Summer is the season for relaxation and spending more time outdoors, whether it’s unwinding at the pool or beach or going for a walk in a park. For many people, summer means taking vacation and possibly relaxing the rules around what you eat. But overindulging at any time of year isn’t good for you, whether you’re hitting the ice cream stand all summer or snacking on Christmas cookies throughout December.
Here’s how to enjoy the flavors and food-centric activities of the season while staying on track with your health goals:
“Thirst can sometimes be masked as hunger,” says Caroline Passerrello, RD, an adjunct instructor in the dietitian nutritionist program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Make sure you’re sipping water regularly throughout the day. Try tracking your fluid intake with an app like MyFitnessPal and keep a water bottle on-hand. “Opt for plain or naturally flavored calorie-free water,” says Passerrello.
Fill your plate with nutrient-dense choices, so you’ll feel less hungry at the end of your meal. This tactic may keep you from feeling the need to have dessert (or give into other cravings) regularly.
“Focus on plenty of high-quality protein and fiber, such as eggs or lean meats with non-starchy vegetables, in order to limit overindulging on less filling, more processed foods,” says Michelle Hoeing Bauche, RD, a clinical dietitian at the University of Missouri Health Care’s Missouri Bariatric Services.
Some research has shown people naturally have less of an appetite during hot summer months. “When the temperature is very warm, heat loss is impeded and with that, a decrease in appetite is often seen in an effort to regulate our body temperature — that is, cool it down,” explains Bauche. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to how hungry you feel before eating. You want to make sure you’re not undereating, which prevents weight loss. What’s more, going too long without eating can make you feel hungrier (and more likely to overeat) later.
If you’re upping your movement levels during summer (think long hikes and swims), you’ll burn more calories than usual and may need to eat more. But be honest with yourself about whether your chosen activity really warrants a calorie boost.
“A short stroll on the beach probably won’t require a pre-workout snack, but an intense game of beach volleyball may be improved with a little extra fuel,” says Passerrello. “If you find yourself hungry after participating in unplanned physical activity, be sure to hydrate and then snack on nutrient-dense foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains.”
“When presented with large servings, it’s not uncommon to continue to eat past the point of satiety, simply because the food is available and sitting in front of us,” says Bauche. By opting for the kiddie size, you can still enjoy a classic summer treat like ice cream without breaking the calorie bank.
If you’re invited to summer pool parties and backyard barbecues, the food choices may not be as healthy as you’d like. Instead, “come up with a nutritious go-to side dish to bring, like a whole-grain veggie-filled pasta salad, fruit bowl or veggie tray,” says Passerrello. “This way, you know there will always be a smart food choice available.”
Frozen drinks are a summertime staple, but they’re also high in empty calories. “Specialty cocktails like piña coladas and margaritas are full of added sugar,” says Bauche. “If you’re not paying attention, those calories can add up quickly and lead to weight gain.” What’s more, “when under the influence of alcohol, our control of choices is inhibited and often leads to an increase in food and beverage consumption without realizing it.” Try to limit your alcohol intake or opt for lower-calorie adult beverages, suggests Bauche.
Fresh berry pies, grilled ribs and frozen treats are an enjoyable part of summer, but be sure to indulge in a smart manner. “It’s important to remember that our health is most impacted by the food choices we make over time; it’s not just one food, one meal or one party,” says Passerrello. “If there is an energy-dense food or beverage that is only available in the summer, view it as a chance to practice moderation with frequency and portions.”
Mindful eating techniques have been shown to help with weight loss and maintenance. Rather than eating something simply because it’s mealtime or you walked past a shop with delectable-looking pastries in the window, ask yourself, “Do I really want this food? Does it serve a purpose? How is this food going to make me feel, and is it worth it?’” suggests Bauche. Eating mindlessly often leads to overeating because you cut off the connection to feeling satiated. Instead, try savoring your food and minimizing distractions when eating.