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  • Writer's pictureChristina Kamins, MS

Healthier (and Happier) Summer Gatherings

In recognition of Memorial Day, it seems an appropriate time to delve into ways we can make all the summer picnics and barbeques ahead healthier. I am sure you are already expecting a list of tips on what to eat. And yes, that is coming. But I believe this holiday in particular is the right one for digging a bit deeper as well. We all know that Memorial Day at its core is not about grilling hamburgers versus chicken. Today is about honoring and remembering the generations of courageous people who have lost their lives fighting for our freedom and ensuring our safety. On Memorial Day while many of us do spend the day going to a parade, swimming, or eating hot dogs; many others will be heading to National Cemetaries, lighting candles, grieving and honoring a very special someone.

A parent. A sister. A brother. A child. A friend.

A fellow Veteran they bravely served alongside.

Someone they loved and lost to the ultimate sacrifice.

So, today seems to me a meaningful moment to address nonfood-related strategies in addition to food-related strategies for summer gatherings. Let's start with the latter.

Food-Related Strategies

1. Begin the day with a breakfast that is high in both protein and fiber. Examples: an egg white omelet filled with peppers and onions, nonfat Greek yogurt with raspberries, 100% whole grain toast topped with natural peanut butter and strawberry slices.

2. Forget the concept of “saving calories”. Arriving at a party REALLY HUNGRY makes us more likely to make poorer choices and to overeat. Have an apple about 30 minutes before the gathering. It will allow you to make well-thought-out choices.

3. Make up half of your plate with fruits and healthy veggies. Bring a fruit salad, veggies & hummus, or a platter of grilled vegetables. This way, you know going in there will be at least one option for filling up the first side of your plate.

4. Eat, do not drink, your calories. Having just one beer and one can of soda adds up to 300 calories. Prioritize water. If so inclined, bring cans of flavored sparkling water like Bubbly or LaCroix. Bonus, other guests are bound to appreciate having that option too.

5. Ignore the mundane. Potato chips that just happen to be within arm’s reach. A store-bought pie that clearly looks stale. You deserve better and #3 will help with this.

6. Scope out the foods you do want to indulge in and then SAVOR every single bite. Maybe it’s your favorite side dish and your sister’s famous strawberry shortcake. Find the food items that are truly pleasurable and place them on your plate next to the the fruits and veggies you already have on the other side.

Before we delve deeper, fun fact: these tips aren’t just for summer gatherings. They will work wonders on holidays and at any event. Come Thanksgiving, we will revisit these strategies with a seasonal twist. By practicing them barbeque after barbeque and holiday after holiday, they will become second nature.

Digging Deeper

Many people turn to food when sad/stressed/lonely/pained-it seems that food can bring comfort and it even might very briefly. As children many of us were taught to soothe with food. Just think of all the TV shows that have depicted breakups where a broken-hearted girl plops on a couch crying with a quart of ice cream. Holidays and large gatherings can certainly bring on difficult emotions. A specific holiday could feel like reliving painful memories. A toxic family member might come to the reunion picnic. It could be Father's Day with the void of a deceased father.

Learning how to identify physical hunger versus emotional hunger is work we can begin together on calls. With awareness, it is possible to learn to eat what our bodies need instead of what our minds think they want. If reading this sounds relatable, know you are not alone, and Laura and I are here to work through this with you.

Here are a few strategies for today and beyond with a non-food focus to make gatherings healthier and happier:

1. Enjoy the company! No summer barbeque is just about food. Once sated, leave the table, grab a friend, and have a great conversation in a spot with no food in sight.

2. Are there kids (or kids-at-heart) there? Join them for a game of tag or to toss a frisbee around.

3. Is there a pool? Jump on in! You don’t have to know how to swim. Just walking around in the shallow end taking in sunshine is soothing.

4. If a person that triggers you is present, seat yourself at the opposite end of the table.

5. Skip the gathering altogether and start a new tradition. You could spend the day supporting a meaningful cause. For Memorial Day, it could be writing cards or making care packages for Survivors who are likely spending today at a National Cemetary honoring their Veteran. Another idea for the future, reach out to your local DAV office and volunteer to run errands or do chores for a disabled Veteran.

Wrap Up

Summer 2023 is kicking off and you can head into all your gatherings knowing there are ways to make it one that is both healthy and happy. Today is the first of many opportunities this season to try something new. For the Survivors, may your day be filled with peace and fond memories. The bravery of service is the utmost inspiration. Please know your Hero forever lives on in the hearts of our nation. warmly, Christina

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