Diet expert says summer shape-up is easy with healthful diet, exercise

Diet expert says summer shape-up is easy with healthful diet, exercise
Shaping up for summer 'shorts weather' is easier than you think. Try partaking of fresh green asparagus and other brightly colored vegetables at the farmer's market and the grocery store for delicious and healthful fare that can help you lose weight. UAB dietitian Riley Thornton said you don't have to give up all the good stuff; instead, follow the 80/20 rule to enjoy diet success. (Contributed)

Trying on a favorite pair of summer shorts – and finding they no longer fit – can be depressing.

But launching a crash diet to lose 10 pounds is likely to be fruitless in the long term, said Riley Thornton, a wellness specialist at UAB. Cutting meals may help you drop a few pounds in the short term, but it can wreak havoc with your metabolism and cause more health issues.

Riley Thornton is a registered dietitian who trained at Auburn University. (UAB)

“The most important thing you can do to lose weight is to stay active doing the things you love while eating a healthful diet,” said Thornton, who earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from Auburn University, and completed a dietitian internship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “Summer is a laid-back season, and it can be harder to lose weight because you’re socializing more.”

Indeed, backyard barbecues, pool parties and outings with friends and family can wreck one’s best intentions to diet. To keep on the right track, eat healthily most of the time and exercise, Thornton said. She’s a firm believer in the 80/20 rule.

“Be mindful in the summer months and on vacation, as well, that you should take time to rest but also practice the 80/20 rule for eating,” she said. “It’s more a healthy approach to eating than a diet. The rule is to select healthy foods 80 percent of the time, and indulge in your favorite snacks 20 percent of the time.”

To lose a few pounds, Thornton said to focus less on how much you weigh and more on how your clothes fit. She tries to avoid watching the scale, and instead focuses on eating healthily and increasing her activity level.

“Your body composition may change before you see results on the scale,” Thornton said. “Consider how you feel overall, your energy levels and how your workouts are progressing.”

Fuel your body by creating a pretty plate

Making your dishes look as appetizing as possible helps you stay on track toward healthy eating, the dietitian said.

She advises filling your plate with colorful vegetables. Incorporate the colors of summer – yellow for squash, green for asparagus, purple for eggplant and red for apples, for example – as much as possible into your meals.

Select vegetables in a rainbow of colors to get plenty of  nutrients. Don’t forget to include fruit, cheeses and nuts for snacks, instead of indulging in cookies, candy and salty chips. (Contributed)

“In summer, there are great fruits and vegetables,” said Thornton, who supports UAB Employee Wellness initiatives and programs. “If you shop at a farmers market, you can get healthy produce at good prices.”

UAB student Alexandra Hodges said she has learned that “slow and steady” wins the diet race. Hodges, who exercises several days a week, recently began a high-intensity interval training regimen at her gym.

“Losing weight and keeping it off is a lifestyle choice,” the nursing student said. “Every calorie counts, but you need to make them work for you by choosing the right foods.

“It’s picking the healthy fats, like eating a couple of slices of avocado instead of digging into a bag of potato chips,” Hodges said. “Try to make good choices. You can occasionally eat a bowl of ice cream, but just because it’s summer, you shouldn’t be doing that several days a week.”

Thornton said it’s important to be mindful about one’s salt intake.

“When you buy canned vegetables, look for low-sodium or no-sodium varieties, or rinse the contents before serving,” she said. Adding garlic powder and/or other spices is a healthy way to reduce or replace sodium.

Another important aspect of an overall healthy diet is to get plenty of fiber.

“Look at the ingredient lists on foods you buy,” Thornton said. “Fiber will help regulate bowel movements, and help lower cholesterol and blood sugar. As you increase your fiber intake, you should consider drinking more water, as well.”

Practice moderation and variety along with exercise

The easiest way to stay active is by doing the things you love, Thornton said.

Zuma dancing and other fitness classes can help in dropping a few pounds or maintaining your goal weight, once you reach it. (Contributed)

The approach is different for everyone, but physical activity is a key to losing and maintaining weight. She suggests incorporating weight training with guidance from a certified workout coach or group fitness instructor.

“I like taking Zumba classes,” Thornton said. “If I’m having fun, I look forward to exercising and really appreciate that time.”

While you’re exercising to stay in shape, it’s extremely important to stay hydrated, she said. The same way you work to eat healthily, provide your body with the fluids it really needs, without the sugar and empty calories.

“If you’re out in the sun and swimming, it’s easy to forget to drink water,” she said. “Keep a reusable water bottle, and fill it with water flavored with lemon or cucumber and mint. That adds flavor without calories or sugar. It changes things up a bit so you don’t get tired of drinking water.”

Living healthy to enjoy your best life

Eating food is more than pleasure: It’s the fuel that supplies the energy for the things you’ll do throughout your day, Thornton said.

“Whatever you find sustainable long term is going to provide you the best results,” she said. “Incorporate what you love, but be mindful by using the 80/20 rule.”

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