Memorial Day weekend marks the official start of both BBQ season and bikini season, a combo that leaves many of my clients feeling, well, a bit conflicted. Nobody wants to feel deprived, particularly while celebrating a holiday weekend with friends and family. But let's be real: waking up on Tuesday morning feeling stuffed and sluggish doesn't feel good either.
Fortunately, there are practical ways to enjoy your cookout without overdoing it. And just in case you indulge a little more than you intended, I've also included a few solid strategies for undoing the damage.
During the weekend:
Reach for veggies first
I bet you'll have plenty of splurge options to choose from, but loading up on veggies first can help you fill up, so you can be more discriminating about what you select next. Great options include water-rich finger foods like grape tomatoes, sliced bell peppers, radishes, broccoli and cauliflower florets, and slices of zucchini and cucumber. You can also bring a big bowl of vinegar-based slaw or kale salad to share, or veggie kabobs to toss on the grill. The effort is well worth it when you consider that one cup of veggies, about the size of a tennis ball, typically provides about 30 calories or less (broccoli: 30; red pepper: 30; cherry tomatoes: 25; cukes: 15. That's five times less than just 15 chips!
Keep your protein lean
Hot dogs, fatty burgers, and sausages may be traditional Memorial Day fare, but this year, think clean and mean. Choose grilled chicken or turkey breast, shrimp or salmon, or go meatless and grill up some "meaty" Portobello mushrooms. A three-ounce burger patty, about the size of a smart phone, made with 85% lean ground beef packs over 200 calories. One jumbo Portobello cap contains just 30 calories. To make up for the protein and keep your meal plant-based (e.g. a meatless Monday), pair your shroom burger with a chilled lentil salad or slather it with garlicky hummus.
Chose your starch wisely
Barbeque spreads typically include an abundance of starch-heavy foods, from buns and potato salad to chips, corn on the cob, and sweet treats. Lots of carb-y choices means it's easy to eat far more carbs than your body can burn, resulting in a surplus that feeds your fat cells. To squash carb overkill, choose one starchy favorite and forgo the other can-live-without-it options. For example, if you're most looking forward to macaroni salad but you also want a burger, ditch the bun and wrap your patty in crisp lettuce instead. I personally love potatoes (especially cooked on the grill), so my plan is to enjoy a reasonable helping, skip the other so-so starches, and savor every morsel of my spuds.
Build in fun activities
One of the best ways to balance out extra nibbles is to boost your activity, and there are tons of fun ways to torch calories. One hour of badminton burns about 300 calories, Frisbee 200, dancing 200, playing horseshoes 135, and lawn darts 100. Even standing and talking with friends, burns 50% more calories than hanging out seated, and just 10-15 minutes of laughing can burn about 50 calories, the amount in half of a light beer.
Reign in the alcohol
If you'll be imbibing this weekend, keep two facts in mind. First, getting even a little tipsy can lower your inhibitions, and trigger you to eat certain foods (or amounts of food) that you wouldn't eat when sober. Also, alcohol can stimulate appetite: In one study men consumed more food when they drank wine 20 minutes before a meal. Plus, alcoholic beverages themselves can be brimming with carbs and sugar. Case in point: While a shot of tequila is only 100 calories, a sugary margarita can top 500 calories. To prevent a cocktail or two from derailing your other healthy efforts, check out my previous post 7 Ways to Keep Alcohol From Wrecking Your Diet.
Up your water intake
One of the reasons you feel so heavy after eating a little more than usual is because your body hangs onto extra sodium and fluid. While it may seem counterintuitive, drinking more H2O helps to flush out the excess, so you can de-bloat faster. Overindulging can also trigger temporary constipation, and upping your water game will stimulate your digestive system, so you can get things moving again. Aim for 2-2.5 liters a day (about 8-10 cups), and add in an ingredient or two that helps soothe the GI tract or act as a natural diuretic, such as fresh grated ginger or cucumbers. If you feel like your normal self, you're much more likely to stick to your usual working-out-and-eating-well routine.
Get back into balance
When your jeans are a little tight it can be tempting to do something extreme, like skip meals or drink only green juice. But cutting back too much can work against you. In fact, I've seen this pattern keep people stuck in an overweight plateau, or lead to TOFI syndrome (Thin Outside, Fat Inside), which is sometimes referred to as "skinny fat." The latter occurs because bouts of overeating increase body fat, and rebound undereating causes the loss of lean muscle mass—a terrible combo for both your health and your body composition. Iâ€™m also concerned that the trend of bouncing back and forth between indulgent eating and cleansing or detoxing has become a form of modern-day bulimia that isn't healthy either physically or emotionally.
A better way to rebound is to simply get back to clean eating, and focus on balancing your meals. Make veggies the star of your plate, along with lean protein, a healthy fat source such as avocado and nuts, and a small portion of a high-fiber, nutrient-rich starch, like quinoa or wild rice. Meals with this well-proportioned combo will keep your metabolism revved, balance your blood sugar and insulin levels, stave off hunger, and energize your workouts. So rather than getting stuck, you can move on from the holiday and keep trekking toward your goals.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's Health's contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.