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Deciding What to Eat When You Can Eat Anything You Want

I talked with someone the other day about the challenges of deciding what and how much to eat when you’re not restricting yourself. After all, if you can have whatever you want, whenever you want, why not make it a free for all?

This stuck with me when I went out to lunch on Friday. It’s Maine Restaurant Week, and as with previous years, my brother and I took advantage of it as a pre-birthday treat for him.

This year we went to David’s, a restaurant near where we both work. We could do two courses (appetizer and entrée, or entrée and dessert) for $15, or all three for $20.

When I looked at the menu, I noticed some interesting thoughts as I tried to decide what to get – thoughts I might have ignored if I hadn’t had the earlier conversation.

In case you struggle with these types of questions and decisions, I wanted to share my experience in the hopes it might help.

So the first question was, how many courses did I want? Going for all three tempted me a little, but I knew I had to go back to work, and I didn’t want to fall into a food coma. I opted for two courses.

Then I had to decide, which two?

I’ll be honest – I really struggled with this. Often when I have the option of fancy desserts, I go for them. It’s the sort of “I can have what I want, so I’m going to!” kind of thing. And that was definitely the case here, where I was almost trying to talk myself into dessert simply for the sake of it.

But at the same time, none of the options truly appealed to me. I don’t care for cheesecake – I know, this is a little like admitting heresy. The crème brûlée and cookie with ice cream options were both dairy heavy, and since I have dairy issues at the best of times and was getting over a cold, I decided I didn’t need them. I also knew I had some dairy-free ice cream at home if I really wanted that later.

Now, if they’d had a really good chocolate offering, I might have made a different choice. But they didn’t, so no dessert.

Okay, so appetizer and entrée. Which of the choices should I get?

For appetizers, again, two of the options had a lot of dairy – French onion soup and clam chowder. I ruled those out. They also had a salad and a Mediterranean bruschetta. Meanwhile, they had another salad as an entrée, ravioli (more dairy), and a mixed grill surf & turf plate.

This is where it got interesting again. I felt like I “should” have a salad for one of the courses. It was lighter and probably more nutritious.

And as a woman going out to eat, aren’t I “supposed” to have a salad?

Except – I didn’t particularly want one. It was a gray, damp, raw and windy day, and still winter. I find salads most appealing when it’s warmer, like late spring, summer, and early fall. They’re not as enticing on a day where I want something warm and comforting.

I with the bruschetta to start, followed by the mixed grill. And it definitely felt like the right choice.

I don’t eat much bread due to gluten issues. It felt like a treat to have the bread, toasted crispy on the edges but soft on the inside, loaded with tomatoes, basil, arugula, and more. I realized I have food like that far less often than dessert, which made me appreciate it all the more.

Having that also meant I didn’t feel the need for any of the garlic knots in the bread basket. I know they’re tasty, but I had already satisfied my bread craving.

Similarly, for the entrée, I rarely have scallops, and I almost never have steak. Even when I have shrimp, it’s not with all the fancy sauces. And the mashed potatoes were a perfect choice for the kind of day it was. You can’t get much more comforting than that.

In the end, I didn’t miss dessert or salad at all, despite how much my brain had tried to convince me to have them. And I realized that what helps me navigate around these kinds of thoughts is to recognize them for what they are: a reaction to the social pressures and expectations around me. They’re very rarely about what I actually want or need.

If I can remember that, those little voices are more like white noise and I can ignore them accordingly. And when I do, I’m much more apt to have a satisfying and enjoyable meal.

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