Forget about New Year's resolutions--summer is the easiest time to start your weight-loss journey. The days are longer and the grass is greener. The sun isn’t hiding behind the clouds, and you don’t have any excuses left to stay bundled up on the couch. But there's a flip side to everything that makes summer so great for weight loss. Learn which hurdles to watch out for so you can make this summer a fitness success.
Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
So many delicious fresh fruits and vegetables are now in season. The tomatoes are bursting with flavor. The plums are dripping with juice. The salad greens are crisp and fresh. If you haven’t been devoting at least half your plate to fresh produce, now is the perfect time to start. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the USDA both recommend at least five servings per day! A diet rich in fruits and veggies protects against certain cancers and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. Best of all, loading up on colorful produce lets you eat a higher volume of food while still feeling full and saving on calories.
Want to rev up the calorie burn while you load up on healthy snacks? Many farms offer pick-it-yourself options that make stocking up on expensive berries more affordable and turn choosing the perfect peach into a workout as you climb ladders and haul a basket of heavy fruit to your car.
Get Started: Learn what's in season during the summer months; when it's fresh, it's also more nutritious and easier on your wallet. And be sure to fill half your plate with fresh veggies each time you sit down to eat. Our fun and easy bikini diet plan will show you how!
Weight-Loss Hurdle: Make sure your eyes aren’t bigger than your stomach. Before you hit the farmers market or grocery store, make note of how long your favorite fruits and veggies will stay fresh. They’ll taste better, and you’ll be more likely to eat them if they haven’t started to turn brown.
Leafy vegetables and most fruit are best stored in the refrigerator, but foods like tomatoes, bananas and lemons do better stored separately on the countertop. (Note: storing produce too close together can cause it to spoil faster due to the release of ethylene gas.)
If you do find yourself with an overabundance of vegetables or fruit—perhaps you planted too many tomatoes this year—it might be time to try your hand at preserving the bounty for the winter. Canning, pickling and freezing are all great ways to store excess produce to enjoy later. You’ll be more likely to stick with your good summer eating habits if you have delicious preserved produce right at your fingertips.
Stay On Track: Learn four ways to preserve produce at home.
Go for the Grill
Whether it’s a cookout with the neighbors or an easy weeknight dinner, cooking outside offers many advantages. Now that the sun is staying up later, there’s no reason to save grilling for weekend afternoons.
All those vegetables you vowed to eat taste even more delicious when grilled. To make sure everything cooks evenly, be sure to cut veggies into chunks of similar size and thread them onto skewers to prevent them from falling through the grates. Try eggplant, onion, mushrooms, squash or cherry tomatoes.
Grilling can also bring a boring chicken breast to life, and a homemade dry rub can flavor your choice of protein without all the fat and calories you'd consume by using creamy sauces or oils.
Get Started: Learn about the basics of grilling, then try these dry rub and marinade recipes. (For even more healthy grilling recipes, check out SparkPeople's Ultimate Grilling Guide e-book.)
Weight-Loss Hurdle: Watch out for barbecue diet busters like creamy potato salad, mayo-laden cole slaw and sugary fruit pie. It's not that you can’t enjoy your favorite summer treats, but be sure to find healthier versions or try alternatives like vegetarian baked beans, slaw made with a vinegar dressing or angel food cake topped with fresh berries.
Speaking of potato salad, when you’re cooking and eating outside, you always have to keep food safety in mind. Anything made with mayonnaise is especially susceptible to spoilage in the heat, but all foods are vulnerable. To comply with FDA safety recommendations, don't leave food out for more than two hours. When it's hotter than 90°F, don't leave food out for more than an hour.
Stay On Track: Check out our handy chart of the best and worst cookout foods for your weight-loss plan.
Take Your Workout Outdoors
A recent study by the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom showed that exercising outdoors is more enjoyable than doing the same activity indoors, which makes it easier to stick to the fitness side of your weight-loss goals. On top of that, warm days and sunshine are much more inviting than rainy spring days or blustery winter days, so you have far fewer excuses to skip your summer workout.
Get Started: Walking, swimming, biking, running, gardening—there are plenty of ways to get outdoors and burn calories all summer long. Be sure to learn how to protect yourself from sun exposure before you go, though!
Weight-Loss Hurdle: While some people enjoy getting sweaty on a sunny day, it's not without its downsides. Before you get off the treadmill and hit the pavement, there are a few precautions you should take to prevent a fun summer workout from becoming a disaster. To avoid the most extreme heat of the day, exercise early in the morning or just before sunset.
Don't plan a long outdoor exercise session until you've acclimated to the heat. Start with 15 minutes and increase the length of time you stay outside as you get used to the warm weather.
If it's an especially hot day, don't let the temperature derail your fitness goals. There's no reason you can't do some indoor cardio in the air-conditioned comfort of your home or the gym. What matters is finding fun ways to stay active no matter what the weather is like.
Stay On Track: Discover how one SparkPeople member walked off 60 pounds without ever setting foot outside.
It might actually be easier to remember to stay hydrated during the summer months, though drinking water is a healthy habit year round because the more hydrated you are, the better your metabolism works. It’s also common to mistake feeling thirsty for being hungry, so if you reach for your water bottle before you have a snack, you’ll keep your weight loss on track. The recommended amount of water is eight cups a day but when the weather is hot, you'll probably need more.
Get Started: Learn how much water you should drink while working out. And keep that water bottle handy with you all day—not just when you exercise.
Weight-Loss Hurdle: While you may be tempted to grab a sports drink or other sweetened beverage when the sun is beating down, most people do not need the added sugar or electrolytes of sports drinks. They are often high in calories, which can be a real hurdle to your weight loss. One bottle of sports drink can easily undo all the calories you just burned by exercising. Not cool.
You don’t need to worry about replenishing energy stores with calories from a sports drink unless you’ll be working out strenuously for two or more hours. Plain water will usually suffice--or you can flavor it with a squeeze of fresh lemon or orange.
Stay On Track: Make sure you’re well hydrated before you begin an outdoor workout to prevent the onset of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can occur when your body’s cooling process is interrupted by excessive heat and dehydration. Early symptoms include headaches, nausea and fatigue.
Prevent Vacation Pounds
If you want to make the most of a summer vacation’s weight-loss potential, explore the burgeoning category of active travel. This can mean something as simple and easy as a walking tour or something more adventurous like whitewater rafting. These days, you can even spend all or part of your trip volunteering to build homes or dig water wells.
Even on a more traditional vacation, most large hotels offer some type of gym or pool for exercise. If there’s not one on site, ask if they have an agreement with a local fitness facility where you may be able to get your workout in for free or at a reduced rate. You can also ask the concierge to recommend a local park or walking path.
Just because you're on vacation doesn't mean that you should put your weight-loss plan on hold. While you want to allow yourself a few treats, keeping up with the exercise part of your plan will allow you a few guilt-free indulgences while maintaining the results of all your hard work.
Get Started: These active vacation ideas are fun for the whole family!
Weight-Loss Hurdle: A summer vacation is the perfect way to escape the stress of everyday life, but it’s easy to use being away from home as an excuse to leave healthy habits behind. Plan ahead to avoid travel temptations like fast food. Pack your own snacks for plane and car trips alike.
Planning a staycation? If you’re going to be hanging out at the local pool with your kids this summer, invest in a small cooler and some reusable ice packs so you’ll always have a selection of healthy snacks for you and your family. Try rolling thin slices of ham around low-fat string cheese or slicing up carrots and packing single-serve yogurt-based dips. When you have healthy options on hand, that food court will be a lot less tempting.
Stay On Track: Get 24 more tips on preventing vacation weight gain whether you're driving, flying or going on a cruise.,
If you’ve been waiting to start or refresh a weight-loss plan, now is the time to begin. You can use the good habits you start during the easy days of summer to carry you through the tougher winter weather ahead.
United States Department of Agriculture. “Foodborne Illness Peaks in Summer – Why?” accessed April 4, 2013. www.fsis.usda.gov
Thompson Coon J, Boddy K, Stein K, Whear R, Barton J, Depledge MH. “Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review,” accessed April 4, 2013. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov