We are a social and habitual species, so it’s natural that we build up patterns of behavior related to socializing. We go out with friends and have our little rituals, such as eating dinner out, having a few drinks, or getting ice cream at the corner shop.

While these calorie-centered rituals have the potential to thwart effective weight loss, socializing does not have to be in conflict with healthy eating habits. You just have to remember to put things in perspective, and take advantage of the techniques you’ve learned so far. Here are three steps toward building positive weight management habits while you enjoy time out with your friends.

Step 1 – Plan Ahead

The first step can be one of the trickiest, because we don’t always know when we’re going to be going out. Some of our most memorable experiences are when we impulsively decide to drive to the next state for a concert or visit an old college roommate. However, none of this means that you can’t plan ahead, it just means you have to do so a bit earlier. Whether you know when you’re next going out or not, sit down and come up with a plan today.

Write out a list of the reasons you started a weight loss regime, and the reasons you’ve stuck it out this long. This will help remind you of what you’ve accomplished and what you’re working toward at the same time. With the goal back in mind, decide how much you’re going to eat. Are you going to stick to your usual portions, or will you splurge just a little? It is ok to splurge as long as it’s a planned, one time event to be shared with your friends, and not something you will give up your diet over.

Do you and your friends have a favorite restaurant or two? The Internet is a marvelous tool to help you keep your goals in mind. Instead of waiting until you’re hungry and at the restaurant, go online and see if they’ve posted their menu. Pick out what you want in advance from one or two of your favorite places ahead of time, while you can make the rational choice that best fits your goals.

Step 2 – Use Your Habits

Once you’re at the restaurant and the food is ordered and brought to the table, you still have techniques you can use to make good on your commitment to following your plan. Cut the food with your non-dominant hand to slow yourself down, and remember to put the fork down between bites. You’ll get to enjoy the food longer, have more opportunities to talk with your friends, and work up to the feeling of being comfortably full.

If the food came in a larger portion than you expected, don’t panic. Simply put the portion that you intended to eat on one side of your plate, and move the excess to the other side, and eat as though nothing is wrong (because that’s true!). Once you finish eating, remember to have a nice cool glass of water and wait twenty minutes to let yourself feel properly full. Politely excuse yourself to get a breath of air outside if you need a moment away from the food, and remember to ask your server for a box so you can put the food aside where you don’t need to look at it.

Step 3 – Enjoy Yourself

Remember that the plan is not to make yourself feel miserable. Instead we’re building habits that make us feel empowered and capable of controlling our diet for our own health and goals. Part of those goals should be the right to be happy and to have fun with our friends.

So the meal has come, you’ve eaten what you intended to and put aside the extra. Congratulate yourself! You took a situation that might have held you up before and made it work for you. Not only did you stick to your plan and use the habits you’ve been cultivating, you had a good time out with your friends, and that’s definitely worth the effort of a little extra planning.

After all, it’s impractical to think we can simply avoid eating out entirely. A bit of variety helps build good habits, because then we don’t get bored or frustrated that we’ve swapped one boring routine for another one. Socializing helps us feel happy and satisfied, and if we make that part of our goals instead of trying to separate the two, we gain so much more satisfaction from everything we’ve accomplished.

So eating out today doesn’t mean we have to feel guilty or somehow punish ourselves tomorrow. Everything we do is an opportunity to build those healthy habits and take control of ourselves so we can feel good and be healthy.

Larry Tobin is a co-creator of HabitChanger.com , offering effective and empowering solutions for losing weight. Try our 42-day weight loss program today and change your life.

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