Millions of Americans think of the beginning of the year as the best time to diet and get back in shape. It’s called resolution season, and for many it is almost an annual ritual. The weight loss industry strongly supports this tradition and does the bulk of its business during this period.
It’s not really a good plan when you think about it, though. With all this overindulging in festive meals, party foods and sweet treats over the holidays, your metabolism is most likely out of whack by the time you finally try to wean yourself from these unhealthy eating habits. So you face an uphill battle on two fronts by having to change your behavior and also to readjust your digestive system.
By contrast, I find the summer season a much better opportunity to do something for good health. There are several reasons for this.
First: Quality food is more abundant and affordable in the summer. Farmers markets offer locally grown fruits and vegetables for less money than supermarkets that depend on imports from far-flung sources. Food that is fresh and full of flavor will satisfy your cravings better and makes you eat less.
Second: Warm weather tends to make you feel less hungry. Instead of eating a big meal, you may be happier with a mixed green salad, fruit or some other small dish to cool down your body temperature.
Third: Let’s just admit it: Vanity is a great motivator. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look attractive in swimsuits and revealing summer clothes. If that’s what it takes – I can think of much worse reasons for slimming down.
Fourth: Summer is a time when things can slow down a bit. Even if you don’t go on an actual vacation, you probably find it easier to carve out a little extra time for yourself with the additional daylight. Your mornings are less hectic when the kids don’t have to get up early to go to school. Perhaps, you find more time for sit-down breakfasts and lunches together as a family.
Fifth: There are more opportunities for exercise. Baseball, soccer, swimming and other outdoor activities are all much easier to pursue this times of the year. Instead of having to chauffer your youngsters from one event to another, you can go together to the beach or to a nearby park where everybody can get some the fresh air.
Sixth: Summer offers plenty of opportunities for relaxation and managing stress. I don’t mean to say that nicer weather makes your life less busy or less stressful, but a little sunshine does have the power to lift most people’s spirits. In fact, depression and other emotional imbalances are often associated with lack of vitamin D due to insufficient sun exposure. Spending the evening outside by going on walks in the neighborhood or reading a good book on the front porch can do wonders for your emotional well-being. Speaking of neighbors: Summer is a good time to peek over the fence once in a while and say hello to people you haven’t seen for ages or have never really met.
Those who read my columns regularly know that I’m a great fan of the so-called “Mediterranean diet.” What I like about it the most is that it is not simply a guide for healthy eating; it is not even a “diet” in the strict sense of the word. I prefer to think of it as a lifestyle.
As the name indicates, the Mediterranean diet is based on the culinary traditions of the Mediterranean region that includes Italy, Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Spain, southern France and North Africa. The weather here is warm and sunny for most of the year and remains mild even in the winter. Consequently, there is a rich supply of fresh fruits and vegetables available as well as wine, olive oil, legumes, nuts and other staples. And, of course, there is an abundance of seafood.
Much has been written about the numerous health effects of this diet and Americans are being urged by many nutrition experts to incorporate more of it in their own eating styles. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that the citizens of the Mediterranean countries have dramatically longer life expectancies and lower rates of heart disease and cancer than other nations around the world, including America.
However, it has become clear that the differences in food choices alone are not sufficient to explain these differences in overall health and well-being. After all, southern Europeans are known for eating large portions, drinking (especially wine) and even smoking. Physical exercise like running or working out at a gym are much less common than, for example, in the U.S.
Researchers have pointed out that there may be other factors influencing the health benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Some suspect that the people’s attitude toward eating and sharing meals as part of a joyful social event may play a significant role. In other words, taking time and enjoying the moment over a plate of good food and perhaps a glass of wine with family and friends may make all the difference.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.