There's a lot to love about summer: longer days, plenty of sunshine, beach/pool/lake time, and the generally more carefree and relaxed feeling. (There's nothing like setting that out-of-office message for a long weekend.) But there's one thing that becomes more difficult during summer. While we're enjoying that easygoing lifestyle, any attempt at healthy eating goes out the window.
Honestly, how can we blame ourselves for that? There are hot dogs, burgers, lobster rolls, and ice cream to eat, not to mention rosé, Aperol spritzes, beer, and margaritas to drink. It's nice out, and we're going to indulge.
While we're all about living our best lives during the summer season, we also wanted to see if there's a way to balance our summer indulgences with a semblance of healthy eating. That way, it's not such a hard transition come fall when we can't enjoy an ice cream cone at the beach every weekend. So we asked three experts how to do it. Below, find out what they had to say.
This is key so you can have a little bit of everything, literally. "For most meals, eat really well-balanced and healthy. This will allow for a treat here and there," says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, founder and director of Real Nutrition. "Fill half your plate with veggies at every meal and practice portion control. This means limiting your protein to four to five ounces per meal and carbs to about half a cup." Shapiro also recommends that if you decide to go for seconds, load up on more veggies. And for dessert, "limit it to a small serving (about three to four bites)."
When surveying the barbecue buffet or picnic table, you might have to avoid some summer staples or make some swaps. "Skip the burger bun and potato salad and aim for a grain salad or fresh ear of corn," Shapiro says.
This strategy comes in handy when you're in a situation where you don't have much say in the food offerings (and want to be a low-maintenance guest). "For example, at a barbecue or a wedding where there is little wiggle room for choices off the menu, try to opt for a lean protein like fish or chicken," Nathalie Rhone, MS, RDN, CDN, founder of Nutrition by Nathalie. "Skip any white bread, try to stay away from anything fried, stick to just a taste of dessert, and load up on as many greens and vegetables as you can. If you decide to go for the burger or fries, pair it with a big green salad and a side of veggies."
Don't Drink Your Calories
Yes, you can drink alcohol, but stay away from the sugary stuff. The same goes for non-alcoholic drinks like soda, lemonade, or iced tea that are full of sugar.
"Absolutely enjoy your favorite summer cocktail, but be careful of super-sweetened drinks," Rhone says. "A glass or two of rosé is great, or clear liquors like vodka, gin, tequila with lime or lemon juice, soda water, and flavorings like mint, basil, and cucumber is the way to go. Sangria or summer cocktails that are filled with added sugars like simple syrup or agave syrup will leave you feeling less than great in the morning. No matter what your drink choice is, mix in a glass or two of water in between drinks to help prevent bloating and a deadly hangover."
It happens to the best of us. To help appease any residual effects of alcohol (or maybe even too much food), pack on the veggies and vitamins the next day. "After a night of heavy eating or drinking, flush your system the next morning with a big green juice and fresh fruit plate," Rhone says. "Making this part of your routine is a great way to help balance out any summer indulgences."
Go Ham on Water
One thing you can indulge in that's good for you? Water and fiber-rich foods, Shapiro says. "These will fill you up without filling you out. The calories are low, and they will hydrate your skin, provide antioxidants, and keep you full. Lemon water every morning is something I practice, and I would build in no-drinking days to let your body fully recover. "
If you're sensing an H2O theme here, then you're correct. It's hot out, so water is super important. "Our bodies typically crave what's in season throughout the year for good reason," says Kelley Hoag, MS, founder of Root to Rise. "Summer foods are water-dense—cucumber, watermelon, berries. Eating your water hydrates your cells on a deeper level than drinking it alone."
Plan "No-Excuse" Meals
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Even though summer is a little less regimented than other times of the year, a little routine doesn't hurt—especially when it comes to your everyday diet. "When possible, pick meals that are 'no-excuse meals,' where no matter what, you know you can eat clean. I like to recommend doing this at breakfast. Also, upping your activity level will help to burn a few extra calories."
Salads can actually be the star of the meal; they just need a chance to shine. "Salads don’t have to suck. Pack them with good-for-you ingredients, and they'll be a lot less lame," Hoag says. "Things like nuts and seeds for fiber and fat, fresh protein like shrimp, and in-season produce like watermelon radishes, cucumbers, and strawberries. This way, you’ll stay full and feel satisfied." This is a great idea when it comes to packing your office lunches or picnics.
No, not a six-pack or bottle of wine. "Although kombucha isn’t always the gut-healthy drink it’s cracked up to be, it can be an awesome replacement for when you don’t feel like drinking. BYO 'booch to the next barbecue," Hoag recommends.
Don't Feel Guilty
The last thing you want to do this summer is feel bad about eating the ice cream sundae or going for that second hot dog. Don't sweat it if you went off your regular eating plan. "Summer means ice cream, barbecues, and celebrations. I fully believe in sustainable health, which means no deprivation," says Hoag. "Have the ice cream, hot dog, beer, or hamburger if you’re truly wanting it. And eat it without guilt and move on! But learn to understand the differences in what your body is telling you so you can trust your intuition and make choices aligned with your goals."
So when you're at the next barbecue or picnic (or just enjoying summery eats), try these tips and don't worry too much about your diet. Summer is so short, so savor it.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.