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How to do a guys' night out without looking like a low-carb sissy

When you were 21, the guys' night out was a twice-weekly event. In fact, it was probably so ingrained in your life that it didn't need the name "guys' night out"; you were just hanging with your friends. And just as the times were care-free, so was your eating.

If you're over 30... Well, boys, them days are long gone. Between getting the kids to baseball practice and long hours at work, you're lucky if you can manage to get together with the guys and head out on the town once a month or so. But you still gotta do it!

The dynamics of this event are unique in a man's life. It's the only time when he can, and is even expected to, act like he's in college again: drinking a bit too much, eating everything in the place and generally getting silly. This causes a dire problem for those living a low-carb lifestyle -- any sign of bodily weakness in this arena will get you a razzing.

The choice is simple: Stick to your low-carb diet and risk ridicule, or go off the diet for one night, right? Wrong. Here are some strategies that will allow you to keep your dignity and follow your low-carb diet.

Strategy 1: Pre-eating
The idea is simple: Eat a low-carb meal about an hour before you head out. That way, you won't starve, no matter where the group decides to go.

This sounds completely counterintuitive because you are used to cutting back a little on a day you know you'll have a great evening meal. Of course, this kind of thinking added those extra pounds in the first place. Actually, the practice of pre-eating is parallel to something you probably did back in college: pre-loading drinks -- downing a couple of beers before going out so you didn't have to spend $5 per drink on the first two to get "social." That was to save money; this is to save your healthy lifestyle.

Strategy 2: Order smart
In any other circumstance, go ahead and order the low-carb salmon plate at TGI Fridays or the salad with white wine vinaigrette... but those choices now will make you a marked man with your friends. Instead, order a steak or prime rib and follow strategy No. 5 below with the sides.

Maybe you're not going out to a full-service American-fare restaurant. With many ethnic menus, finding an acceptable low-carb choice without going to salad can be difficult but not impossible. If the gang chooses something other than a steakhouse, try the following:

Pizza: Arguably the most popular food in America and the largest thorn in the sides of low-carb eaters everywhere. Pizzerias across the country are picking up loads of crust with a taint of sauce left after people scrape the cheese and toppings off. Of course, that classic low-carb maneuver is much too obvious, so opt for buffalo wings (sauce, not barbeque), which are usually available.

Other Italian: The antipasto plate is your savior here. Usually, you'll find it on the menu with the appetizers, but order it as a meal. Basically, it's an Italian deli plate with prosciutto ham, olives, pickled peppers and mozzarella cheese.

Chinese: Try the teriyaki beef or chicken; make sure the cook goes light on the sauce. Pressed duck is another good choice.

Mexican: A fajita plate comes with meat mixed with lower-carb vegetables. Quietly skip the tortillas, and you're home free.

Strategy 3: The more manly the drink, the better
Nothing will blow your cover and show you to be a low-carb sissy more than ordering a Michelob Ultra or Rolling Rock Green Light. If you must drink beer, order a regular light beer. As far as carbs go, Miller Lite is best, followed by Coors and Bud Light.

But there's a better alternative. Uttering the phrase "Give me a Black Label on the rocks" will not only keep you from sissydom that night, it will likely eliminate the title from ever being applied to you. If you're going to drink, hard liquor on the rocks or with soda is the best choice.

Mixed drinks tend to be heavy on sugar-laced ingredients that will spike your blood sugar almost instantly. Even the old standards like gin and tonic have sugar in the mixer. Try a good single malt or blended scotch or, for those who want a mixed drink, a Manhattan (skip the cherry and ask for a twist) or martini.

Low-carb dos and don'ts when you're out with the guys

DON'T announce when you get into the car, "I'm on a low-carb diet, so we can't eat pizza tonight!"

DO go wherever the group agrees on - unless you want to spend a night getting called "Carbman."

DON'T order off the low-carb menu.

DO order low-carb choices off the regular menu.

DON'T skip the beer or drinks.

DO order low-carb drinks and drink in moderation.

DON'T sit at the poker table or movie with nothing to eat.

DO bring sugar-free candy to snack on.

DON'T pull the sugar-free candy out with a flourish and flash it to everyone.

DO pull the candies out of your pocket and eat them without incident. Hershey's Sugar-Free Mini-Chocolate Bars are easy to pass off as "regular" food.

DON'T order the salad -- unless it's a steak salad.

DO order the prime rib.

DON'T order low-carb sides at the table.

DO catch the server away from the group and change your order

Strategy 4: Suck on a cigar
If the night calls for barhopping or playing poker, make sure to pick up at least one decent cigar. You don't need to light it. (Actually, most people around you would appreciate it if you didn't.) Just let it sit there in your mouth while everyone else is snacking on the breaded shrimp or chips.

This tells the room, "Hey, I'm busy here enjoying a fine cigar. Don't ask me if I want a sandwich." Add this accessory to the single- malt scotch you just ordered, and you've amped your level of cool to Rat Pack levels.

Strategy 5: Corner your server away from the table
A major giveaway would be ordering a steak and then skipping the baked potato that comes with it. Instead, order the potato loaded; then, when you see the server going back toward the kitchen, get up like you're going to the restroom and quietly (and secretly) tell the server that you would rather have all veggies instead of the potato.

Warning: don't try this on a date or with your wife at the table. Women are uncanny at remembering what you ordered and will, with or without your consent, point out to the server that you ordered a baked potato, leading to a scene. Men will neither notice nor care that you didn't get what you ordered.

Strategy 6: Bring a low-carb snack food with you
This doesn't mean sitting down at the gam-ing table with a large bag of soy-based low-carb tortilla chips. But if the evening calls for seeing a movie, bring some sugar-free candy in your jacket pocket. This will give you something to snack on during the flick while avoiding the popcorn and Milk Duds. A word of caution: Low-carb candies often contain sugar alcohols. While these don't cause much of an insulin release, they're not digested and do cause another kind of release. This might make you the life of the party with the guys -- or it could backfire. Pun intended.

Following these simple strategies, you can survive a night out with the guys. And as you lose the pounds, you can stick your chest out and trumpet claims such as "It was just will power," "Really? I hadn't noticed I lost any" or anything you darn well please. This will keep you from being classified as the guy on "that" diet and avoid all the "How's your diet going, pal" comments every time you see one of your friends.

After all, it's your life, it's your health and it's none of their business unless you want it to be.

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