It has been sweltering throughout much of the U.S., and while high temperatures and humidity can lead to eating light, hot weather can also result to unconsciously taking in hundreds of excess calories. Here are six major calorie traps you may unknowingly fall into while attempting to chill out--and what to reach for instead.
Trap #1: Choosing calorific salads
A garden salad is a natural choice on a hot day, but between dressing and toppings like cheese, nuts, avocado, and dried fruit, even healthful salads can pack as many calories as hearty hot dishes. For example, a Seared Ahi Salad at PF Changâs contains 740 calories, 130 more than Shrimp Lo Mein. At CPK, a full portion of BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad with avocado contains 1,280 calories, 220 more than The Original BBQ Chicken Pizza with bacon. And at Chiliâs, a Quesadilla Explosion Salad contains at 1,360 calories, 30 more than a Classic Bacon Burger - including the fries!
How to lighten up
When dining out, check out the nutrition facts online in advance, as well as a description of the meal, so you can plan some strategic omissions. A great rule of thumb is to avoid doubling up on similar ingredients. For example, the Chiliâs salad includes both corn relish and corn tortilla strips. Itâs also topped with shredded cheese, in addition to cheese quesadilla wedges. To avoid overload, pick your favorites, and forgo the can-live-withouts.
Trap #2: Too many calorie-dense chilled dishes
Chilled dishes like coleslaw, as well as tuna, chicken, macaroni, pasta, and potato salad are lunchtime and picnic staples throughout the summer. But when consumed together, the calorie content in even small portions can add up fast. A half cup serving each (about the size of half a tennis ball) of tuna salad, potato salad, and coleslaw can clock in at over 500 calories, 80 more than a fast food meal of chicken nuggets and small fries.
How to lighten up
In my book, the quality of what you put in your body is the most important consideration, so Iâm not saying that homemade salads are just as bad as fast food. But that doesnât mean you shouldnât strive for balance. For example, if you use mayo or an oil-based vinaigrette in one dish, opt for lighter ways to season your accompaniments. Dress tuna with balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, and dried Italian herbs. And for a creamy coating, try hummus or mashed avocado--two tablespoons of each contain about 50 calories, compared to 90 in just one tablespoon of mayo.
Trap #3: Reaching for the wrong thirst quenchers
Lemonade, sweet tea, smoothies, iced coffee drinksâ¦they all tend to be summertime go-tos. But each is loaded with added sugar, which according to published research, wonât fill you up. In other words, when you eat 250 calories worth of solid food, you tend to eat less of other things. But when you take in the same number of calories from a 20-ounce bottle of lemonade, those digits justÂ get tacked onto the total, rather thanÂ displacing other foods. And in many cases, downing a frosty drink is like sipping dessert through a straw--a 16-ounce strawberry smoothie and a medium sized vanilla blended coffee drink each pack about 300 calories, the amount in a cupcake or glazed donut.
How to lighten up
The best beverage year round, but especially throughout the summer, is good old naturally calorie-free H2O. If you need flavor, choose healthy ways to spruce it up. Add fresh sprigs of mint, wedges of lemon, lime, or key lime, a bit of mashed in-season fruit, like berries or wedges of peach or apricot, fresh grated ginger, or organic citrus zest. You can also add a small splash of 100% fruit juice, like white grape or apple (this also works great in unsweetened ice tea). And if you love bubbles, look for flavor-infused all natural seltzer or sparkling water--just make sure the only ingredients are carbonated water and natural flavor. If youâre used to sweeter drinks, I promise, your taste buds will adjust. Iâve had clients who thought theyâd never be able to get through a day without sugary drinks who now find them sickly sweet and completely unappealing.
Trap #4: Cold sandwich carb overkill
Packing a sandwich or wrap for lunch just makes sense in the summer. But if you spend the afternoon sitting at a desk, you may not be able to afford all those carbs. A sundried tomato or spinach wrap (which contain just a scant amount of veggies and are primarily made from white flour by the way) contain about 50 grams of carb, and two slices of artisan bread can easily pack 45 grams.
How to lighten up
I donât believe in no-carb diets, but I am in favor of matching your carb intake to your activity level. If itâs going to be low in the hours after a meal, use outer Romaine or butter lettuce leaves in place of bread, or opt for an open-faced sandwich. One of my clients combined these techniques (bread on the bottom, lettuce on top) and loves the texture contrast so much she canât imagine eating a sandwich any other way.
Trap #5: Chillinâ via frozen treats
For many, ice cream is a must eat in the summer, even if itâs a vegan version made with coconut or almond milk. And while it is possible to sensibly build this splurge into a healthy diet, a lot of my clients get into the habit of enjoying it too often. To burn off a pint a week from July through September, youâd have to spend an extra 25 hours on the elliptical. And froyo isnât much better--a medium portion of vanilla with no toppings contains about the same number of calories as a half cup of premium ice cream.
Whip up your own icy but lighter indulgences. Fill popsicle molds with vanilla almond milk, berries, and chocolate chips. Or dip a mini banana in melted dark chocolate, wrap in wax paper, and freeze.
Trap #6: Cooling off with alcohol
Cracking open an ice cold beer is a summer custom. But knocking back just two regular 12 ounce brewskies three night a week means consuming an extra 364 carb grams between now and Labor Day, the amount in an entire loaf of bread.
How to lighten up
Go for light or ultra light beer, to save 7 and 10 grams of carbs per can or bottle respectively. And check out my previous post (about how to avoid summertime calorie bombs), which includes my recipe for satisfying, but skinny pina colada!
Cynthia SassÂ is a registered dietitian with masterâs degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen onÂ national TV, sheâs Healthâs contributing nutrition editor, and privately counselsÂ clientsÂ in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller isÂ S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia onÂ Facebook,Â TwitterÂ andÂ Pinterest.Â
- 5 Reasons Your Diet Is Making You Fat
- Why Calorie Counts are Wrong: 6 Diet Myths, Busted
- Ashton Kutcherâs Diet Scare: 5 Fad-Diet Red Flags
- The Secret Reason Youâre Pigging Out (and What To Do About It!)
- The Hot New Diet Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Aniston Swear By
- Dread the Scale? 5 Reasons You Can Skip Weighing Yourself
- To Lose Weight for Good, Change Your Relationship (With Food!)