Summertime, with its fresh fruits and veggies and weather that begs for outdoor activity and mood-lifting vibes, should, in theory, be the perfect backdrop for weight loss. Still, “there are many temptations in the summer from high-calorie foods like burgers and ice cream and alcohol, which lowers inhibitions and makes it easy to overeat,” says Melissa Mitri, RD.
The good news is you can have a fun, enjoyable summer (without depriving yourself of your favorite foods) and still reach your health goals. Just watch out for these common mistakes that get in the way:
Many of us are expanding our social circle to see friends again at socially distant backyard barbecues. Make sure you’re filling your plate with foods that fit your goals. For instance, you’re choosing between a burger and hot dog, go for the burger, recommends Emmaline Rasmussen, RD. Hot dogs are not only high in saturated fat and sodium, but they also are a cured meat, which has been linked to certain cancers, she says. Make burgers even healthier by using lean ground beef, turkey or salmon. Choose toppings like avocado (a great source of healthy fats) rather than mayo or ketchup (which can be high in added fat and sugar).
Other ideas: Mitri suggests filling up on veggie platters, vinaigrette-based pasta or bean salads, and hummus with carrots or cucumbers. “These options are all delicious and won’t leave you feeling sluggish,” she says.
Not all alcoholic beverages are created equal. In winter, you might be cozying up by a fire with a glass of red wine, which clocks in around 120 calories. However, “in summer, fruity alcoholic beverages are popular, and contain far more sugar (and, often, alcohol) than most of us realize,” says Rasmussen. This can quickly add up, making it harder to lose weight.
To minimize going overboard, stick to low-calorie sips like vodka with soda water and lime or a margarita made with lime juice and a splash of OJ. It’s also a good idea to drink a glass of water in between alcoholic beverages to help you stay hydrated.
Smoothies are refreshing on a hot summer day, and the fact they’re made with fruit (even veggies) gives them a health halo they sometimes don’t deserve. “You may be craving smoothies in the summer, but pre-made smoothies at your local smoothie bar often contain added sugar from syrups, honey or other sweeteners,” says Mitri.
Making a smoothie at home allows you to control the ingredients and likely means you’ll use far less sugar compared to a smoothie place. Try these refreshing, nutritious smoothies with less than 230 calories.
Summer provides great opportunities for outdoor exercise, but resist taking that to the extreme in the name of sweating out as many calories as possible. “If you’re working out more, it can increase your appetite and lead to overeating if you’re not regularly fueling your body,” says Mitri. Make sure you are consuming enough nutrients, including all three macros, to support your body’s needs for your activity level. One way to do this is to track your intake in an app like MyFitnessPal so you can make sure you’re hitting your daily calorie and exercise goals.
“In the summer, many people want to quickly get ‘beach-body’ ready and end up being too restrictive with their diet,” says Mitri. “This can lead to binging and weight regain once the diet becomes too difficult to stick with.” Instead, focus on moderation and healthy portion sizes. Practicing healthy habits that are rewarding — not punitive — makes you feel good, reinforcing your motivation to stick with it and helping successfully keep the weight off.
Physical activity is healthy far beyond the calories it burns. But if you’re looking to lose weight, there may be a tendency to view exercise as something you do to either burn calories in advance of a Fourth of July barbecue or to burn off what you ate the previous day. “Rather than the mindset that you have to exercise so you can eat something, focus on the benefits of that activity and how you’ll feel after. For instance, think about how going for a run lifts your mood,” says Rasmussen. Only take part in exercises you enjoy so you’ll stick with it.
The keyword to promote a healthy lifestyle: balance. For instance, if you go out to eat alfresco at the pizza place, pair a slice or two with a large salad. If you ate a bunch of heavy apps at a barbecue, scale back on the main course (consider sharing with a family member). “If you want ice cream, try topping a small scoop of vanilla (it tends to be a lighter choice than flavors loaded with brownie bits and fudge swirls) and top it with a drizzle of almond butter, sprinkle of cinnamon and some banana slices,” suggests Rasmussen.
Instead of labeling foods like pizza and ice cream as off-limits, or feeling food guilt after consuming them, look at your diet’s big picture. This helps you get out of a harmful “all or nothing” food mentality.
Originally published July 2020, updated with additional reporting
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