5 Ways to Enjoy that Cookout and Keep Making Progress
The smell of meat on the grill, a giant bowl of grandma’s potato salad, s’mores roasting over a fire.
It doesn’t get much better than a summer cook-out.
Whether you’re heading out to a (socially distant) barbecue with a crowd, or just enjoying a great meal in your own backyard, there’s no doubt that the period from Memorial through Labor Day is perfect for getting outside to fill your plate.
But while the thought of all those dishes might make your mouth water just thinking about them, there’s a good chance a 3,000 calorie feast doesn’t fit into nutrition goals.
So what does that leave you with? Hours of punishment as you stare longingly at a summertime spread? Skipping that party all together, to resist temptation? Throwing weeks of hard work out the window as you eat everything in sight?
Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can strike a balance between eating the summer treats you love and staying on track with your goals. With some planning, strategy (and yes, a little self control) you can still enjoy that summer cook-out without derailing your progress.
Eat Before You Go
The number one tip I give people for enjoying a party without tanking your goal is to eat a high-protein, sensible meal before you go.
But eating before a party isn’t so much about keeping you away from the food, its about finding balance to choose a few things you really enjoy without eating everything in sight.
Fueling up before you go helps to remove the temptation to overload a plate from the buffet table. And by aiming for a meal that is high in lean protein and moderate in carbs and fat, you’ll be helping to fill yourself up while saving some room for the carb fest you know is coming (and let's face it, every good cookout knows how to bring the carbs).
And what about once you’re standing in front of all those options? Choose a few things that make your heart go pitter-patter and opt for small servings.
Barbecued ribs calling your name? Feel free to have a bone or two. Craving Aunt Sarah’s pasta salad? Help yourself to a spoonful. Can’t pass up those homemade chocolate chip cookies? Have one and walk away.
You’ll still get a chance to sample all those things you’re craving, but because you won’t be starving, it will be easier to try a few things in moderation instead of stuffing your face.
Save Some Room in Your Daily Calories
But what if you’re in the mood for more than just a nibble from the buffet table? What if you’ve been looking forward to this meal all week (or year)?
Try cutting back on your calories earlier in the day to save room for your feast.
Now I’m not talking about starving yourself all day to save “room” for your cookout — all that will get you is a recipe for binge-eating disaster. I mean taking a mindful approach to your meals for the day to allow you some calorie wiggle-room.
If breakfast usually means eggs with sausage, consider skipping the pork and adding some egg whites. Maybe opt for a salad with dressing on the side for lunch instead of deli sandwich. Even skipping one (or more) of your daily snacks can do the trick.
The idea isn’t to be starving by the time that grill gets going — its to eliminate the “fluff” from your other meals to create some space for the goodness your know is coming your way.
Fill Up on Good Stuff
Summer cookout food might get a reputation for being heavy on the carbs and fat, but it can be full of good stuff, too. That’s because Summer also means you can have seasonal produce that can help fill your belly without expanding your waistline.
Instead of concentrating on the burgers, brats, or the dessert table, make a point to choose the fruits and veggies on the table, first.
Besides their obvious vitamin and nutrient benefits, many fruits and vegetables are full of fiber, giving you more bang for your calorie buck.
This means you get a ton of volume to make you feel fill, without a ton of calories (and c’mon, who doesn’t love to hear that). Plus, that produce is in its prime during the summer — meaning you’re in for a flavor explosion of epic proportions.
So does this mean the burgers and desserts should be off limits? Absolutely not. But by helping to fill yourself up on other things, you’ll be more likely to resist overeating on foods that are higher in carbs and fat, which can shoot your daily calories through the roof.
Supplement with Snacks from Home
I’m not talking about being the guy who brings his own supply of plain chicken and broccoli from home (although its cool if you choose to go that route), but there’s no rule that says you can’t bring a healthy snack or two to help you avoid the urge to binge eat on high-calorie foods.
Pre-made protein bars or shakes, bags of raw veggies, or nuts all make great snacks to hold you over — plus they keep well and don’t take up a ton of space.
This strategy works especially well if you’re heading to a party or cookout that’s likely to last all day or into the night. Instead of eating yourself silly for hours on end, use a healthy snack to keep your hunger at bay and save your calories for the big ticket items as the day goes on.
Water, Water, Water
Sometimes eating at a barbecue isn’t so much about being hungry, as it is about having a ton of food that’s staring you in the face.
Maybe its a handful of chips every time you pass the table. Maybe its just a cookie here and a brownie there (and obviously a couple of s’mores — who passes that up?). Or maybe it's just an excuse to escape from getting cornered by your nosy neighbor.
Whatever it is, it's easy to snack away till you’ve eaten enough to feed a little league team.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
When there’s a constant parade of food in front of you, it's easy to convince yourself that you're hungry, even when you’re stuffed.
But thankfully, there’s a simple solution to stop the mindless eating — drink more water.
It might sound crazy, but sometimes your brain can mistake thirst for hunger. And this confusion can be especially powerful when your brain is telling you to eat when you’re not really hungry — like when you’re bored or eating just because everyone else is eating, too.
To combat this cycle of mindless noshing, try making a conscious effort to drink some water before you head back to the table to grab a snack.
Not only does water help your body curb those fake hunger cues, but making sure to stay properly hydrated (especially during the Summer, when the temperature can climb quickly) can keep you feeling great to keep the party going.
And if you find you’re still hungry after some water? Consider it a green light to grab a snack!
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