Summer is officially and finally here (if you live in New England, you know what I mean by “finally” this year) and so is cookout season. This can be a very difficult time for people who are trying to watch their weight or eat healthily because we are surrounded by temptation – from fatty grilled meats to mayonnaise-covered salads to stocked beer coolers – it’s everywhere. It can be really hard to say no to these delicious temptations and even harder to deal with the aftermath, whether it’s weight gain or self-loathing. So, with Independence Day coming up next week, I thought this would be a good time to share my tips on how to get through barbecue season relatively healthy.

Do – Eat before you go

Having a healthful meal or snack before you head off to that cookout will help keep you from overeating once you get there whereas if you arrive hungry or starving you are far more likely to overeat on junk. A combination of lean protein and fiber will leave you feeling full longer, so try having some low-fat cottage cheese on whole grain toast or some grilled chicken and salad or some peanut butter and celery beforehand.

Do – Bring a healthy dish

Instead of making your famous macaroni salad that even you can’t resist, bring some cut veggies and dip or a quinoa salad with a citrus vinaigrette dressing. This will ensure that there is a healthy option for you to eat there. And your friends may appreciate it, too! You could also bring you own options to grill and ask the host to throw them on for you – like boneless, skinless chicken breast or vegetable kebabs.

Don’t – Hang around the snack table

There seems to be some unnamed law of physics that human beings are magnetically drawn to socialize at the snack table, but this pretty much guarantees mindless snacking – every healthy diet’s worst enemy. This doesn’t mean you have to be antisocial. I suggest finding a group away from the snack table to talk to or, if you start talking with someone at the snack table, suggest you move elsewhere by saying “wow, it’s kind of crowded over here, want to move that way so people can get in here?” Or even just be honest and say “if we keep standing here, I’m going to keep eating. Can we move away?” I can almost guarantee your conversation partner was thinking the same thing.

Do – Stay hydrated

When you are walking around talking to people on a hot day and eating salty food like chips and grilled meat, it is very easy to keep drinking alcohol. The problem with that is the more alcohol you drink the more you will crave that salty junk food and overeat. Be mindful of your drinking habits and alternate between your alcoholic drinks and water. This will slow down your alcohol consumption, make you feel fuller, and leave you feeling better the next day. Not to mention it’ll keep you safer.

Do – Get your exercise in

If you don’t have to be at a cookout until the afternoon, there is no reason you can’t get your workout in that morning! This will help you get energized and fire up your metabolism for the rest of the day. It will also leave you feeling more confident and better in your own skin – especially at those pool parties.

Do – Practice portion control

Balance. Balance. Balance. Balance. Did you get that? Balance. As a health coach, I can’t emphasize enough that the key to healthy living is balance. You should be eating healthy most of the time, but, when you want to indulge, you should – just make sure you’re eating reasonable portions and enjoying them mindfully so you feel satisfied with them.

Ideally, you want your plate to be 1/4 lean protein, 1/2 veggies, and 1/4 starchy veggies or whole grain. That is obviously not always possible when eating outside your home, but it’s important to try to get as close to that as you can.

When faced with a smorgasbord of summer foods, it can be easy to load up that plate and then go back for seconds. Instead, pick one or two indulgences you really want and place a small portion of them on your plate and fill the rest with healthy options. And don’t go back for seconds on those “cheat” foods.

Don’t – Beat yourself up

So you didn’t have the self-control you were planning to have and you ate and drank way too much. Guess what? You’re human. It happens to everyone – even health coaches and nutritionists. The worst thing that you can do in this situation is put yourself down for it. You are allowed to indulge occasionally and sometimes it’ll be too much. You need to let yourself have that and then just get back on track. It is so easy to beat yourself up for overindulging and that makes it easier to say “the hell with it – I already messed it all up, so I might as well just keep going because clearly I can’t do this anyway.” Then that thought process becomes your excuse and you end up feeling even more terrible. This is how setbacks become obstacles. The best thing that you can do for your health in this situation both physically and emotionally is be gentle with yourself – say to yourself “well, that wasn’t my best effort, but I’m not giving up on myself” and get right back at it. I’ve seen too many people defeat themselves by allowing one bad day to become a spiral and it’s not fair to yourself.

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