Last week I wrote a post on getting back on track with food where I talked about how to avoid a complete derail. However, today my plan is to focus not on the comeback, but on staying healthy at social gatherings and the ever popular summer parties. The 4th of July (and summer events in general) are filled with fun barbecues, family gatherings, and other holiday festivities. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming to try to stick with a healthy diet with food galore on every corner.
Although I highly value real food, it’s important to me to maintain flexibility in food and life. I never want my family and friends to feel that they need to worry over my eating preferences. I work to eat healthy at home day in and day out so that when I’m at a gathering with friends or family, I don’t need to worry about what I eat. However, certain times of the year seem to bring loads of gatherings with comfort foods. In these cases, I like to maintain some semblance of normalcy with my diet in an attempt to keep myself feeling my best. I know that when I eat too much sugar or certain foods I don’t feel good. I get tired and in turn don’t enjoy the time socializing as much. Here are some principles to stay balanced during the summer.
Tips for Staying Healthy at Summer Gatherings
1. Bring Your Own Dish
Make sure what you bring is healthy! Make something that you know you’ll be happy to eat and will provide some nutrition. If you aren’t sure what to bring, a veggie or fruit tray always works and is a great way to load up on some produce! You could also bring a salad (and no, I’m not talking jello salad. 😉)
2. Practice Portion Control
If I do find myself in a situation with foods I don’t normally eat, I fall back on the ever faithful method of portion control! It’s all about balance and moderation. You can have your cake and eat it too; just eat less of it!
A Note on Loading Your Plate
When I go to a cookout or party and know that the food is likely prepared different than I’m used to eating, I try to fall back on the method of creating a balanced plate in terms of protein, carbs, and fat. If there is a veggie tray or salad with minimal dressing – load up on the non-starchy carbs. Then, choose your meat or protein source. Last, choose what you want your carbohydrates to be.
I will likely end up eating more decadent foods than I’m used to (and I’m totally okay with that), but I definitely want to practice some balance and not end up feeling an energy drain later on, either! If there are several different carbohydrates you want to enjoy (potatoes, hamburger bun, and desserts) keep your portions minimal. Ensuring you are getting a variety of macronutrients will help you enjoy the day!
3. Load Up Before
Have a green smoothie or huge salad before you go to your gathering. Not only will this help to fill you up and encourage you to eat less hamburgers and potato chips, but it will ensure you are still nourishing your body with wholesome nutrients it needs to give you energy and help you fill your best!
4. Take a good look at everything available before you start.
This one is huge. Anyone else feel that your eyes are bigger than your stomach? Or maybe you just LOVE to try everything?! I understand. I’m a complete foodie and I’m always interested in new recipes and foods. Not to mention, I get a bit nostalgic when I see family favorite foods that I rarely get to enjoy. I’ve started taking a quick inventory of all the foods available before I start filling my plate! By knowing what exactly is available before you start, you can plan your portion control more effectively. It’s definitely easier to practice portion control when you your plate is properly loaded.
5. Avoid grazing.
While I’m a dietitian and certainly try to keep my habits in check; I’m by no means perfect. And grazing can be a huge downfall of mine. If I’m sitting next to the food table or around other grazers, I find myself wanting to munch as well. In fact, just last night I was at a cookout and felt like I ended up eating one too many cookies as I walked by the food table! 🙄 Which brings me to a another thought:
Don’t hang out by the food. Yep, seriously. Move a few steps away and get your mind on something else. Spend your time socializing and enjoying your family and friends.
OR: Choose raw veggies to graze on. Raw veggies are loaded with nutrients and are light in calories! Not to mention, in general we aren’t going to be as likely to mindlessly munch on veggies. You could just plan to only eat raw veggies in-between meal times.
6. Drink water and only water!
This one can be huge. If you generally find yourself drinking soda, lemonade, sweet tea, or alcohol, the calories can add up FAST! Not to mention, they are empty calories and depending on your drink of choice are also likely loaded with sugar (or metabolized as fat in the case of alcohol.) By drinking only water you will not only allow your body to stay properly hydrated (especially in this summer heat) but also avoid a sugar crash from high sugar beverages.
7. Get your physical activity in.
Instead of simple socializing around the food with talk, consider going for a walk. Organize a game of kickball or other yard games you may enjoy. If you know these activities won’t be involved get your exercise in before the function! Maintaining an active lifestyle is just as important as a healthy diet, both mentally and physically.
Allow Yourself to Embrace Health
It’s easy to think that a summer BBQ or 4th of July event just happens once a year. In reality, we need to consider how often similar get togethers do actually happen for us which will help to arrange your approach. In my health and eating goals, I never want others to feel like they need to cater to my preferences or feel embarrassed by the foods available. Therefore, I try to embrace a mentality of adaptability and don’t worry over the food offered in social events. Simply make the best of the situation and try to load up on the produce available while still enjoying the barbecue as well as dessert!
On the other hand, I still highly value a nutritious diet. For me, around the holidays and times when we are at frequent social functions, this means using the strategies above to help ensure I am feeling my best. Having a goal for good health and adapting a healthy food mentality should not leave you feeling restricted. When we eat healthy foods and embrace physical activity is when we feel our best. I know that when I’m feeling my best I’m more able to live the life God has intended for me. Therefore, instead of feeling restricted if I choose to forgo a second piece of dessert, I choose to really savor my first piece and focus on maintaining my energy level (preventing a sugar crash). Choose to feel thankful for the health you’ve been given.