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Experts say eating fresh fruit is a better option than some of the other more typical summer foods. Getty Images
  • Experts say summer can be a time when people gain weight due to food choices and a plethora of social gatherings.
  • They say barbecued food and ice cream as well as chips and other snacks are the prime culprits.
  • They recommend being conscious of what you’re eating and perhaps bringing pre-prepared healthy foods to social events as well as on road trips and planes.

Contrary to what you may think, weight gain may be more likely during the summer than in winter.

In fact, research published in 2016 reported that even young children tend to gain more weight during the summer months, not during the fall and winter months when school is in session.

That study looked at obesity prevalence in more than 18,000 children between the time they began kindergarten in 2010 and until the end of second grade in 2013.

According to experts, weight gain is common during the summer months for people of all ages.

Haley Perlus, PhD, an expert in sport and performance psychology, and Amy Bragagnini, MS, RD, CSO, an oncology nutrition specialist at Trinity Health Lacks Cancer Center in Michigan as well as a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Healthline there are many possible reasons for summertime weight gain.

They include:

  • sugary summer beverages
  • summer BBQs
  • graduation and wedding celebrations
  • vacation food and drink temptations
  • decrease in regular exercise routine due to attending more events

“Many people participate in summer weddings, graduations, and family gatherings. There are usually lots of decadent food and beverages at such events. At these gatherings, it is easy to be in a celebratory mode and consume more food and calorie-laden beverages than one would on a typical day,” said Bragagnini.

Many vacations are also taken during the summer months, she added.

“When I am on vacation, I often justify my plentiful food and beverages choices by saying the statement, ‘I am on vacation and I can eat and drink whatever I want,’” Bragagnini said.

“Now, don’t get me wrong, vacation time is a great time to relax and have fun and eat good food. But it is also important to find some balance between eating and drinking and physical activity,” she added.

Perlus says when she thinks of “summer weight gain,” her thoughts go to the increase in sugary, tropical drinks being consumed in the summer months.

“Watch your intake of alcohol and, even if you don’t drink, watch out for caloric ‘mocktails’ such as virgin coladas,” she advised.

“Instead of overindulging in high calorie drinks, consider bringing unsweetened teas and all-natural flavored water, or even plain water with cucumbers,” Perlus added.

“Longer days also mean more eating and drinking during social gatherings,” she noted.

These social gatherings tend to serve “unhealthy junk food and alcohol” or more “benign” foods that may not seem unhealthy but contribute quickly to weight gain, Perlus said.

“Reducing exercise with the distraction of parties and gatherings also factors into weight gain,” she added. “Eating more and moving less will result in a potential weight gain.”

Cookout and BBQ foods to be particularly mindful of, according to Perlus, include:

  • high-fat meat on the barbecue
  • potato salad but also any mayonnaise-based salads
  • kielbasa (this has a lot of sodium)
  • ice cream
  • high-fat “toppers” on salads
  • chips with too much guacamole

If it’s hard to think about a chip with “too much guacamole” ever being an issue, but Perlus explains that even though avocado is a “healthy” fat, when it’s eaten in excess, it’s still fattening.

Serving sizes matter when it comes to avoiding or managing summer weight gain.

“We need to be aware of the calories we consume and stick to healthier choices,” said Perlus.

“When standing at a table of food, it’s often hard to gauge how many chips we have had or dips,” she noted. “It is better to take a plate if you are at a buffet and observe not only your portion sizes but the mixture of food groups you have.”

The first important step to summer weight loss is taking the focus off “weight loss” (i.e. the number on the scale), says Bragagnini.

“Sometimes only focusing on losing weight may create unhealthy food restriction and may lead one down a path of disordered eating,” she explained.

“I would first begin thinking about what eating patterns/food choices you have,” she said. “Get curious about when you eat, what you eat, and why you eat.”

“Many of my clients find they don’t feel well after eating dishes that are high in fat/calories/carbohydrates,” she noted.

“I advise people to be nice to themselves and try to get a better understanding about why they make the food choices that they are making,” Bragagnini said.

For example, she says, some people are very busy during the summer and may swing through fast food or fill up on convenience food items.

“Understanding that this is happening can be the first step to proactively make healthy changes in their diet,” she said.

At the next gathering or day at the beach, experts suggest bringing your own “healthier” food that you can indulge in and share.

Doing a quick meal prep at the beginning of the week will also help you maintain a proper diet and stay on track with your health goals, suggests Perlus.

Some examples she provides include:

  • Have fresh-cut vegetables and fruit on hand that you can place in food storage bags or small containers.
  • Have protein bars with a high protein count and a low sugar count.
  • Fill up on bulky vegetables such as kale and add protein such as chicken or fish.
  • Start the day with low-calorie oatmeal that you prepare at home. The fiber will keep you full for hours. Top it off with blueberries or your favorite fruit.
  • Keep hard-boiled eggs on hand. They are a healthy nutrition and caloric choice.

Bragagnini adds the following suggestions for packing healthy cooler food for beach days:

  • a variety of cut-up veggies and hummus for dip
  • watermelon slices (not only delicious but hydrating)
  • turkey veggie roll-ups
  • a quinoa veggie salad (can be packed very easily in individual stackable containers)

When planning to bring your own food, portability of food is key, as we tend to travel more in the summer, says Perlus.

“Having foods on hand that are high in protein, low in sugar and calories is key,” she noted.

This is especially important for road trips or airline flights, Perlus adds.

“If you don’t cook, you can find many pre-prepared healthy snacks at places like Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market or Whole Foods,” she said.

“Honestly, if you focus more on increasing your daily intake of water-based fruits and veggies, you are already on your way to being at the weight you desire,” says Bragagnini.

“Experiment with new recipes that call for a variety of colorful produce. Make sure the recipes include a healthy protein (chicken breast, chickpeas, quinoa) and fat source (avocado, chia seeds, olive oil). Not only can these dishes be delicious, but they can also be satisfying and healthy,” says Bragagnini.

Stay on track with your summer fitness goals by starting small, suggests Perlus.

“You do not have to go to the gym and start squatting with 50-pound weights. You can walk 10,000 steps or do a cardio workout,” she said.

You can also try swimming, which is an effective workout that does not involve impact, which is great for those with joint issues or people who don’t like to sweat.

“Water aerobics done correctly can also provide a great workout,” Perlus said.