What I should eat to get fit in time for the summer, according to nutrition experts
Summer is often touted as bikini season — while every body belongs on the beach, warm weather can be a good motivator to transition to healthier eating habits, regardless of the scale. You don't even have to be miserable the whole time, experts say.
"Worrying about you you look in a bathing suit takes away from the enjoyment of all the summer things that we look forward to," Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Read It Before You Eat It — Taking You from Label to Table, told Insider. "And if you lose weight fast with a fad diet, by September, you'll be right back where you were."
By prioritizing things you enjoy, getting creative in the kitchen, and taking advantage of fresh veggie season, you can still have fun while smashing your health goals (including weight loss, if that's your jam).
Focus on positive changes, not restriction
After year of COVID restrictions, we're all already critically deprived of pleasure, according to registered dietitian Georgie Fear. That makes it especially important not to pick eating plans that are needlessly restrictive, she said.
"If you think cutting carbs is the most effective, but it makes you die inside, don't do it," she told Insider. "If you can find something that brings positive emotions, that's the thing to do."
For example, many people turn to snacking to express emotions like boredom, stress, or even joy. There's nothing wrong with those occasions for eating, but if you want to cut back, it's best to replace it with something equally enriching. Going for a walk might replace a bag of chips as a break from work, or chatting with a friend could sub for a consolatory plate of cookies after a hard day.
"Many people end up eating when they're not hungry. There are so many needs we can mistakenly plug food into and there's much better solutions," Fear said.
Embrace the bounty of summer with fresh produce
One of the best ways to cut back on junk food in your diet is to swap it out with fresh, nutrient-dense alternatives, according to Taub-Dix.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are abundant in summer — aim to make them fill at least half of your plate, and you've already made a major step toward eating healthier, she said.
By focusing on plant-based foods, you don't have to exclude meat or animal products, but Taub-Dix suggests eating them in moderation.
"Plants should have the starring role of your diet, with animal products being the supporting cast," she said.
'Tis the season — to season your food
One of the biggest nutrition mistakes people make is thinking that healthy food must be boring, Fear said.
If vegetables seem boring or tasteless, it's because they lack variety, she explained.
While not everyone may have the time and skill to be a home chef, one easy solution is keeping an array of spice blends and salad dressings on hand to conveniently jazz up produce.
Fear said she often gets inspiration for salads and other vegetable-based dishes from food magazines, and platforms like Instagram and Pinterest offer an endless digital trove of ideas, too.
Make room for treats
After chowing down on a nutrient-dense meal, consider enjoying an ice cream or other favorite summer sweet. Yes, really. Fear said the best strategy for a healthy diet is about 90% foods that are good for you.
The other 10% (or one treat a day, as a rough guideline) can be things that you enjoy, regardless of the nutritional value, whether that's a slice of cherry pie, a sundae, or a glass of wine at dinner.
Finding a way to incorporate these foods, while still making progress on your health goals, is the key to sustaining healthy habits beyond summer.
"We're not expecting people to be machines. Think about what foods you enjoy the most and find a frequency that works for you. That's still a healthy diet," Fear said.
Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
Summer is often a time of cutting loose with patio beers or fruity cocktails, and enjoying a drink or two doesn't have to completely derail your diet or your fitness goals.
To avoid setbacks, it is helpful to be aware of how drinking fits into your overall lifestyle, and have a plan for indulging.
"We don't always think about the calories we sip as much as the ones we chew," Taub-Dix said.
Drinks with seltzer, herbal infusions, or fruit, such as sangria, can be less boozy but still flavorful options for summer sipping.
No alcohol is truly low-calorie, though, so if a Pina Colada or mudslide is your thing, it's better to have one, and really enjoy it, than gulp down a bevvy of less satisfying beverages.
Finally, don't forget to stay hydrated, whether you drink alcohol or not.