It’s easy to blame weight gain on winter, when it’s often too cold to move much and there’s no shortage of comfort food available. But it’s just as easy (and also pretty common) to gain weight in the summer. There are plenty of reasons you might put on weight during the summer — starting with a more relaxed attitude and a shift in routines between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You might be taking a vacation or heading to the beach or cabin for long weekends away and the longer days and warmer weather provide more opportunities to socialize. All of this can interfere with healthy eating and a solid fitness routine. Instead of waiting for fall to get back into the habit of eating well and a consistent exercise practice, consider hitting the refresh button on Mondays — each and every one of them.
The power of Monday
Monday marks the start of the work week and it’s often considered an altogether fresh start. According to a survey commissioned by the Mondays Campaign, about 35% of respondents viewed Monday as the gateway to a new beginning, and about half of those surveyed said it’s an ideal day to start healthier habits. In a study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers tracked Google searches related to healthy behaviors (such as healthy diet) to see which day of the week had the greatest spike in searches, again showing that you’re most health-minded early in the week.
Though you may be inclined to wait until Labor Day or another moment this fall to get back on track, you’re better off leveraging the power of Mondays all summer long by beginning each week committing to a healthy habit. You’re probably already more tuned in to your health on Monday, and let’s be real — there are multiple opportunities to practice. And that’s the key word: practice. So starting this Monday and each and every week throughout the summer, pick a healthy habit that may have fallen by the wayside over the weekend and reignite your enthusiasm around it on Monday morning. Once you get to a point where it feels like second nature, pick another. Or just begin anew next Monday. Here are some ideas to get your summer Monday health routine off to the right start.
Reign in your sweet tooth
There are so many signs of summer that are ultra-sugary. Let’s start with beverages: sports drinks, lemonade, margaritas, and sangria are a few high-sugar drinks that come to mind. Frozen coffee and tea drinks can also be loaded with added sugar, and it’s pretty obvious that ice cream, funnel cake, snow cones, and other goodies are as well.
Essentially, eating too much added sugar hijacks your taste buds so the flavors of naturally sweet foods like strawberries and watermelon are a little duller. Too much added sugar is linked with other problems, too, like an increased risk of heart disease. Government data suggests that on average, Americans consume about 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day, which is much higher than the American Heart Association’s recommended limits of six teaspoons for women and nine for men.
Come Monday, see if you can cut back on added sugars. Begin by replacing any sweetened drinks with water or seltzer. And consider unsweetened coffee (with milk or an unsweetened plant-based alternative, if you’d like).
During your grocery haul, compare labels to find items, such as whole-grain cereals and granolas, flavored yogurts, breads, condiments and plant-based milks with little to no added sugars. If you want a sweet treat, see if a little dark chocolate will do. In one small study, participants said they felt more satisfied and reported that their cravings for sweets were diminished after eating dark chocolate.
Make sleep a priority
Your sleep and eating habits are deeply connected so if your summer schedule has you skimping on sleep, you might want to pay attention. Sure, there are the obvious issues — too tired to work out; too sleepy to make dinner so you turn to takeout — but there are less obvious problems, too. Insufficient sleep can influence your taste buds and increase cravings for unhealthy foods. Sleeping less than the suggested seven hours per night may result in higher levels of “I’m hungry” hormones and lower levels of “I’m full” ones. Over time, insufficient sleep raises your risk for a number of health concerns, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
To develop healthier sleep habits, start by avoiding an oversized dinner and allow yourself two to three hours to digest before lying down for bed. This will help minimize acid reflux that can interrupt your sleep during the night.
Also, cut back on caffeinated drinks by mid-day. Studies show you can feel the effects — and disrupt your sleep — six hours after your last cup.
Alcohol is another sleep disruptor. Sure, it can make you feel groggy, but ultimately it interferes with restorative sleep. So starting Monday, stick to a moderate amount of drinking, defined as one per day for women, two for men.
Be mindful of portion sizes
Summer seems to offer endless opportunities to eat out — whether that’s grabbing a burger at a beach shack, a hot dog at the stadium, or a steady stream of restaurant meals while vacationing. And portion sizes are notoriously big when eating out. According to a 2018 study, an average fast food meal supplies about 70 percent of the daily calorie requirements for an inactive woman and an average restaurant meal goes up to 120 percent of calorie needs (yes, that’s more than a day’s worth) — and that doesn’t even include the extra drinks, snacks, appetizers or desserts.
Monday is a great time to start thinking more mindfully about portions and right-sizing them to your needs. Start with a generous helping of veggies — about two cups, or a half a plates’ worth. Balance out your veggies with about four to six ounces of your protein of choice and some plant-based fats (such as nuts and seeds or their butters, or avocado, olives or their oils). Then add the right amount of carbohydrate — about ½ cup to a cup for most people. The quality of carbs is just as important as the amount, so choose from starchy veggies (like sweet potatoes and corn), beans, whole grains and fruit.
Get back into an exercise habit
Breaking an exercise routine is a slippery slope. Once you’re out of the habit, it feels intimidating or overwhelming to take an hour-long spin class or go for a three-mile run. Reigniting your commitment each Monday helps ensure you won’t sideline your workouts for, say, the whole summer. But just in case it’s been awhile, you can also ease back from a longer break.
Exercise doesn’t have to be super sweaty or intense to be effective. In fact, evidence suggests that a better bar to aim for is that your workout be pleasant. And there’s a good chance that you’ll experience lower intensity workouts as more enjoyable. Translation: Instead of dreading your HIIT session (and potentially finding ways to avoid it), you might look forward to a Monday walk, bike ride or yoga session.
On top of the enjoyment factor, you’ll still get body-wide benefits from less intense exercise. A review study comparing the impact of yoga to other forms of physical activity on blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes found that yoga led to significantly better improvements compared to other forms of fitness, which could lead to better management of the condition.
And if walking is more your speed, that’s another great option, and it doesn’t require special equipment, a gym membership, or showing up at an exercise studio at a specific time. You don’t even need to worry about how fast (or slow) you might be walking. A new study found that most people walk at a moderate pace — the level recommended in activity guidelines — without much thought.
Finally, don’t get caught up in the all-or-nothing mentality. If you don’t have time to walk for 30 minutes or 10,000 steps feels impossible, you’ll still benefit from doing less. The latest government guidelines suggest that some exercise is better than none, so on Monday, make it a goal to move a bit more. You’ll be better off, even if you don’t break a sweat.
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