.  Not rice, or potatoes or Thai food, Mexican food or a giant vegan pizza from Whole Foods the likes of which I ate after running the Chicago marathon.

Fortunately, the food that makes me feel best is vegan, which also causes the least amount of harm to animals and to our environment. What a deal!

By having my WHY remind me that I only want to eat foods that produce the healthiest version of myself and cause the least harm, I have a reminder of the bigger picture.  At present this involves raw vegan food.  Based on my experience, this is best for me.  Your best might just be vegetarian, vegan, or heck, just trying not to drink soda.  Whatever it is right now is what you should remember when getting to your WHY.

Even the most disciplined will experience the late stage marathon struggle when making dietary changes.  People underestimate the difficulty of such a task just as much as runners underestimate the challenges of running 26.2 miles.

Get clear on WHY you’re making the dietary changes you’re making.  Make it strike a nerve.   Back when I was transitioning from vegetarian to vegan, a story broke about a dairy farm and their treatment of cows.  Footage from the animal activists involved showed a critically injured dairy cow being mercilessly pushed across the concrete floor with a forklift.  I’m not sure if this is the actual video I saw, but be prepared for the graphic reality of what goes on at a dairy farm.

That was enough to become my permanent WHY as to my reason for going vegan from vegetarian. I immediately stopped consuming any dairy products.  I could no longer do anything to contribute to an animal being treated this way.   If you’re still consuming milk, this video should be your WHY.   Animals in the dairy and egg industry suffer tremendously.  If you’re consuming these products, you’re casting a vote with your dollar for more of this torture to take place.

If you don’t have a great WHY yet, no worries.  You’ll find one.  If you do have one and you suspect it’s not good enough, make it better.  Find a compelling reason.  Without one, you’ll risk falling off your pace at the 21st mile and not achieving your goals.

With a solid WHY, you’ll find it so much easier to maintain your pace and cross that finish line looking strong.




7 reasons why you can’t go vegan


  1. I won’t get enough protein on a vegan diet.

No matter how many randomized, double-blind, placebo control studies I show you to prove that a vegan diet isn’t deficient in protein, you’re still worried about protein.

Funny, though, you don’t know how much you currently get or even how much is recommended. You just know you need more.  More is better.  Besides, your neighbor’s  cousin’s personal trainer told him he needed more protein.   Arghhh!

For the love of god, be careful who you take nutrition advice from.   Better yet, do your own research and don’t take advice from anyone.    You could even read a book or two, like this one, or even this one.

According to the RDA, you need .36 g protein x weight (.lbs.).  So a 121 .lb woman needs 43.5 g of protein a day.  I take in this much eating only fruits and veggies, no overpriced supplements or foul-tasting protein powder needed.

Spoiler alert: a  whole foods vegan diet sufficient in calories is more than likely sufficient in protein.

If you’re not sure, use an online program like cronometer.  Log everything you eat for a few days and see how your numbers look.  I’m willing to bet you easily obtain the RDA for protein listed above.

I know.  You grew up, as we all did, being brainwashed into thinking we need protein, specifically animal protein.  Milk.  Meat.  Cheese.  Guess who orchestrated all that?  How about the industries that stand to profit from the public eating excessive animal protein?

So educate yourself!  Stop accepting random nutrition information from a friend of a friend or the cover of Men’s Health magazine.   Also check out nutritionfacts.org for some actual fact-based research on just about any subject, including protein.

2. I can’t give up cheese!

Of course you can’t.  Did you know cheese, in addition to saturated fat, cholesterol and hormones, has addictive properties? You’re not the only one that identifies cheese as the hardest food to give up when going vegan.  It’s right up there with heroin. Which is, when you think about it, another great reason to give it up.  Who wants to be addicted to such an unhealthy food?

I recommend trying some of the new vegan cheeses while you’re transitioning, like these Chao cheeses or the venerable Daiya cheese.

After a bit, don’t be afraid to go completely cheese free.  Break the chains of your cheese addiction!  There are so many better alternatives to cheese that provide way more flavor.  Not to mention nutrition.  Avocado.   Hummus.  You can even try some nut cheeses.

But wait, does this mean you can never eat pizza again?  Of course not.  While pizza is a nice indulgence once in awhile, you can often get soy cheese substitutes at a lot of pizza chains, but you can also order pizza, as I do, without cheese.  I know, right? Crazy! It’s much better than it sounds.

3.  What will other people think?

Hate to burst your bubble on this one but here’s the thing….no one really cares.  Seriously.  Sure, they may give you a hard time if you’re not going whole hog on the Sunday bbq, or if you’re eating vegan makes them feel bad about their own diet.

Truth be told, if you’re so worried about what people will think that you let it stop you from adopting an amazingly healthy, cruelty free and environmentally sustainable diet, then perhaps you have more to work on than just what you choose to eat.

4.  It’s too hard to eat vegan.

When people ask me if it’s hard to eat vegan I can’t help but laugh at the idea.  Eating vegan is so simple.  Certainly cooking is easier.  Grocery shopping is easier.  I eliminate whole areas of the store when I shop.  I don’t live in fear of cross-contamination of my kitchen and a horrible case of salmonella poisoning from raw chicken.  I buy fruits and veggies and make epic salads that have only a handful of ingredients with lime juice and avocado for dressing.

What about eating out?  Sure, you may find yourself challenged until you figure out how to order in restaurants.  If you’re polite and let your server know you’re vegan or you order off the side menu, you’ll be just fine.  Most restaurants have vegetarian options that can easily be veganized.  I’ve even had some of the best food at steak houses, which typically have excellent salads, baked potatoes and even roasted brussels sprouts.

5.  What will I eat?

No, you don’t need complicated vegan recipes with 27 ingredients and multiple appliances.  You don’t need to become the Julia Child of vegan cooking.  Put down the apron. Relax.  Most people eat the same dozen or so entrees every week.  Just leave the meat and dairy out.  Add tofu.  Or veggies.

If you insist on recipes, check out choosing raw, or PETA’s site.  But remember, you don’t even need to cook when eating vegan.  Eat fresh fruit and veggies for breakfast and lunch, then make a giant salad full of tender lettuce, tomatoes, avocado and peppers.  You might be surprised at the how amazing a simple salad of only a handful of ingredients tastes.

6. My family won’t eat vegan.

Too bad for them!  So what?  They might not now, but if they have to watch you eat epic salads they may end up changing their minds.

If you have to take the lead in representing the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle to your spouse or entire family, then so be it.  Do it!  Show them how great they’ll feel after eating salad versus eating food full of saturated fat, cholesterol and pus?

Now there’s a great way to get your family to go vegan.   You can discuss the amount of pus in milk and cheese.  Once you’re done with that you can discuss how contaminated the American meat supply is with fecal bacteria.  Fun!

7.  It’s expensive.

It’s true.  Eating fresh, whole, organic (when possible) fruits and vegetables can be expensive.  But here’s the deal.   You get what you pay for.

If you’re eating foods out of cans and boxes that have expiration dates out to the next decade, you’re going to pay the price at some point.  Your compromised health and a $400 monthly prescription medication bill is expensive too.  Wouldn’t you rather just pay more now and avoid the medical costs and issues altogether?

Do what you can to free up your budget if you need to.  Nothing should be more important than buying fresh, quality food.  Nothing.  Ordering a meat lover’s pizza and a dozen chicken wings from Pizza Hut is not dinner.  It’s poison.  Not to mention a recipe for heart disease, cancer and obesity.  Don’t do that to yourself or your family.

Look for deals, buy produce in season, and make huge pots of soup in your crock pot.  Buy a rice cooker.  Super simple.  There are ways to feed yourself and your family without compromising your health.  It will take more work than picking up the phone to order pizza or cruising through the drive thru on the way home from work.

There you go, 7 reasons why you can’t go vegan and a multitude of reasons why you can.  Do it for your health, for the animals, or for the environment, but do it!