As we are heading into the unofficial start of summer with Memorial Day weekend, many are likely curious about some healthy cookout tips. As with all things, I think the key here is balance – we should be able to enjoy our favorite cookout treats while also eating nourishing foods as well and not feel guilty about it. Here are some healthy cookout tips to help you do just that.
1. Don’t try to compensate
The first thing that many people try to do when it comes to any special occasion involving food is compensate for their food choices either by under eating or overexercising before or after. There are 2 issues with this approach: 1.) it doesn’t work, and 2.) it actually creates more issues.
If you under eat in order to “make room” for your favorite cookout foods, you set yourself up to arrive at your event extra hungry. And in response to that, you tend to eat more food and more quickly than you would otherwise. In fact, studies have shown that folks who under eat prior to an event actually consume more in total that day than folks who eat normally prior to the event. It’s just not an effective strategy.
Beyond that, when we restrict and binge as this strategy sets us up to do, we tend to experience feelings of guilt and shame. And those feelings then prompt us to restrict more, which inevitably ends with another binge. This is how the binge-restrict cycle self-perpetuates.
Likewise, overexercising to “burn off” what you ate does not work either. You don’t get to pick and choose what you body burns for fuel. And it takes a lot more to burn calories than you think. Overexercising to compensate for special occasion eating is much more likely to result in your getting injured, possibly keeping you from exercising later.
2. Don’t deprive yourself of the food you want to eat
Take the stress and pressure off yourself by giving yourself permission to eat the foods you want to eat. If you arrive with a list of foods you’ve told yourself you’re not allowed to have, those exact foods are going to exert so much power over you and it’s going to be increasingly more difficult to resist them. So that once you finally have them, you are likely to binge on them. The best way to avoid that is to allow yourself to have them, normalize them, treat them like any other food. This will help you strike the right balance for yourself.
3. Stay hydrated
A lot of those foods we like so much at cookouts are really salty and can dehydrate you, as can the alcohol. Ironically, the more alcohol you drink, the more of those salty dehydrating snacks you’re likely to eat and vice versa. On top of that, cookouts take place outside in the heat offering more opportunity for dehydration. Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during, and after your gathering.
4. Moderate your alcohol intake
In addition to contributing to dehydration, alcohol can also cause you to eat in ways that you normally wouldn’t – hello, drunk eating! But there is another way in which alcohol can hinder your healthy eating efforts. Alcohol is literally a poison to our body. And so, when we consume it, our body tries to process it out as quickly as possible. This means that the alcohol is processed before anything else you’ve consumed thereby increasing the amount of food you ate that gets stored as fat. Additionally, alcohol can impact your metabolism by disrupting your sleep. It can also impede your performance the next day regardless of whether you feel hungover.
5. Eat mindfully
This is a tricky one for social situations, but it is extremely helpful to eat as mindfully as possible at a cookout or other social event. This means dishing out a portion for yourself and walking away from the food table rather than mindlessly picking from it while you talk. It means pausing to check in with yourself while you’re eating and between portions to see how you feel. Should you eat more? Wait? What are you craving? It also means being consciously aware while we eat. Enjoyment of the food we eat is a key component of satisfaction and to experience that enjoyment we need to be mindful while we eat.
6. Mind your own plate
Avoid comparing your plate to others’ and don’t allow the comments other may make impact your enjoyment of your food. Remember, we all have different nutritional needs. What works for you won’t work for someone else. Comparing how you’re eating to how someone else is eating simply is not helpful. Here are some tips on what to do if someone does try to comment on how you eat.
Follow these healthy cookout tips to find balance for yourself so you can enjoy enjoy the cookout season and meet your goals.