At last, after a long and unforgiving winter during which you occasionally wondered if you would ever feel warmth again, Memorial Day has already come and gone, which means that it's time for that pre-summer diet and exercise regimen to which you've adhered with such discipline to pay off. Since this last week is what really separates the Globo Gym physical specimens from the Peter LaFleurs of the world, we asked a couple of registered dietitians for their advice on what you should eat to finish on a high note. Whether you choose to celebrate the season by launching yourself headlong into a sea of perfectly-grilled hamburgers and sunscreen-laced light beer afterward, though, is entirely up to you.
Eat protein and produce.
This may come as a shock, but lean proteins are really, really good for you. Maria Bella of Top Balance Nutrition explains that protein produces a hunger hormone called ghrelin and requires a bit more energy to digest than other nutrients, which makes these foods the bedrock of a smart diet. Vegetables should also be a major part of what you eat this week — a good rule of thumb, according to Bella, is that produce should take up about half of your plate's surface area at any given meal.
Cut starches, not carbs.
Don't get confused! Carbohydrates are found in pretty much everything that we eat, and cutting them altogether would be both unnecessary and wildly impractical. But you can get all the carbohydrates you need from a few servings of fruit combined with your intake of foods that are sources of lean protein, like beans or dairy. It's the elimination of starches — foods with high energy density and minimal nutritional value like breads and pastas — that will have the most significant impact on your precise degree of shirtless season-readiness.
You are probably going to feel hungry as you work off those last few pounds, but Pam Nisevich Bede of EAS Sports Nutrition is here to reassure you: It's going to be okay. Most people today prefer to eat frequently and graze throughout the day, but Nisevich Bede urges her dieting clients to reacquaint themselves with their satiety and hunger signals. As a rule of thumb, she suggests scheduling four nibbling-free hours between meals — no matter what the voices in your head say.
Eat things in order.
When eating meals this week, Bella offers a simple suggestion for limiting intake of starches: Eat them last. If you've already eaten your servings of lean proteins and produce, she points out, you're going to be less likely to go back for those second and third helpings of spaghetti that threaten to torpedo all your best-laid plans.
Size matters, too.
You've heard it before, but it's still true: Breakfast and lunch, in that order, should be your largest meals of the day. Nisevich Bede points out that eating adequately during those meals will help you to avoid being tempted by myriad mid-afternoon snacks or making poor choices of the all-you-can-eat variety when dinnertime finally rolls around.
Not just because it's hot. Nisevich Bede cautions that a principal symptom of dehydration is fatigue, which in turn makes you more likely to resort to sugary drinks or snacks for a pick-me-up. Many people also confuse the sensations of thirst and hunger, and end up eating when all they really need to do is hydrate. Bella recommends starting meals with a water-heavy course, like a broth-based soup or a green salad topped with lemon juice. You probably won't love these dishes, unless you're astoundingly boring and/or a psycho, but they'll help take the edge off of hunger.
Eating out? Don't despair.
Just because you're on a mission doesn't mean you have to skip nights out and eat at home alone while contemplating the depths of your loneliness. Simple salads, lean filets, and roasted vegetables are dependable and healthy mainstays that are almost certainly available at your American restaurant of choice. If you're going out for Thai, for example, Bella recommends dishes like chicken satay and spring rolls wrapped in rice paper; if your friends are in the mood for sushi, sashimi is a no-brainer, and most rolls can be wrapped in cucumber instead of rice to save yourself the starch.
Do dessert the smart way.
If you absolutely cannot go without a little treat at the end of the meal, Bella suggests that you have three bites of it. Why three? The first and last bites taste the best. Everything in between, though, tastes exactly the same.