Nutrition Survival Guide: Memorial Day Weekend

What doesn’t bend will eventually break. This concept applies to many situations, and in this case: your diet and lifestyle. If your nutrition regimen is so strict that it allows for zero flexibility, you’re far more likely to binge eat, create an unhealthy relationship with food and feel deprived. You’ll realize (I hope) that none of those three side-effects are desirable results, or ones you’d associate with a sustainable, enjoyable lifestyle.

Being satisfied and actually liking the food you eat while simultaneously working toward your goals, AND having a social life is not a lifestyle only found in a mythical land far away. It can be your reality! It does take time, and you’ll get there through small steps and little efforts at a time. I’ve compiled tried-and-true strategies and suggestions to help you enjoy your Memorial Day celebration while keeping your nutrition goals in mind.

Eat before you eat

Pre-eat. You read that right. You’re thinking “you want me to eat...before I go to eat?” Yes. Your body craves the good, basic stuff: proteins, fats, and carbs. Protein is found in chicken breast and egg whites, just like it is found in hot dogs and hamburgers. Fat is in avocados and dairy products, and in the mayo that makes chicken salad so tasty. And, in simple terms, your body sees the carbs in brown rice and fruit the same way it does hot dog buns. Therefore, eat some wholesome food (such as what you’d meal prep for lunch during the workweek) before you head to the BBQ, so you’re already quite satisfied of the things your body needs and craves, before you’re put in a will-power testing situation. 

This practice has a dual purpose: in addition to being content from a macronutrient perspective, you won’t be as hungry. We all know what happens when you grocery shop on an empty stomach, and a pool party is no different. You end up buying and eating things you didn’t even know you wanted (and in most cases, really don’t want). Set yourself up beforehand so when you arrive, you’ll only want something if it’s absolutely worth it.

Friends don’t let friends eat grocery store dessert

“Worth it”, what does that mean? Great question. You know that favorite dessert you have? Maybe it’s a certain flavor at the Cheesecake Factory, or that award-winning combination at Coldstone Creamery. Picture that item in your mind for a moment. Now, think of what a cookie from the box at the grocery store bakery tastes like, or a brownie from the gas station. Would you say they are comparable? Probably not. Consider that every time you eat, you’re making a choice. You’re saying “this is good fuel for my body, and what I want to spend my calories/macros on today.” Do you feel confident saying that about a crappy, store-bought cookie? Make your indulgences count. This philosophy has really helped me, and I have a post dedicated specifically to it you can check out here.

Similar to the dessert example, there are plenty of foods that don’t seem indulgent that you may eat at a pool-side BBQ that you wouldn’t ordinarily. An average hot dog bun is 21 grams of carbohydrates, 2g of fat and 3g of protein. And be honest with yourself: do they even taste that good? If you do love it, try having half of the bun with the whole hot dog. This concept introduces moderation, which is further explained in the next tip. 

Moderation is key

I know you hear this a lot, largely because it’s true. Let’s say you eat 4 meals a day: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner. That’s 28 times you eat in a given week. Now if you “cheat” or eat something less than ideal for one of those meals, that’s not even 4% of all the food you ate in those 7 days. Any dietician or statistician can assure you that if you’re doing something quite well 96% of the time, the 4% won’t make a huge detrimental impact to your overall success. LeBron James, one of the best basketball players of all time, has a career shooting average of only about 50%. If he misses almost half the shots he makes and is still that good, you’ll be okay going a little off track on one meal in a week.

The nice thing about a wagon, is you can get back on

It’s your wagon; you’re the one driving it! If you fall off, stop your own wagon, dust the dirt off your pants, and get right back on. The problem most people have with getting off track is the ability to get back ON track. A “cheat” meal is that: a meal. If you choose to have all of the food, calorie, indulging freedom on Memorial Day, keep it to a meal and remember that the next meal, and next day, should go right back to normal. In this situation, it can be really helpful to have your next meal planned. Your body may crave sugar or extra calories a little more once you’ve given it some, so already having a healthy meal in mind and the ingredients on hand helps you steer you wagon in the right direction quickly, and avoid detours.

Wait, there’s more!

For some additional practical tips and healthier picks, here are some ideas:

  • Ditch your hamburger bun, and wrap it in lettuce
  • Grab a single plate and toss it when you’re done, instead of grabbing a second helping
  • Pickles have ton of salt, so snack some of those instead of potato chips for the salty satisfaction without the extra carbs and oils
  • Use your fist as a guide; have only that much (in size) of any potato, egg, or chicken salad
  • Keep the condiments to a minimum; try having less than you usually do. Two tablespoons of ketchup packs 10g carbs, and you’ve likely spread on more than that in the past out of habit
  • Drinks lots of water: it will not only keep you hydrated in the heat, but feeling fuller as well. You’ve heard this tip before, but actually do it — have some water, and then have some more.
  • Add fruit to your water for some flavor and summer flare. Skip the carbonated beverages, even those without sugar, such as diet soda, dehydrate you and can make you feel bloated
  • Don’t sit by the food table: distance yourself from the temptation by getting out and enjoying the pool water, weather, green grass and outdoor activities
  • Chew gum so you don’t nibble on something just for the sake of nibbling
  • Bring one of your favorite healthy dishes to share, so you’re in control of at least one item available to snack on
  • Don’t think about what you can’t/shouldn’t eat, instead add more good stuff! Pack on the veggies, fruit, and wholesome ingredients to whatever you’re eating -- which in turn, makes less room for the junk, both on your plate and in your belly.
  • Look for better options, regardless of the options you’re given: when possible, pick leaner proteins like chicken, turkey or fish over beef. Choose whole-grains or plant-based carbs (like corn or rice) instead of highly-processed ones like breads and desserts. 

And at the end of the day remember: you’re building a healthy lifestyle, this is a long-term game. Enjoying yourself without guilt isn’t an easy feat, but I encourage you to embrace life balance. Your nutrition goals, friends and family, and happiness will thank you for it.