Summer can feel like one looong semi-vacation—and it’s easy to fall into the trap of the “anything goes” vacay mindset for oh, three whole months. If you’ve indulged more often than you planned (hello, BBQ, ice cream, and many glasses of frosé!), you may be itching to get back on track, and recommit to clean eating this fall. Here are a few simple ways you can prepare to hit reset after Labor Day.
Eat every 3 to 5 hours
And start with breakfast, even if you don’t feel especially hungry first thing in the morning. Regular meals help regulate your hunger hormones, keep your blood sugar and insulin levels steady, and maximize your metabolism—which are all key factors for seeing quick weight-loss results.
Get in the habit of prepping clean meals and snacks, and choose some go-to recipes, so you can stock up on the right ingredients. A good breakfast option is a veggie and avocado omelet, with a side of fresh fruit. For lunch try fresh greens lightly tossed with vinaigrette made from balsamic vinegar, Dijon, lemon, and Italian seasoning; and topped with lean protein, avocado, and a small scoop of quinoa or chickpeas.
At dinner you can’t go wrong with a veggie “pasta“: Sauté a generous portion of veggies in low-sodium veggie broth with garlic and herbs, and serve over a bed of cooked spaghetti squash. Then add a lean protein on top, and garnish with sliced almonds. If there’s a long stretch between lunch and dinner, snack on nuts or seeds and fresh fruit.
Commit to H2O
Making water your beverage of choice is one of the most impactful changes you can adopt. Why? There are lots of reasons: Water curbs appetite, and supports metabolism, digestion, and circulation. It can also do wonders for your skin, and help you de-bloat from sodium-triggered fluid retention.
Start weaning yourself off bubbly beverages, and all drinks sweetened with sugar and even natural, no-cal substitutes. Also, begin every day with a tall glass of water; then sip three 16-ounce servings throughout the day. If you don’t like water plain, add lemon or lime, sliced cucumber and mint, or slightly mashed berries.
This strategy is one of the quickest ways to flatten your belly, and get sweet cravings under control. One of my personal tricks is to fill an eight-cup water filtering pitcher at night and finish it the next day. If I’m going to be away from home, I use the pitcher to fill a stainless steel bottle to take with.
RELATED: 14 Surprising Causes of Dehydration
Cut back, but don’t omit carbs
Yes, curbing carbs can help you shed pounds, but in my experience, nixing them altogether can backfire. A no-carb diet may lead to crankiness, and cravings that trigger binge eating. It can also lead people to consume an excessive number of calories from low-carb foods like nuts. Instead of banishing carbs, I recommend including a small serving of fiber- and nutrient-rich carbohydrates in each meal. Think of them as an accent, not the main attraction.
For example, at breakfast you might have a cup of fresh fruit, or a half cup of cooked oats. Then at lunch and dinner, have half-cup portions of foods like quinoa, brown rice, pulses, and sweet potato. Increase the amount if needed, based on your activity level, but make sure the veggie portion of each meal is at least twice the size of the carb-heavy side.
I recommend breaking out your measuring cups to put together your meals—at least for a little while. It’s a pain, but it will help you become familiar with these new portion sizes, so eventually they become second nature.
Stock up on dark chocolate
Slashing sugar is a good idea, but it’s not realistic to declare that a speck of sugar will never again cross your lips. To get your fix healthfully, and with fewer calories, make a few squares of dark chocolate (with at least 70% cacao) your daily treat. Research has shown that a small amount of dark chocolate can satisfy cravings for both sweet and salty foods. It also packs antioxidants and minerals, and is hearty-healthy too. You might savor one square after lunch, and another after dinner. Many clients tell me that knowing they have this treat to look forward to every day helps them say “no” to temptations, and stay on track.
Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.