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Expert Q&A

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How do I deal with food temptation on a holiday?

Asked by Dianne, San Jose, California

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I've been working really hard at losing weight since April, and I'm concerned about all the food temptation over the Fourth of July weekend. Any suggestions?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Dianne! This is a terrific question as I find that many of my weight-loss patients get really off track on weekends over the summer, especially three-day holiday weekends that often involve numerous eating occasions.

In my opinion, one of the most important components of long-term, successful weight loss is lowering the energy density of your diet. Energy density, which I prefer to call calorie density, is simply the calories per gram (weight) of the foods that you eat.

Water and fiber decrease the calorie density of foods and fat increases the calorie density of foods. By lowering the calorie density of your diet, you cut calories without cutting portions. Studies show that people eat fewer calories, lose weight and maintain weight loss by lowering the energy density of their diet.

With that in mind, here are several ways to lower the calorie density of your diet this Fourth of July (and the rest of the summer) for successful weight loss or maintenance.

1. Slim down your sides

Chips and dip are a regular fixture at barbecues. Mix equal parts salsa or pico de gallo with your guacamole to cut calories almost in half without cutting your portion size. You can also make dips with low fat dairy (low fat dairy is lower in energy density because of its high water content) instead of full fat dairy products.

Serve with baked or popped chips instead of fried and you can enjoy in moderation without guilt. Skip the potato salad and opt for pasta salad (bonus for using whole wheat pasta) made with a light vinaigrette and loaded with veggies to reduce the calorie density.

2. Build a better burger

Mix equal parts lean ground beef or turkey with ground mushrooms to again cut calories in half while still enjoying this BBQ staple. Just make sure not to add cheese or mayo, which brings the calorie density right back to where you started.

Top with spicy mustard or chipotle sauce to add flavor without increasing calorie density significantly. Serve on a whole-wheat bun (high fiber) and top with romaine lettuce instead of iceberg for an extra nutritional boost.

3. Dilute your drinks

Unsweetened, calorie free beverages are best, but if you really want lemonade, juice or white wine, mix with equal parts sparkling water to make a spritzer and save calories without feeling as if you are missing out.

4. Lower your dessert density

Sure you could just eat fruit (high-water, low-calorie density) for dessert, but sometimes that just doesn't cut it. Rather than trying to limit yourself to a tiny brownie or half a cookie, bake your own low energy density dessert. Try adding canned pumpkin to baked good recipes instead of oil to keep calories down without having to eat tiny bird-like portions. Pumpkin also boosts the fiber content and is a very good source of vitamin A, C and K. Check out this amazing peanut butter brownie recipe from low-calorie cooking guru Lisa Lillien (aka Hungry Girl).

I hope this helps you stay on track this summer. I also tell my patients to plan extra exercise to balance out calories and eat a protein and fiber snack (yogurt with high fiber cereal, turkey slice on high fiber tortilla, apple and string cheese) before heading out so they don't arrive at BBQ and parties famished.

Follow Dr. Melina on Twitter.

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