Tips to Beat Summer Weight Gain
Posted on May 16, 2013
Summer is around the corner and it’s time to try to fit into that same bathing suit…again. I see lots of frustrated patients who lose no weight or gain weight in the summer. Doesn’t make sense, does it? You’re spending more time outdoors exercising and sweating, but the fat refuses to melt away in the summer heat. Before I discuss some of the primary culprits, it’s important to understand an important fact: Your diet has a far greater impact on body composition than exercise! Repeat this line over and over until it sinks in, and especially when you decide to reward yourself with a carb-loaded post-workout meal, snack or beverage.
I routinely see patients in my practice who tell me they are “sweating it out” in the gym five days a week but the needle on the scale is hardly budging. That’s because there has been little change in their diet. If you want to lose weight, and in particular burn body fat, you must lower your body’s insulin levels. High insulin levels store body fat, and out of all your macronutrients it’s the sugar and excess carbs that are sabotaging your efforts to fit into that swimsuit.
Some reasons people struggle with weight gain during the summer and tips to avoid it:
1. Liquid fat: We crave cold beverages in the summer heat, but these are often the most potent fat-storing summer foods. Smoothies, Frappucinnos, sodas, juices, cocktails, etc. will cause your body to store more fat than most fatty foods. The reason is because these drinks have a ton of sugar and may also have high fructose corn syrup which sends insulin levels skyrocketing. I call these “liquid fats” because even though most of these beverages may not contain dietary fat, they cause your body to store fat through their effects on insulin…so don’t be fooled by “low-fat” drink labels. Choose sparkling water and throw in some mint, lime, orange or other citrus wedges.
2. Outdoor venues: Barbecues, picnics, outdoor summer concerts, etc. are centered around eating. Pack healthy options and plenty of veggies and fruits. Avoid sugary desserts and the liquid fat drinks I mention above.
3. Frozen desserts: Ice cream is an obvious no no. What about low-fat or non-fat fro-yo? Again, it’s all about the carbs and sugar, so don’t get fooled by the misleading low-fat labels. If you must partake, have it served up in the smallest serving size available and eat your fro-yo nice and slow…savor every bite and don’t make it a regular habit.
4. Inactivity from the heat: Some of us just can’t stand the sun and/or heat and spend more time indoors during the summers. Not good. Hit the gym or your local air conditioned mall for some air-conditioned walking, or take advantage of walking or exercising in the early morning and evening hours when temperatures are normally pleasant, especially here in the Bay Area. Although I’ve focused on the diet in this article, you need to stay active and get regular exercise if you want to maintain weight loss.
5. Late night snacking: Long summer days often mean going to bed later due to extended daylight. This also means more time to feel hungry and succumb to late night snacking.
6. Vacation moderation: Don’t use your vacations as an excuse for unlimited eating. You’re only going to make it harder on yourself when you return home. Moderate your intake, enjoy occasional sensible and portion-controlled indulgences, and stay as physically active as possible.
7. Watch your fruit intake: We all know fruits are good for us, but fruits also contain fructose or fruit sugar. Tropical fruits, in particular mangos, bananas, pineapples and papayas, can really pack in the sugar and lead to weight gain. Always eat more veggies (non-starchy ones) than fruits. Use tropical fruits more as toppings for salads and unsweetened yogurts. For example, carve off a few mango or papaya wedges and add to your salad rather than eating a huge portion telling yourself “fruit is good for me so I’ll eat more!” If you like making smoothies at home, make them more “green” with veggies and add a handful of berries to sweeten them, rather than making just plain fruit smoothies which are loaded with sugar.
My advice is to avoid these common summer fat building habits and instead, focus on eating and drinking natural, unprocessed, unsweetened foods and beverages while staying physically active.
Ronesh (Ron) Sinha, M.D., a Palo Alto Medical Foundation internal medicine doctor, contributed this blog post. Dr. Sinha is the author of The South Asian Health Solution, he works closely with the South Asian community to help reduce heart disease and diabetes risk, and provides corporate health lectures to promote wellness in the workplace. His personal blog is at southasianhealthsolution.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @roneshsinha.