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How To Manage Breakfast Buffets

It’s early morning. You’re at a hotel that serves a huge breakfast spread: eggs and cheese and cold cuts and fruits and juices and fried things and baked things and ‘oh I must try that thing’ things.
You love breakfast. You shove your face.

The lord’s bounty, in all its glory, and that too complimentary!
How does one not go crazy! There are eggs a hundred ways, there are chow-mien and Asian delicacies, there are puri aloo and dosa and juices and cornflakes and four kinds of yogurt and, wait for a second, are those….pancakes!
And did I mention, it’s all been paid for (most likely by your organization — which makes the deal even sweeter). How does one skip such evil?
Now, full disclosure – I LOVE breakfast.
It’s my favorite meal. And until not so long ago, such a spread, first thing in the morning, when my brain’s all fuzzy and calorie-deprived, used to be the death knell for my calorie quota too.
So I understand. I’ve been there.
And it has taken me about 10 years of travel to no longer be there. To reign it in. To create a system around managing these humungous buffets. To find a way that allows me to enjoy the spread without spending the rest of the day in guilt.
Here’s my 5-step process to manage the Big, Evil, Breakfast Buffet:

Get Dressed

For the longest time, I used to attack breakfast buffets with a vengeance. Embarrassing as it may sound, I‘d go to bed dreaming of the buffet (there’s a good reason I weighed upwards of 100kg).
In fact, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t chosen hotels basis their breakfast spreads. Little wonder then, that the minute I was done brushing my teeth, I’d be down at the buffet counter in my pajamas.
With such little gap between waking up and having a plate in my hand, my brain never got time to fully wake up. This meant that even before my ‘healthy-eating’ or ‘calorie-counting’ programs would load, I’d have a piece of banana bread or a croissant in my tummy. And sugar would be running the show in my head.
This excitement about breakfast, coupled with a hazy, nutrient-deprived, early-morning brain, is the main cause for breakfast binging. And the trick is to insert a gap between bed and breakfast.
So now — I get up, roam around, stretch, brush my teeth, bathe — and then I change. Yes, I get dressed. I’ve found this to be a simple, yet powerful change.
Apart from inserting more time before breakfast, getting dressed somehow signals to the brain that it’s no longer casual time. That we’re a responsible, grown adult now — so no being a baby and crawling all over the counters and stuffing our face.
I’m not sure how it works but give it a try. Head to the buffet in a shirt and trousers and shoes, and you’ll make a lot more responsible food choices. Pajamas offer you (and your tummy) certain childish freedom that formals just don’t.

Start slow

Did I mention that I dream of breakfast the previous night?
Such was (is) my excitement about breakfast that even before I found a seat, I’d have a plate in my hand. And more often than not, the first thing I’d pick would be a piece of cake or croissant. And with that sugar being the first thing in my blood that morning, all hopes of a healthy meal went out of the window.
So now I have a rule: I first find a table, get a newspaper, and order a cup of black coffee. Big cup.
The newspaper takes my mind off the food, the coffee wakes me up, and the large quantity of water in a large Americano fills up my tummy. I can’t overstate the wonders this little trick works in taming the crazies in my head. Try it.

Start with eggs (or whatever you like most)

One of the biggest problems I used to have with managing breakfast was choice of cuisine. I wanted everything!
I wanted eggs and dosa and cornflakes and cold cuts and paranthas and everything in between all these counters.
Part of my inability to make up my mind was due to points 1 and 2 above. But a large part was just pure greed. With so much choice, why let go of the opportunity to taste everything! I can always leave whatever isn’t worth it — right?
But a quick glance at the past few years showed me clearly how this course would chart out.
I’d go from one option to another, never fully enjoying nor finishing anything. The minute I’d get a plate of one food, my mind would already start wondering ‘what next’. And not only did that throw my calorie count out of whack, surprisingly, but this fickle mindedness also didn’t allow me to enjoy any food properly.
So I made another rule.
I know that come what may, I need my eggs in the morning. So I have those first. And I deliberately allow myself to indulge. Indulgence being a 3-whole-egg cheese masala omelet. With a piece of brown bread.
This choice does 3 things:
       1. Eggs come to the table — so I don’t need to get up and get attracted by whatever’s on offer.
       2. Eggs contain protein — so I get a head start on my protein requirement for the day

       3.  I love eggs, so I finish them. And this heavy omelet plus bread fills me up. Now, when I get up to look around, I’m much less likely to binge.

If you’re an egg lover too, do this. If not, then start with whatever you love and will have for sure. If it’s a protein-rich option, then nothing like it.

Roam around with a small plate

Once you’re done with your first course at the table, get up. After all, it’s a buffet and we must explore it!
Now that you have a reasonably full tummy, chances that you’ll gorge are far lesser. But still, as a last line of defense, pick up a small plate (the kind kept near the cake and bread counter) as you take a walk around the spread. This will automatically restrict the portions you can pick.
Now, remind yourself that this trip isn’t for the tummy. It’s for the tongue.
To identify the 2–3 things that you feel you must try, and take very small servings. Like half an idli, or one piece of sausage/bacon, or a small piece of cake (if you must).
Now savor each treat. And feel happy. You’re indulging, but responsibly!

Skip the drinks

Rarely do I find cold-pressed, non-concentrate juices at a buffet. Generally all drinks — the juices, shakes, lemonades — are just sugary, nutrition-less concoctions that really are not worth the calories.
So I, as the last rule, skip them. And I’m yet to come across a buffet that’s made me regret that choice.
There. Go ahead. Plan your next buffet … I mean travel.

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