July 1st, 2011
08:46 AM ET

How do I deal with food temptation on a holiday?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist.

Question asked by Dianne, San Jose, California

I've been working really hard at losing weight since April, and I'm concerned about all the food temptation over the Fourth of July weekend. Any suggestions?

Expert answer:

Hi Dianne! This is a terrific question as I find that many of my weight-loss patients get really off track on weekends over the summer, especially three-day holiday weekends that often involve numerous eating occasions.

In my opinion, one of the most important components of long-term, successful weight loss is lowering the energy density of your diet. Energy density, which I prefer to call calorie density, is simply the calories per gram (weight) of the foods that you eat.

Water and fiber decrease the calorie density of foods and fat increases the calorie density of foods. By lowering the calorie density of your diet, you cut calories without cutting portions. Studies show that people eat fewer calories, lose weight and maintain weight loss by lowering the energy density of their diet.

With that in mind, here are several ways to lower the calorie density of your diet this Fourth of July (and the rest of the summer) for successful weight loss or maintenance.

1. Slim down your sides

Chips and dip are a regular fixture at barbecues. Mix equal parts salsa or pico de gallo with your guacamole to cut calories almost in half without cutting your portion size. You can also make dips with low fat dairy (low fat dairy is lower in energy density because of its high water content) instead of full fat dairy products.

Serve with baked or popped chips instead of fried and you can enjoy in moderation without guilt. Skip the potato salad and opt for pasta salad (bonus for using whole wheat pasta) made with a light vinaigrette and loaded with veggies to reduce the calorie density.

2. Build a better burger

Mix equal parts lean ground beef or turkey with ground mushrooms to again cut calories in half while still enjoying this BBQ staple. Just make sure not to add cheese or mayo, which brings the calorie density right back to where you started.

Top with spicy mustard or chipotle sauce to add flavor without increasing calorie density significantly. Serve on a whole-wheat bun (high fiber) and top with romaine lettuce instead of iceberg for an extra nutritional boost.

3. Dilute your drinks

Unsweetened, calorie free beverages are best, but if you really want lemonade, juice or white wine, mix with equal parts sparkling water to make a spritzer and save calories without feeling as if you are missing out.

4. Lower your dessert density

Sure you could just eat fruit (high-water, low-calorie density) for dessert, but sometimes that just doesn't cut it. Rather than trying to limit yourself to a tiny brownie or half a cookie, bake your own low energy density dessert. Try adding canned pumpkin to baked good recipes instead of oil to keep calories down without having to eat tiny bird-like portions. Pumpkin also boosts the fiber content and is a very good source of vitamin A, C and K. Check out this amazing peanut butter brownie recipe from low-calorie cooking guru Lisa Lillien (aka Hungry Girl).

I hope this helps you stay on track this summer. I also tell my patients to plan extra exercise to balance out calories and eat a protein and fiber snack (yogurt with high fiber cereal, turkey slice on high fiber tortilla, apple and string cheese) before heading out so they don't arrive at BBQ and parties famished.

Follow Dr. Melina on Twitter.

soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. klebinek


    July 1, 2011 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. amylynn


    A European filmmaker has been reversing weight problems in NON diabetics with a Diabetes diet.

    It has been giving people who have a hard time losing weight a normal body weight fast

    It is now used in 10 countries. ALL weight issues are caused by Food chemicals( PROCESSED FOODS) and he shows how to reverse it

    if you are Diabetic or not


    July 4, 2011 at 10:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Bucktooth

    If your ongoing program has been on track how about a cheat day one time per week? This is only if you haven'tcheated during the week. This also may help the body to be more efficient and not so stagnant. The body could thrive on a little good fat for a day! Problem with this approach is people have a tendency to overdo their cheats!

    July 4, 2011 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. billyB

    Duhhh, Don't want to gain weight – don't eat fattening foods. Pretty simple.

    July 4, 2011 at 17:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. rich

    i just make healthy choices when i eat. i often choose the less evil foods like whole wheat instead of white bread. here is also a list of foods to avoid. http://istilopinoy.com/2011/07/refined-carbohydrates-to-avoid/

    July 4, 2011 at 19:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Caribbean Holidays

    Over the years we have experienced many of our visitors to the Caribbean islands saying that they cannot stick to their diet when they go on holidays. Actually, many of our Caribbean restuarants cater to those guests who are watching those pounds. All one has to do is simply indicate to the server their requirements and more often than not you will be catered to. So whether it be an extra helping of that fresh salad or that bowl of tropical fruit in place of the rich coconut based soup, there is something for everyone in the Caribbean. Readers may be interested in reading more. If they wish please check us out at http://www.caribbeaninsidersguide.com where we feature lots to do, see and most of all things to eat!

    August 16, 2011 at 17:38 | Report abuse | Reply

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