Barbecue Smarts: Eat All Day Without Gaining Weight

Barbecues don't have to be a diet nightmare of all-day grazing on fatty foods washed down with cool, calorie-laden cocktails. If you capitalize on summer's fresh fruits and veggies and you smarten up the grilled foods you choose, you can turn a barbecue into one of the easiest food-focused social events to enjoy. Your best strategies:

Plan ahead
When you accept an invitation to a summer barbecue ask the host what will be served and what you can bring. This way, you can make a game plan about which foods you will indulge in. It also gives you the opportunity to bring something healthy.

RELATED: Top 5 Fast Dishes to Bring to a BBQ

At the party, look at everything that's being offered first, then just have a few items that look too good to pass up. If potato salad is your thing, take a scoop and enjoy it, and skip the less appealing-to-you macaroni salad. Don't waste calories on so-so sweets or treats you can get any time of year.

Get a little more protein
"Dietary protein helps control appetite, which ultimately keeps weight in check," explains Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., author of Power Eating. Look for lean proteins such as grilled chicken breast or shrimp or three-bean salad, which gets an extra make-you-full boost from fiber. Fill about one-quarter of your plate with lean protein.

Pile on the produce
You should be eating nine servings of vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables daily, says Kleiner. That's easy at a barbecue if you focus on summer salads, grilled vegetables, and prepared fruit plates. Load up on naturally low-calorie, low-fat produce; it should take up at least half your plate.

RELATED: Easy Veggie Grilling Guide

Be smart about alcohol
When drinking alcohol, alternate lower-calorie libations with water. You'll pace yourself and cut down on all the empty calories and sugar that tend to be in summer cocktails.

Take a seat

Rather then picking and grazing, head over to a picnic table or sit down in the grass when you eat. "Practice mindful eating," says Sue Cummings, M.S., R.D., clinical program coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center in Boston. "If you eat something distractedly, it doesn't register," so you'll be less satisfied and you'll reach for more.

Relax a little!
Shooting for all healthy, all the time is a great way to fail. Allow yourself some leeway, and you're guaranteed to have more fun and feel better. "Eighty percent of the time, do 80 percent of the things that are healthy for you," says Janet R. Laubgross, Ph.D., a Fairfax, Va.-based clinical psychologist specializing in weight management. "During the other 20 percent, let go a little and enjoy a small portion of your favorite foods."

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