If you overdid it a bit over the long weekend, you may be tempted to go to extreme measures to take off the poundage, but you don’t have to. This simple five step strategy can help you get back on track and reboot your body by next weekend:
Step One: Put those pounds in perspective. Over the years I’ve received many worried calls from clients or friends who’ve said, “Help! I gained 5 pounds this weekend!” You’ve probably heard the phrase, “The scale doesn’t lie,” but in reality, it kinda does. In order to gain 5 pounds of actual body fat between Thursday and Monday, you would’ve had to gobble an excess 17,500 calories – that means 17,500 calories above and beyond what you burned off. To put that in perspective a cup of potato salad, a hamburger on a bun, and an entire pint of real ice cream packs about 2,000 calories. Even if you really pigged out, it would be pretty hard to rack up enough excess to gain 5 pounds of true body fat - most of the bump in your weight is probably from water retention (from excess sodium), storing more carbohydrate, which you can sock away in your muscles like an energy piggy bank (from a higher than usual carb intake) and waste that hasn’t worked its way through your digestive system yet (which can take up to 3 days).
Step Two: Drink more water. Water will help flush out any excess sodium you’re hanging on to and help your digestive system keep things moving to prevent constipation. Aim for 2-2.5 liters a day (about 8-10 cups).
Step Three: Pump up the veggies and lean protein at meals and include smaller amounts of whole grains and healthy fat. Don’t cut out carbs completely – that’ll force your body to burn the protein you eat for fuel instead of using it to support calorie burning muscle. But a slight meal redesign can help you burn more calories, feel more satiated and readjust your digestive system. Aim for about 2 cups of raw, steamed, grilled or lightly sautéed veggies (about 2 baseballs worth), 3 oz (deck of cards) or a half cup (half a baseball) of a lean protein like tofu, beans, fish or poultry, a half cup of a high fiber whole grain, like quinoa, barley or wild rice, and a little bit of healthy fat like extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), chopped avocado or sliced almonds. Here’s a great example: sauté veggies like spinach, onions, peppers and mushrooms in a Tbsp of EVOO with garlic and herbs, serve over a half cup cooked quinoa and top with 3 oz diced chicken breast or ½ cup diced or crumbled tofu. And don’t forget a tall glass of H20.
Step Four: Eat every 3-5 hours. Eat breakfast within an hour of waking up to kick start your metabolism (it’ll help you burn more calories all day and curb your late night hunger) and eat 2-3 more meals, spaced no sooner than 3 and no more than 5 hour apart. Use the same strategy as above at breakfast, but trade the veggies for a bit of fresh fruit, like a smoothie made from frozen berries, nonfat milk or soy milk, almond butter and a small scoop of rolled oats.
Step Five: Eat slowly and stop when you’re full. You’ve heard it before but these two strategies are key. One study found that when women were instructed to eat slower they drank more water and ate four times fewer calories per minute. During each meal try to take smaller bites, put your fork down between them, chew well, and savor your food. Pay attention and stop when you feel full, knowing you can eat again in another 3-5 hours.
It may seem counterintuitive to “eat away” the effects of overeating, but it really is the smartest way to fix and move forward. By Friday, you should be feeling great in your jeans again and today’s post-Memorial Day bloat will seem like a distant memory.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.