September 1, 2017 by John Fernandez
Grappling With Summer Weight Gain
Even if you have the best of intentions, summer can pose serious challenges if you’re trying to stay active and watch your weight.
In other parts of the country, summer seems to be all about getting outdoors and being active. But that’s not always the case in South Florida, where the comfort of air conditioning can be hard to resist — and not just in the summertime, but well into autumn. The problem is only compounded by summer foods and drinks that can pack a surprising amount of sugar, fat and calories.
“Yes, it is hot,” says Natacha Borrajo, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care. “But that’s not a reason to give up on being active and making healthy choices.”
Obesity research has confirmed that children throughout the country gain a surprisingly disproportionate amount of weight in the summer. The spike in weight gain has been attributed to less structured days, frequent snacking, relaxing the rules during vacation, changes in sleep schedules and reduced physical activity. We imagine kids outside, swimming, playing and running through sprinklers, but in reality they often may be indoors, indulging in screen time.
The same factors that affect children can also affect adults, Ms. Borrajo says. “For a lot of people, vacation means no holds barred. But you can still make healthy choices,” she says, adding it takes conscious effort.
Ms. Borrajo empathizes with those who find exercising a challenge during the summer. A daily jogger, she tries to get out the door by 7 a.m. before the heat and humidity become too oppressive. She also recommends exercising or taking a walk in the evening, or even indoors during lunch or breaks at work. Indoor gyms or exercise classes offer the chance to stay active, “plus the pool is always a great option,” she says.
In addition, you may want to use some of these strategies to avoid summer (or any season) weight-gain traps:
Turn off the television. We already know that television can serve as the enemy of exercise. But a new study also shows that adults who turn off the TV while eating dinner, in particular, are less likely to have weight problems. The study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, found that adults who never watch TV during family meals have significantly lower odds of obesity compared with those who always watch something during mealtimes.
Obey your thirst. Sometimes, we mistake the signals our brain is sending and confuse thirst with hunger, leading us to reach for food when fluid is what our bodies actually crave. Drink water at regular intervals throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty. And remember to choose your libations carefully. A big glass of ice-cold juice or lemonade, a frozen fruit smoothie or even an “umbrella drink” may seem like the perfect solution, but these can be major sugar bombs. A single piña colada or frozen margarita will typically contain 600 calories or more. “The best option is always plain water,” Ms. Borrajo says, “but if you want something with a little flavor you can dilute lemonade with water by half, or make your own infused water.”
Come prepared. Whether you are headed to the beach, amusement park or some other outing, bring your own food and water in a small cooler. Fresh fruit, watermelon chunks, low-fat cheese sticks, hard-boiled eggs and sandwiches on whole wheat bread are good choices. When a food truck or snack stand is your only option, choose wisely. Skip the pizza, fries, chicken fingers, nachos, wings and other “finger foods.” You know why. Go for a salad with vinaigrette and some lean protein such as grilled chicken or seafood.
Barbecues, picnics and pool parties — oh, my! Be sure to eat something at home before heading out to social events. “Don’t go on an empty stomach, because the first thing you’ll encounter are chips and dip, which can be very high in calories,” Ms. Borrajo says. Stick with fresh veggies and hummus or salsa instead — you can even bring a colorful platter of crudité as your contribution. When it comes to other foods, have fun but exercise what damage control you can. For example, a beef burger topped with cheese contains a lot of saturated fat, calories and sodium. Hold the cheese, and top the burger with a fresh tomato slice or avocado instead. If you have the option, select a veggie burger or piece of grilled chicken to reduce your saturated fat intake. Nix the barbecue sauce when possible, since most are packed with sugar and can add up to 80 calories per two-tablespoon serving.
Don’t be fooled by fro-yo. While you may feel more virtuous consuming frozen yogurt than ice cream when looking for a cool treat, fro-yo is not a health food. It may be lower in saturated fat, but frozen yogurt typically has tons of added sugar — often as much, or more, than ice cream. If you indulge at one of those self-serve places, put fresh fruit in the bottom of your container and add just a small amount of frozen yogurt on top. And don’t let your portion be swayed by the fact that the containers are huge. That’s not an accident. Most establishments make their money on the weight and volume of your serving — but you don’t have to fall into the trap of getting more than you will enjoy.
Load up on fresh fruit and vegetables. “Enjoy the summer fruit that we don’t get the rest of the year — plums, peaches, cherries,” Ms. Borrajo says. Veggies are pure magic, especially if you keep them light. Consumed raw or prepared with health in mind, veggies are an important part of every meal. “Every time you sit down to eat, no matter the season — summer, fall, winter or spring — you need to look at your plate and ask yourself, ‘Where are the vegetables? Can I add some to this meal?’ Vegetables add fiber and many important vitamins and minerals,” Ms. Borrajo says. “They make every meal more filling and satisfying.”