With the brighter, longer and hotter days of summer upon us, it’s really a perfect time to maintain your health and fitness. The season invites us to eat a little lighter and be more active outdoors.
And if your desire to engage in healthful summertime habits is also a reaction to a few or more pounds gained over the past few difficult months, please be kind to yourself.
While we may have indulged in bigger portions or more snacks than usual due to the stresses associated with being quarantined or sick at home, it’s important not to judge ourselves for the ways we chose to cope during such an uncertain time.
After all, being kind and compassionate to ourselves is important for our mental health, and it can affect our future behaviors, too. So forget what you did before today.
Instead, consider each day a new opportunity to indulge your health and wellness by making very simple adjustments to your daily routine.
Even better news: Summertime is an especially opportune time to take advantage of fresh produce, healthy meals and a variety of outdoor fitness activities.
Here are some of my strategies that help me live a healthy life. I hope they can help you, too.
Drinking water helps to keep us healthy, but staying hydrated is important, especially during summertime when we may lose more fluids through sweat.
Though individual needs vary, the Institute of Medicine recommends that women aim to consume 2.7 liters or 91 ounces of fluids daily, and men, 3.7 liters or 125 ounces a day.
To help you meet your fluid needs, aim to drink at least 12 ounces of water with each meal. This can also help you avoid overeating during a meal. If plain water is boring, jazz it up by making a pitcher of fruit-infused water with orange or lemon slices, or even herbs like mint and rosemary. A refreshing glass of seltzer can also help you meet your water needs, and may be more satisfying than plain water on hot days.
You can also water up in the form of a broth-based soup, like a cold gazpacho. Water-rich foods such as watermelon, oranges, apples, grapes, cucumbers, lettuce, celery and cabbage are other refreshing hydration hacks.
Regular physical activity can strengthen your bones and muscles, lower your risk of disease, and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Take advantage of summertime and longer days to be as physically active as possible. Walking, hiking, dancing, playing Frisbee, jogging, outdoor yoga, bike riding, swimming, playing tennis, golf, paddle boarding, kayaking and water skiing are all fun summer activities that will keep you fit and increase your daily energy expenditure. And mowing the lawn, gardening, yard work and washing your car allow you to move around while accomplishing necessary chores.
Moving after mealtime can be a fun summer ritual. Lately I’ve been taking walks after dinner as I listen to music and try to catch the sunset. It not only helps to prevent nighttime nibbling; it also feels good to move on a full stomach!
Find a carb compromise
Replacing starchy carbs like white rice, regular pasta or potatoes with a lower-carb compromise can give your meals a nutritional upgrade by boosting fiber and nutrients while cutting calories.
Try using cauliflower for tater tots or in place of mashed potatoes; chickpea and lentil pastas instead of regular pasta, which are lower in carbs and higher in protein and fiber than their higher-carb cousins; chickpea rice in place of white rice, or spaghetti squash in place of spaghetti.
Pair low-carb foods with protein
Adding protein to a meal makes us feel fuller and can help us consume fewer calories than a meal that consists only of carbohydrates and fat. Protein also helps to preserve muscle mass, which helps keep metabolism running at full speed and is especially important as we lose muscle with age.
Protein-rich foods include shellfish, lean poultry, beans, lentils, Greek yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese, bocconcini (small balls of mozzarella cheese) and omega-3 rich fish (including salmon, tuna and mackerel). Add some veggies to boost satiety and complete the meal.
Find your fiber fix
Fiber is the magic bullet if there ever was one. The undigested plant substance helps you feel full, drop pounds and lower your cholesterol level. Fiber can also help to lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer.
So it’s easy to see why you should aim to find your daily fiber fix, especially since most of us aren’t getting enough fiber in our diets anyway.
My favorite fiber-rich foods include:
* Berries with oatmeal for breakfast
* A clementine, dried plums or a banana for a snack
* Vegetable salads at lunch, like beets with ricotta salata, coleslaw with vinegar instead of mayonnaise, broccoli slaw, farro and fruit mixes)
* Lots of veggies at dinner, including roasted broccoli, squash, asparagus, radishes (yes, you can roast them!), eggplant and Brussels sprouts
Lentils, beans, peas and wheat bran are other excellent fiber sources. To keep blood sugar levels stable and boost satiety, add almond or peanut butter, nuts or a glass of low-fat milk with fiber-rich snacks.
Pick one indulgence daily
Whether that’s a glass of wine with dinner; a cup of low-fat ice cream, a handful of your favorite chips or a piece of dark chocolate, intentional indulgences – even on a daily basis – can be a part of your plan.
Depriving yourself of your favorite treats is not realistic and can cause your efforts to backfire. For example, you might end up bingeing on your “forbidden foods” when you unexpectedly encounter them.
Come up with a food curfew
Thanks to our circadian rhythms, eating late at night may increase the likelihood of weight gain, while consuming our calories earlier in the day has beneficial effects on weight management and other health indicators.
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Pick a time when you will stop eating for the day, ideally at least two hours before bedtime. This naturally offers you a form of intermittent fasting known as time-restricted feeding, which may offer health benefits, according to preliminary research.
I also recommend “closing the kitchen” and finding a place where you can physically distance yourself from the kitchen. This helps to avoid visual triggers that may cue you to eat. If you find yourself getting hungry right before bedtime, try brushing your teeth or rinsing with mouthwash – and next time do it right after you shut down the kitchen.
Lisa Drayer is a nutritionist, an author and a CNN health and nutrition contributor.