This guide can be found in my nutrition ebook, I delve into the Lebanese eating social scene. While other cultures may differ in their attitudes towards food, Lebanese and Arabic culture, as a whole, views food as an integral part of our social experience.
Social scenes can be difficult to navigate due to this, I thought that writing out my experience in declining food (a social ‘faux-pas’) in order to reach my fitness goals may help some of you when faced with eating at a Lebanese restaurant.
Challenges of Healthy Eating at a Lebanese restaurant
Dining at a Lebanese or Arabic restaurants is a social event. In our culture, most of the bonding that occurs happens at the dinner table. Eating for a good physique comes with it’s own set of challenges among which are:
1) peer pressure from relatives to order more food
2) a wide variety of foods to choose from/lack of nutritional information posted on menus
3) food being a social aspect of Arab culture, not a lot of it is tailored towards weight-loss objectives
How can we overcome Peer Pressure?
We must learn to say no. As any one from a collectivist society like Arab society may know, it is perceived as rude to refuse food at the dinner table. This unwritten social rule is backwards, in my opinion, and fails to account for people who want to achieve physique goals.
I advocate learning to refuse food if your goal is to have a killer physique. I warn you that you will not become popular as a result of this, however, you can be inspiring somebody at the table who may also want to become fit.
You may lose popularity however what you will gain is respect from those around you, especially if you are overweight. I promise that this holds true despite culture and that you can achieve the body that you want despite the disapproving looks of family members.
What about lack of nutritional information on menus? Traditional restaurants do not post calories/fats/proteins on their menus therefore it is hard to know how much I am consuming.
I recommend researching the restaurant beforehand and finding out if they have healthy options.
Remember, healthy and restrictive are not synonymous. Eating according to your goals is your business and is a sign of self respect.
As for knowing how much to eat, a good rule of thumb is to eat Arab foods in moderation. The Arabic Mezza tends to be made with healthy fats, it also incorporates proteins and healthy carbohydrates such as bulgur and finally, consists of fresh and tasty vegetables.
Remember, this is not about restriction, in Arabic culture, we can make food choices that are health-oriented, we have an intuitive and flexible style of eating already so this should come naturally.
What about family gatherings and holidays? I do not want to offend guests or hosts.
In addition to validating the difficulty that comes with refusing food from family members, I add that doing so is necessary.
This means that you must start exercising your strength to your family during holidays, a time where overindulging is at its highest. While I do enjoy a bit of sweets and carbs during the holidays, I suggest that practicing moderation with sugar is the strategy that will best serve you.
Another strategy is to aim to finish eating after your first plate without going for seconds.
Make your plate varied, aim for a high amount of protein, moderate carbs and moderate fat without worrying over the calories. When it comes to alcohol or sugar, I suggest that you do not try to ‘outdo’ anybody at the gathering but still manage to enjoy the night without worrying about food consumption.
Instead, laugh around the dinner table, enjoy the company and respect your food choices every day of the year with a little more relaxation.
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