Surviving the ‘all you can eat’ buffet

“I’m going to an all you can eat buffet, help”

all you can eat - worries

If you are following a diet and have a calorie deficit to adhere to lets get this straight. You CANNOT eat all you want, end of! It doesn’t matter how you dress this up, eating all you can eat in one sitting is a sure fire way to fuck up your diet and put your progress back a few steps. You could without trying very hard eat 1000 kcal more than you really need in one sitting and go over your calorie allowance for the day. If you have a modest deficit that could be 2 or 3 days you need to claw back.

As I always say with these things, you can do what you want! Go pig out if you like, go back for seconds, or thirds BUT realise this ; it will impact your progress, you have to accept those consequences.

And what if the buffet is 3 times a day, 7 days a week, you are on holiday all inclusive?! Unlimited access to food is a massive potential saboteur of your diet. Now if you are on holiday, arguably you shouldn’t really be focused on a diet but you worked hard to get where you are, so perhaps you want to do as little damage as possible. Respect!

all you can eat - losing control

So what you gonna do?

Picture the scene, tables upon tables of food laid out and you can pick what you want in quantities only limited to the amount you can cram onto your plate. But fear not if you didn’t get your fill first time around you can go back for seconds, thirds until the buffet closes. The starters, main course, salads, bread and other extras all begging to be eaten and the first counter you walk past is dessert. Pudding ffs!

Now even if I wasn’t thinking about controlling the amount of buffet I inhale I’m stuck by paralysis, there is so much choice and so much abundance. This is a very new phenomena in human history because not only is there more than you can eat right now, it’ll be there for dinner and tomorrows lunch too.

We humans are not built for this sort of gluttony. You need help!

So unless you are planning on eating like a Victorian aristocrat lets see what sensible decisions you could make

Do a lap of the buffet before deciding what you want to eat

I do this anyway because I naturally procrastinate over food selection but this is my number 1 tip for when you arrive at the buffet. Spend a minute or two to lap the buffet counters and get a feel for whats on offer today. As you go scout out your favorites, things you definitely don’t want to miss out on today, perhaps your favorite dish is served. Also decide what you can happily let go today, especially in preference to your favorites.

all you can eat - lap the buffet

Have a plan of attack because then you don’t fill your plate with average choices and then discover your favorite dish, and just HAVE TO squeeze some of that on too! I also like to think of this being analogous to reading the menu in a restaurant, typically you’d spend more than a few seconds deciding and it gives you time to make better choices.

This is the process we taught our kids whilst away on holiday and they got a pretty good at making decent choices in the face of so much abundance and choice. They didn’t just grab some fries and a sausage because there was so much else on offer, but without a lap of the room first they just zero in less than 10% of whats on offer. And it works for adults as well because you guys are just as susceptible to this subconscious decision making.

Build a plate of veggies and protein

No buffet is complete without a salad bar and I highly recommend you start building your plate around vegetables, salad or otherwise. Get some green stuff on your plate, high volume but low calorie veggies. Then add some protein, and see what space you are left with. On holiday recently this was my primary action and it worked really well, as typically there isn’t a lot of room left for anything else. Plus you get a great looking plate of food, packed with nutrients and the all important protein.

all you can eat - building a plate

Go for the smaller plate

Always when given a choice pick up the smaller plate, its an instant moderator of your portion size. No one wants to be that guy with his food piled high and spilling over the edges as he hunts for a table, so build a normal looking plate of food. Going for a smaller plate dictates how much you can take first time around, this slows you down and gives your body time to decide if it needs seconds or thirds.

Go easy on the first pass

Go for mostly veggies, no sauces and zero calorie bevies . You are not an ancient hunter gatherer, you are not competing with the other diners to get your fill first to ensure your survival, so park that mentality. Its more likely you are holidaying with your family and friends, you have time and are not coming from a period of fasting or famine. So ffs please go easy on the first plate.

Remember mostly veggies, some protein and a little of what you like. Steer clear of thick sauces and consider having zero calorie drinks, saving your calories for food!

The same guidelines apply as would if you were following your diet at home on any normal day. I’m assuming here you don’t eat buffet style 7 days a week of course, but avoiding drinking your calories and the skipping calorie dense sauces and foods are top tips everywhere.

Sit facing away from the buffet

This is not as bonkers as it sounds. Focusing on the plate of food in front of you gives your brain a fighting chance. Out of sight and out of mind and by doing this you avoid seeing what everyone else is eating and piling on their plate. You are keeping temptation at bay. If you did a lap of the counters first you shouldn’t feel like you’ve “missed out” on something anyway, but there is always a chance.

(I confess I didn’t do this, mainly because I was trying to monitor and understand peoples approach to the buffet! Research…)

Going back later

You can have some more if you want, but whats the rush and hustle. Just eat what you need, you have lots of time to sample everything at another meal or later in the week.

Consider this, its about 9am and you had a big meal last night including some wine and a dessert. You didn’t really do a great deal beyond sitting around, chewing the fat and going to bed. Now breakfast is served and once again its into battle, full cooked breakfast, pastries, cheese board, fruit and juices. Seriously ffs do you need to eat another full on meal?

just coffee for breakfast

The all you can eat buffet is a veritable delight or complete disaster when it comes to your body composition and health. I like to think of these buffets as “the option” to eat all you want, not a mandatory mission – “I paid for this I’m getting my fill”.

This is the very attitude you want to avoid, because you will over eat and likely feel like shit afterwards.

Alternatively you can enjoy the event because you can put together a delightful mix of dishes in serving sizes suitable for you. Fancy 3 different things, brilliant then have a third of a portion of each. Only like the look of the moussaka this evening, great ONLY have that and a salad.

Its the flexibility that is brilliant and potentially a saboteur, but either way don’t be approaching this eating experience with a mentality of “getting the most out of it”. You’ll get what you aimed for and a lot more you didn’t!


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