Have Your Cake (Or Meat)...And Your Health Too!

Simple steps to combining a night out on the town and a plant-based lifestyle.

While a strict plant-based, vegan diet is not for everyone, the benefits are so powerful even part-time dabblers will see positive changes in their health, appearance and stamina.  What does this mean?  You can have your cake (or meat)…and your health too.

I made the switch to a plant-based lifestyle over three years ago and have never looked back.  So how do I, a foodie in every sense of the word, maintain my healthy diet without feeling deprived and well, miserable?  It’s easy…compromise. 

As a plant-based food enthusiast, I still enjoy visiting my favorite restaurants.  Think you can't enjoy a great night on the town as a vegan?  Think again.  Here's how I do it.

I love Mexican food so my husband and I recently headed to Rosa Mexicano where the margaritas are sublime and the guacamole is to die for.  I gave myself permission to enjoy my meal without guilt and perused the menu.

Spending some alone time with my husband allowed the food to take a back seat to the evening as a whole.  As I looked over my options I thought about how particular foods would make me feel afterward and whether it would be worth ordering.  

I started with a watermelon margarita (I still enjoy a cocktail, I’m no masochist) and guacamole made table-side.  I ordered the yellowtail tartar appetizer which was refreshing and spicy; it really hit the spot. Next came the Sangria (I refer to my earlier masochist comment.)

As an entree I opted for a vegetable enchilada with no cheese; it was loaded with grilled veggies and didn’t leave me feeling bloated or weighed down.  

For dessert, the churros were screaming my name.  I split the dessert with my husband since it was an indulgence I rarely allow which made it all the more decadent.  It was worth the calories and I didn’t regret the splurge for a minute.  

I left the restaurant feeling relaxed and satisfied as opposed to stuffed to the gills and uncomfortable; a feeling I remember all to well from my days of glutinous indulgence. 

While in the city for an appointment the other day I visited the mecca of Italian food and housewares, Eataly, the Batali/Bastianich partnership’s answer to Italian food at it’s best. 

After touring the meticulous aisles of food, books and tableware, I headed to the rooftop beer garden, Birreria.  I sipped a glass of the house brewed Cask Ale while I reviewed the menu and absolved myself of guilt and recrimination. 

I ordered a salad with fresh anchovies with a warm anchovy dressing to start followed by grilled Portobello mushrooms over mixed greens with a balsamic reduction and grilled peaches. 

My friend ordered a salad and the cheese plate.  A decaf espresso completed the meal and I left feeling light and satisfied.  I passed on dessert since I was feeling full.  It was a great afternoon of delicious food and much needed girl-time.

Last night we decided on Thai for dinner and ordered from a great spot in the Atlantic Highlands, Kunya Siam.  I ordered my favorite salad, Som Tum, a slightly spicy mixture of green papaya, tomatoes and string beans in a chili lime dressing. I was really in the mood for a curry and their Panang Curry is great.  They happily substituted tofu for the chicken.  It was an awesome meal shared with great neighbors;  I didn't miss a thing.

You may thinking, “what’s the big deal?  She had a few bites of fish and a dessert.  That’s hardly a compromise.”  I can assure you it undoubtedly is.  After avoiding meat for so long I no longer crave meat or poultry, in fact, knowing how poorly I’ll feel after eating it makes me shy away from it.  I look at every item on a menu and ask myself if it will really enhance my dining experience.  When I weigh the pros and cons I usually pass many items up without feeling deprived.  However, if I were really jonesing for lamb chops I would have them and start fresh in the morning.

Early on in my journey I would give myself carte blanch to eat with abandon on weekends or when dining out.  Giving myself permission to "live it up" on occasion made my transition to a plant-based diet smooth and painless.  As I continued I found it became easier to pass up foods that I once thought I couldn't live without for foods that would help me live a better life.  When my cholesterol improved, my dress size shrank and the compliments to my appearance increased, I knew I was doing the right thing.

When you strive for balance rather than the deprivation associated with most fad diets you will find mealtime to be a self- empowering and enjoyable event.  Don’t get bogged down in the terminology of vegan or plant-based; focus on providing the best fuel your body and you will find your new choices are more delicious than you would have thought.  Equally important is allowing the company of good friends and family to be the highlight of your evening instead of the food.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Diane Capano July 20, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Melissa, next time we go out to dinner I'm going to say, "I'll have what she's having."
Barbara Falvo July 21, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Your food insights will surely help me get through my 50s and beyond feeling and looking better!!!
Mary Hussey September 24, 2012 at 06:15 AM
I've been a pescatarian (a fish -eating vegetarian) since 1997, and have never looked back. Although I don't look the part - too much Mountain Dew and a heavy hand with the hummus - I don't feel deprived since there are so many wonderful things to choose from nowadays, especially at the restaurants! My favorite is Juanito's, in Red Bank. Their vegetable chimichanga is fabulous!
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