With all the barbecues, backyard parties and beach side eating, it’s easy to over do it on summer foods and drinks. But when you're ready to reboot your healthy habits and regain control, follow these five simple steps to get back on track.
1. Stay hydrated
With the summer heat and humidity, the need for extra fluids is real — and we all need to adapt. But how much to drink? And is water the only option? Drinking to quench your thirst is a newer way to gauge hydration, but most people forget to drink, or ignore the signal. The old idea of drinking eight glasses of water daily has no science behind it, and is more of an old-wives tale. The truth is that fluid needs vary with age, height, weight, activity and climate.
The best option for adequate hydration is to peek into the toilet bowl! Healthy hydration shows a urine color of pale yellow. If it’s darker than that, it’s time to boost your drinking.
While water is the perfect hydrating drink, any no-sugar-added drink is a good option including hot or iced coffee and tea (the water-losing effect of caffeine in coffee and tea is not sufficient to block the hydrating action). Add frozen fruit chunks to your water, a splash of 100 percent juice or thin slices of cucumber or lime to provide a flavorful boost without extra calories.
2. Focus on colorful fruits and vegetables
Most fruits and vegetables are nearly 90 percent water and support summer hydration. They also have abundant vitamins and minerals, and lots of antioxidants (these give the vegetables their distinct colors). Loaded with fiber, you’ll stay fuller longer along with a nutrient-rich boost. The crunch of raw fruits and vegetables is very satisfying, especially when snacking.
Go for seasonal produce that is locally available, like peaches, watermelon, berries, corn, tomatoes and lettuce, available not only at farmers' markets but also neighborhood supermarkets. And if food waste is a concern, stick with frozen fruits and vegetables, flash-frozen at harvest with the same nutrients as fresh produce.
3. Adjust your alcohol
While it’s a good idea to stick with seltzer and lime when you want to get back on track, there are times you may choose an alcoholic beverage. Be mindful of all the hidden calories in alcohol, added sugars and other add-ins. Calorie control is a definitive step to healthier drinking habits, along with portion size. A “serving” is not the size of the glass — it’s 4 ounces of wine, a 12-ounce beer, or a 1.5-ounce serving (a jigger) of hard spirits. And health guidelines support up to one daily drink for women and two for men. So, pace yourself!
Aim for the 100-calorie range for an alcoholic beverage. That’s a light beer, a spritzer (about 3 ounces of wine and 2 ounces of seltzer) or a vodka (1.5-ounce jigger) with seltzer. And while a 4-ounce glass of red or white wine is a solid calorie-controlled choice — about 120 calories — it’s very easy to nearly double that serving size with super-sized glassware.
4. Eat protein at every meal
Creating structure and adequate fullness from nutrient-rich foods is a key to getting back on track. And with a protein source — plant or animal — at every meal, you’ll get abundant nutrients, and a great sense of fullness to keep you satisfied for hours (and help derail extra snacking). Lean protein from both plants and animals fuel muscle, and helps keep your blood sugars stable.
Include different protein sources for optimal variety so you don’t get bored. From the plant world, choose soy sources like tofu, edamame, tempeh, beans, lentils, nuts and protein-rich grains like quinoa. And for animal proteins, stick with skinless poultry, fish, pork tenderloin and even the more than 25 cuts of lean red meats (look for “round” or “sirloin” in the name to keep saturated fat intake low). Animal products like eggs and dairy are also excellent protein sources, but stick with reduced and low-fat dairy, to limit saturated fat intake.
5. Get outside
It’s not just the cardio benefits of exercise that count! While any type of activity is a health plus, studies show that being outdoors is good for both body and mind, for an added sense of well-being and happiness.
Take a 40-minute stroll in the park to burn about 200 calories. Turn that into a brisk walk for 45 minutes, and you’ll burn about 300 calories. The key feature is choosing an outdoor activity, to get the added benefits of natural light and greenery. Try gardening or yard activities. Or just go to a playground and be a kid again. Just get outside as much as you can — it’s a plus for your physical and emotional health.
Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD is NBC News Health and Nutrition Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.