social events


There are two schools of thought when it comes to strategies for attending social events on a fat loss diet.

Before we cover them, let’s make sure we understand how fat loss works.

Do Calories Matter?

In order to lose fat, you must be in a caloric deficit: Calories In < Calories Out

Does this mean you have to count calories? No.

Will understanding how the calorie model works help you lose fat without tracking? Yes.

Can you lose fat without tracking? Absolutely.

Focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods, lots of protein and even more veggies. By doing this, you can likely achieve some fat loss without ever tracking your food. But you still have to be in a deficit.

Whether or not you choose to track it is up to you. I’ve seen it work both ways.

For the purposes of this article, I simply want to make sure you know what must happen for fat loss to occur.

A Few Disclaimers Before We Proceed

The recommendations I’m going to suggest later in this article are not things I condone on a regular basis.

If it’s date night for you and your boo, for example, you can afford to cut loose just a little bit. However, you still don’t want to go overboard on food and drink.

social events

If it’s date night, you can afford to cut loose just a little bit. However, you still don’t want to go overboard. Image courtesy of The Guardian.

Here are a few hard and fast rules you can apply for date night:

1a – I try and schedule date nights on workout days. That way, I can get heavy strength training in before going out. This frees me up to eat basically whatever I want. Meat, starch, booze – whatever I’m in the mood for.

1b – Scheduling workouts around dinners isn’t always applicable (or necessary). So if something comes up on a rest day, I skip the starches. I get meat and double up on the veggies.

Some examples of what this might look like:

  • At any traditional restaurant, I get meat (chicken, steak, salmon) with two sides of veggies. Add a side salad. Hold the croutons.
  • At a Mexican restaurant, I skip the chips, get fajitas and just eat the meat and veggies without the tortillas.
  • At a burger/sandwich joint, I just order what I want bun-less, or in a lettuce wrap. Eat it with a fork if necessary.

2 – A great tip I learned from Jill Coleman is to pick starches or booze, never both. This is one of her personal rules that I’ve adopted.

For her, this means if she wants a glass (or two) of wine at dinner, she goes meat and veggies only, most often in the form of a huge salad.

If you only drink water, then add starch.

These are very simple, easy-to-apply rules you can implement at your next meal out, or even at home. These subtle changes could make huge differences in your waistline over time.

So know that the options I’m about to suggest do not apply to dinner every night, or even every week. These are things for you to consider when planning for birthdays, work events, holidays, etc.

Option #1 – Eat All Your Calories Before The Event

This is the most common advice I hear, and it makes sense.

If you have a party to attend and you don’t know what’s going to be served, you’re better off cooking a meal and eating it before you even leave the house.

That way, you know what’s in your food and you know the macros, if you’re a tracker. This can alleviate a lot of stress caused by going out and not knowing what food choices to make, especially when you factor in peer pressure from those around you.

By eating regularly throughout the day and having dinner beforehand, you’ve ensured that your diet is on track. Hopefully you’ve left yourself a little room to nibble on the snacks or have a couple drinks without breaking the calorie bank.

The downside to this approach is you might be ridiculed by those around you. If you’re not eating or drinking anything, the influx of questions will begin.

It’s just one…”, they’ll say – and the guilt and anxiety begin.

Pro Tip: Get a drink and just sip it slowly. Carry it around with you the whole time so you appear to be drinking. No one will notice it’s the same drink the whole time. This works better for a dark-bottled beer, because you can’t tell it’s empty.

Is This For Me? I recommend this approach to the mentally tough. Those who can easily say “no, thanks” and be in control of what they eat and drink.

Option #2 – Eat All Your Calories At The Event

If you’ve experienced modified fasts – and battled willpower – I recommend this approach for you.

This also happens to be my go-to method for such an occasion.

Assuming the social gathering is in the evening, I fast throughout the day. No food, but lots of water and zero-calorie beverages. For me, this is a few cups of coffee throughout the morning and a green tea or two in the afternoon, with lots of water in between.

social events

ProTip: First timers – get some raw veggies to snack on throughout the day. Image courtesy of Health Tips Centre.

ProTip: First timers – get some raw veggies to snack on throughout the day, such as cucumbers, peppers and celery. Cut these up and snack on them to help get you through the day. The calories are negligible and it will psychologically help you get through the day just by going through the motions of putting something into your mouth, chewing, swallowing, etc.

Let’s circle back to the calorie model.

If I’m a tracker, let’s say my maintenance calories are 2000 per day. I’ve fasted throughout the day, maybe had a handful of raw veggies and lots of zero-calorie beverages. This means when I get to the party I can eat 2000 calories worth of whatever I want, guilt-free.

This doesn’t mean you can eat 2000 calories worth of cookies and cake. I guess you can, though you probably won’t feel so hot.

You still want to apply the same rules you normally would. Find a protein source you like and start there. Add a few extra servings. Then you can be a little more free with what you’re eating.

Want a slice of pie for dessert but you’re not sure which one because there are too many to choose from? Have two.

The idea here isn’t to eat 2000 calories of garbage, but to eat, drink and be social without worrying about potential damage to your waistline.

ProTip: I certainly wouldn’t weigh myself the morning after this large meal. Chances are it was high in carbohydrates and/or sodium, so there is likely to be quite a bit of water retention. Stay off the scale 2 to 3 days after this and you will return to your previous weight.

Is This For Me? I would not recommend this approach for someone struggling with eating issues or anyone that has negative feelings towards food. It’s also not ideal for the chronic scale junkie who has to weigh themselves daily.

The repercussions of this cheat-like meal could have lasting effects. They might wake up the next morning disgusted with themselves and binge on donuts and pizza. It could even create a negative feedback loop that digs them further into a hole than they were before.

Who Is This For?

I want to reiterate that these strategies are not “the answer”.

They aren’t going to solve your fat loss problem and they do not work for everyone. But I have had great success with them, as have many of my coaching clients. Whichever one you think makes the most sense for you, experiment with it.

If it’s your first time experimenting with fasting, you may struggle. It helps to set expectations ahead of time.

One thing important to note here is the hormone ghrelin. This is one of your hunger hormones.

This is the “hour to hour” hunger hormone.

Say you eat lunch every day at noon.

social events

When you are on a schedule, your body learns and adapts to when it should expect to be fed. Image courtesy of Cooking with Friends.

But then one day a meeting runs late at work, or something comes up and you are late to lunch. 12:30 rolls around and your stomach is growling. This is ghrelin saying, “Dude, where’s my food?”. When you are on a schedule, your body learns and adapts to when it should expect to be fed.

You need to know that this (stomach growling/hunger pangs) is only temporary.

Your muscles will not fall off if you wait until dinner to eat.

Your metabolism will not cease to function. In fact, the more you experiment with modified versions of fasting the easier they will become.

To be really clear, I do not advocate this way of eating all the time.

Purposely skipping meals so you can indulge later is not a sustainable approach to dieting.

It could create an unhealthy relationship with food that could lead you down the wrong path.

This varies from Intermittent Fasting (IF) where you eat at designated times in the day. I love IF and think it can work great for some people. Just like anything else in health and fitness, it’s not for everyone.


The biggest things I want you to take away from this article are:

  • Eating out every Friday is different from your company’s yearly Christmas party.

Use the hard and fast rules above to optimize these meals without ruining your efforts towards a smaller waistline. If it’s a workout day, maybe you have a little more starch. If it’s a rest day, pick either starch or booze.

  • For birthdays and holidays, experiment with one or two of the approaches that you think might work best for you. Know that you might not get it perfect the first try. Your ultimate task is to figure out which strategy works best for you and your goals.

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About the Author

social eventsBrian Compton is a fat loss coach in Concord, NC. He started Fact & Fitness as a way to help men and women lose fat in a healthy, sustainable way that fits into their lifestyle. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook for all his latest articles.