Avoiding food traps
It happens to the best of us: We try to eat healthy Monday through Friday, but then blow it on the weekend.
"The structure of a weekday routine makes it easier to stick to a healthy eating plan, but on weekends there's less structure, and temptations are everywhere," says nutritionist Joy Bauer, MS, RD, author of Slim and Scrumptious: More Than 75 Delicious, Healthy Meals Your Family Will Love.
We like to think that our semi-saintly weekdays balance out weekend splurges, but you can easily eat up to 1,000 calories more per day, Bauer says. Here, three big weekend food traps, and how to avoid them.
Photo: Colette de Barros
Food trap No. 1: Eating like a kid
Chili-cheese fries would never cross your lips on, say, a Wednesday. But there you are on Saturday afternoon, treating the kids (and yourself) to a drippy, decadent post-game snack. "Healthy" goes out the window as you finish off that leftover bacon slice on their plate at breakfast, join them for a post-soccer ice cream cone, and help yourself to that extra slice of pizza at dinner.
Food fix: Be a picky eater
Kid-friendly restaurants are used to finicky eaters, so you can order a bun-less burger or a big salad with dressing on the side, Bauer says.
Food fix: Choose smart sides
It's easy to spot lean main-dish proteins, like tenderloin steaks or grilled or steamed fish, on the menu. It’s the extras that rack up hidden fat and calories, Bauer notes. Order shrimp cocktail instead of bacon-wrapped shrimp. Avoid anything "creamed" (code for "loaded with fat"). And skip the cheese crumbles on the salad.
Food fix: BYOS (Bring Your Own Snacks)
If your weekend schedule is so packed that you're always eating on the fly, carry high-fiber, low-calorie snacks—like soy crisps, bell pepper strips, and toasted nutsso you'll be less susceptible to fast-food pit stops.
Food trap No. 2: Grazing at parties
Weekends can easily turn into a buffet of mindless nibbling and drinking. It doesn’t matter if you are dining on Buffalo wings or swanky canapéssoon you’ve inhaled countless calories.
Food fix: Ruin your appetite
Ruin your appetite. Going out hungry kills your willpower. You will quickly gravitate to the most tempting, high-fat foods. If you know that "dinner" will be catered hors d’oeuvres or a party buffet, eat a filling, 300-calorie, high-fiber, high-protein mini-meal before you head out, Bauer says.
Try 2 cups of lentil or black bean soup, an apple with 2 tablespoons of nut butter, or a chopped salad topped with a can of light tuna and tossed with a low-cal vinaigrette.
Food fix: Talk more, eat less
"Mingle with the most talkative types in the room," Bauer says. Once you’re engrossed in a scintillating conversation, you’ll forget all about the party spread.
Food fix: Drink more
One glass of sparkling water, club soda, seltzer-spiked juice, or even a diet soda (on the rocks) between every beer, glass of wine, or cocktail keeps you from eating under the influence. “Not only does the non-alcoholic drink fill you up, but you make better decisions about what you’re eating with less of a buzz on,” Bauer says.
Food fix: Back away from the brie
Scan the buffet for low-fat dips, like hummus or yogurt; lean proteins, like grilled chicken or shrimp; and plain veggies.
Food fix: Break a sweat
Add an hour at the gym or walking trail to your weekend routine. "Getting some form of exercise over the weekend is the best way to reinforce your desire to make smart food choices when you’re out at night," Bauer says.
Food trap No. 3: Hibernating at home
After a full-throttle workweek, it can be tempting to make weekends about vegging out. We’re all for kicking back, but the danger is when you slack off on smart eating, too.
You have nada but java for breakfast, then fall into nonstop-grazing mode (cookies, tortilla chips, olives) while you watch your TiVo-ed shows, read, and catch up on Facebook.
Chilling out may mean indulging in foods you avoid all week long, like a thick malt from your neighborhood ice cream shop, or spending a leisurely day baking and cookingsampling as you go.
Food fix: Eat "unlimited" foods
Stock up on super-low-calorie, filling foods, like sugar snap peas, air-popped popcorn, baby carrots, and pre-washed green beans.
Food fix: Have a healthy snack for breakfast
Even if you feel no yen for a full, eggs-and-toast or oatmeal-and-fruit affair, you have to eat something before noon to take that edge off or you'll overeat at lunch. Bauer recommends a handful of nuts and some yogurt or an apple, a bowl of cereal, or a smear of peanut butter on whole-wheat toast.
Photo: Colette de Barros
Food fix: Keep your mouth busy
"Sugarless gum, naturally flavored seltzers, and herbal teas are the perfect distraction and can quench cravings" while you're watching TV, cooking, or on the computer, Bauer says.
Food fix: Do meals
Rather than eating out of bags, plate your breakfast, lunch, and dinner; sit down at the table; then clean up and put the leftover food away. "This gives the meal a beginning and an end, so you're not constantly grabbing and eating whatever is in front of you,” Bauer says.
And getting those leftovers out of sight is the easiest way to ensure that you don’t blow precious calories on more of the same when it’d be much more fun to end the meal with a bite of chocolate or a big bowl of berries.