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Summer barbecues sabotage many diets, but there is a way actually to use the opportunity to eat the foods you love to lose more weight rather than less. I am not suggesting to forgo a grilled cheeseburger so you can eat a nice bowl of alfa alfa sprouts.

Eat More, Lose More, If You Plan Your Eating Ahead of Time

If you are exercising more and eating less to lose weight, your body is constantly lowering your metabolic rate so that your body needs less energy and more readily stores excess calories as fat. It only takes about three days for your metabolic set point to be lowered so have to diet even harder to keep losing weight.

Summer barbecues are a perfect way to avoid this problem. Here is an example.

Suppose you maintain weight when you eat 2200 calories (kcal) a day, and you have decided to lose 1 pound a week by eating 1700 calories a day. The first few days you stick to your 1700 calorie a day diet you have some water weight loss and you also lose half a pound of fat.

Your body, however, reacts to your decreased food consumption as signal you are starving, so it slows down your metabolism. The change is probably very slight. Instead of needing to eat 2200 calories a day to avoid gaining weight, for example, after a few days of dieting you may just need to eat 2150 calories a day. After a couple weeks of dieting, maybe it's 2100 or 2050 calories a day.

The net effect, however, is that it gets harder and harder to lose weight and easier and easier to put it all back. The solution is to loosen up and enjoy food every few days.

Suppose instead of trying to lose one pound a week by reducing calorie consumption by 500 calories each every day, you ate less on some days and more on others?

Instead of a pattern of eating:

  • Monday, 1700 calories
  • Tuesday, 1700 calories
  • Wednesday, 1700 calories
  • Thursday, 1700 calories
  • Friday, 1700 calories
  • Saturday, 1700 calories
  • Sunday, 1700 calories

You might try:

  • Monday, 1500 calories
  • Tuesday, 1500 calories
  • Wednesday, 2100 calories
  • Thursday, 1500 calories
  • Friday, 1200 calories
  • Saturday, 2500 calories
  • Sunday 1700 calories

Interrupting the pattern of your diet sends your body a message that you are not starving and it does not need to slow your metabolism. And if you indulge in protein foods for those extra calories on your "feeding days," you get an extra benefit.

If your body gets all the amino acids it needs from the protein you eat, it turns the excess amino acids into glucose. The process of making glucose this way is inefficient. It will not, unless you are diabetic, raise your blood sugar levels, but all of the calories in protein do not become sugar. Some are wasted in the process of digestion.

However, because this process takes a day or two, your metabolism does not get a signal it needs to slow down. You get the same effect on your metabolic rate by eating extra carbs on your "feeding days," but you get a boost to weight loss if you eat extra protein rather than extra carbs or fat.

So don't hover by the bean sprouts when you go to summer barbecues. Go ahead and have the protein foods you enjoy, without eating huge quantities of them. They won't put on extra weight. In fact, they will help take it off. But can you trust yourself not to eat too much?

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Johnson RK, Soultanakis RP, Matthews DE. Literacy and body fatness are associated with underreporting of energy intake in US low-income women using the multiple-pass 24-hour recall: a doubly labeled water study. J Am Diet Assoc.1998,98:1136-40.
  • Rennie KL, Siervo M, Jebb SA. Can self-reported dieting and dietary restraint identify underreporters of energy intake in dietary surveys? J Am Diet Assoc.2006,106:1667–72.