Beat Bingeing: Summer BBQ Edition

Happy Fourth of July! I hope all of you readers here in the States are ready to celebrate the day with food, fireworks, and time spent with family.

If you’re like me, the day is going to end in a fantastic BBQ. That’s awesome, but for those who struggle with emotional eating and bingeing, summer BBQs can be hard to navigate healthily. I mentioned in How I Beat Binge Eating: Part 4 how, when I was still actively recovering from my binge eating habit, keeping my eating in check at parties was still tough for me even once the rest of my day-to-day eating was pretty normal. I’ll be honest and say that even today special occasions still take some degree of pre-planning, extra self-care, and positive thinking on my part. And really, holidays are days when “normal” people often overdo it on food! Basically, holidays and parties can be a challenge for all of us when it comes to eating healthily.

Ideally, at a BBQ, you should have fun with people you care about, relax, and indulge a little food-wise. But if you’re like me, some at some gatherings you end up NOT enjoying the party because you’re so stressed about food, and then you leave unhappy with the quantity you ate when the night is through to boot. That’s no fun. But the good news is that holidays don’t have to be like this. Here are a few simple strategies I’ve found that help me beat bingeing at summer BBQs and gatherings. 🙂

Family Eden Vacation 2012-700


Eat enough food throughout the beginning of the day. Avoid the temptation to under eat to “save up” calories or stomach space for an indulgent dinner. Heading to a party where burgers, brats, brownies, and who know what else will be available is tough enough. Don’t go in starving! That only sets  you up to overeat. Eat healthy, balanced, filling meals and snacks all day long leading up to your event. This is the breakfast I ate this morning.


Bring a healthy AND yummy dish along. If your event is potluck, show up with a dish that is (1) healthy enough that you can eat it without any worry, and (2) something you really enjoy eating. I like to bring a big bowl of fresh-cut fruit, a veggie tray, or a delicious salad to BBQs. That way, I can pile up my plate mostly with what I brought if none of the other options look great, yet not feel deprived taste-wise.

Go in with a gameplan. It helps me to have a rough plan of both what and how much I’ll eat before I head to a party. For example, here’s the plan I’ve got for my family BBQ tonight:

BBQ game plan

You’ll notice this is something I actually wrote down on paper. I find this immensely helpful. It’s easy to change your plan as you go if it’s just in your head, but if you actually write the plan down somewhere, it’s much more likely to stick.

I also make a plan for dessert once I’ve eaten my meal and am making judgments on a full stomach. I take a look around at what desserts are there, and after evaluating if anything looks absolutely worth the calories, I’ll make a similar plan to my meal one and jot it down in the notes section of my phone. My mental conversation often goes something like this: “The pan of brownies my sister-in-law made look amazing, and so do the peanut butter bars, but the apple pie is store-bought and the ice cream is the cheap party-bucket variety, which isn’t my favorite. That’s also one huge tub of red vines—which I like, but don’t want to overdo.  I think I’ll leave the pie and ice cream alone but have a square of brownie, a square of peanut butter bar, and two red vines.” Once I’ve made those decisions and jotted them down somehow, I go ahead and indulge guilt-free according to my plan. 🙂

And as an added note: if your plan is to eat nothing but carrot sticks, you’ll fail. Make sure your plan entails eating a decent amount that will satisfy you, physically and emotionally. Skew towards the veggie tray over the Doritos bag as you fill your plate, sure, but FILL YOUR PLATE!

Bring gum to signal the end of your meal. Once I’ve eaten what I’d planned, I pop in a piece of mint gum. This little ritual helps me consciously say “I’m done.” Having minty fresh breath is also a good deterrent against going back for more food.

Focus on PEOPLE! Once you’ve eaten what you’ve planned to eat, deliberately decide to stop thinking about food. Any time the thought to saunter back over for more chips and dip pops up, instead find someone to talk to. Remember why you’re really there with friends and family—to enjoy food a little, but mostly to enjoy who you are with! Don’t just sit around white-knuckling the urge to eat more. Be one of the kids and jump into a game of frisbee with your nephews. Talk to your brother about how his new job is going. Throw yourself into the real purpose of the party and you’ll both have way more fun AND be much less likely to spend the night obsessing over the brownies and Doritos you’ve decided you are done with for the day.


Bring a backup snack for the evening. You may be arriving at your BBQ around 5pm but not leaving until 11pm if fireworks are in the plan (or if you just end up having a great time and don’t want to head out in a hurry). This means that even if you eat a filling meal at dinnertime, you’re going to be hungry later in the evening. Don’t let a wave of hunger lead you to justify five more brownies and a fistful of red vines. Instead, come prepared with a protein bar or other healthy snack in your bag that you can quietly pull out later on when hunger strikes. There may be veggies and hummus or some other food option at the party you could have instead, but don’t leave it to chance. Come prepared with a good snack of your own in case the healthy options at the party are slim.

I’m headed to tonight’s party armed with a Quest protein bar in one of my favorite flavors. I’ll pull it out whenever I get hungry in the hours of visiting and fireworks after dinner.

Treat Yo Self.  As part of my gameplan I write down before a party, I sometimes add in a little reward. If I stick to the plan I laid out today, for example, I’m going to buy myself 3 new songs on iTunes for my walking workout playlist. You don’t have to make a reward big, or even have one set up at all, but I like doing it. Every time I make it through a party, vacation, or holiday with mono bingeing streak totally alive and well, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. And meeting goals, big or small, is something worth celebrating and giving yourself kudos for.

So there you go! Best of luck today and at all your BBQs and parties through the rest of the summer. I know you’ll handle them all like a pro.

Do you have any other great ideas that help you navigate BBQ season healthily? Share them in the comments below!


5 Tips for MyFitnessPal Success

Around the start of this year I decided to try MyFitnessPal. In case you haven’t heard of it, MyFitnessPal (often shortened to MFP) is a really popular app used to track food and exercise. I had tried it once years ago and ultimately ditched it. It made me feel like an obsessive, full-time calorie accountant. It only heightened my stress and anxiety about what I was eating. The way I was using MFP simply didn’t work for me.

But this time around, I’ve done a few things differently. And it has made SUCH a difference! I’ve found that MyFitnessPal can be a powerful, powerful tool for good. The key? Using it in a healthy and balanced way.



Is Calorie Counting a Good Idea?

Early this year I found myself thinking about trying MFP again. Having a community of support sounded nice, and logging my food sounded like a good way to keep myself accountable. But, I asked myself, isn’t counting calories the epitome of obsessive, disordered eating? Don’t “normal” eaters just relax about food instead of logging every bite? I created my new MFP account wary of these potential pitfalls. But, since the app was free, I figured that I had nothing to lose.

It’s been about four months now that I’ve been logging into MyFitnessPal more or less daily. I’ve loved it! Here are the five things that set me up for success rather than obsession this time around the block.

1. Take MFP’s  Calorie Target as a Suggestion, Not Law.

When you set up your account, MyFitnessPal will ask you for your height, current weight, activity level, goals, and a few other things to generate a number of how many calories you should eat each day. I think the number they give is based on sound science and statistical averages, so it’s a good place to start, but it’s not the eleventh commandment. I have occasional “hungry days” where eating my target amount doesn’t feel like enough. Even if I’ve eaten healthy meals and snacks that line right up into my assigned calorie budget, some evenings I find my stomach literally growling because apparently my body and baby are demanding MORE FOOD NOW!

When that happens, I don’t give myself a blank check to eat cupcakes. But I do choose a healthy snack and eat it without guilt. I do think the calorie amount MyFitnessPal generates is a good target to generally stick to. However, if my body sends the loud-and-clear message that it needs more fuel, I go over. And I don’t worry about it.

2.  Be Really, Really Picky About Who You Add as MFP Friends

The single best thing about MyFitnessPal, in my opinion, is the chance it gives you to become “friends” with other users. You can create for yourself a little community of people whose updates appear in your news feed. When I joined this time, I eagerly added as many friends as possible. I figured that the more support, the better. What I found after a few days, though, is that you want to be a complete snob about who you select for your feed. Why? Because having friends with similar goals and methods of losing weight is absolutely essential.

Right now I’m pregnant and intentionally gaining weight, which means I’m eating a fairly generous amount of calories each day. Being friends with someone who is eating 1200 calories a day on a quest to lose 70 lbs isn’t helpful for me. Even if that low calorie intake happens to be legitimately healthy for that particular person, it isn’t for me. Every time I would see a status of someone bemoaning how “they went way over on calories today” by eating a few hundred calories LESS that what I was shooting for daily stressed me out. It would mess with my head and make me start wondering if I should be eating less too.

So, I went through the dozens of friends I initially added and screened them pretty critically. Was this friend eating around the same amount of calories I was shooting for each day? Did their posts and profile pictures reflect that they were interested in true health as least as much as they were in appearance? Were their weight goals (lose vs. maintain vs. gain) similar to mine?


I ended up with a much smaller friend group. It was made up almost entirely of pregnant and brand-new moms. For the most part, my MFPs are girls who began pregnancies at a healthy weight, are/were aiming for a 25–35 lb gain over pregnancy, and who generally eat north of 2000 calories a day. In short, they’re a lot like me!

These ladies are positive, kind, and inspiring. Their comments and attitudes reflect what I’m trying to be, and I’m grateful that I can pull out my phone and vent to them on hard days or share my accomplishments when I’ve done something, big or small, in my eating and exercise that I’m proud of.

They’ve been a powerful support system for me. But again, being a picky, picky friend snob is absolutely key. Whatever your situation and goals are, fill your feed with only positive, healthy friends whose goals and situations are similar to yours.

3. Save Meals and Recipes as Often as You Can

I’m a mom of two little kids. I’m not willing to spend my entire day on my app doing math and entering in each bite of food individually. But I was surprised to find how quick and easy it is to log food on MyFitnessPal with the saving meals and recipes function.

How does that work? Essentially, you have to take the time to enter in individual items in a meal just once. Then you can name and save that group of items for use in the future. For example, one of my standard breakfasts is a wheat bagel, 2 eggs + 1 white scrambled and topped with cheese, and a small bowl of fruit. I entered in that in once and saved it as “Bagel/Egg/Fruit Breakfast.” And from now on I can now check one box and MFP adds all those items at once for me. Ta-da!

I found that after the first week or so of entering in groups of foods I tend to eat together, using MyFitnessPal is not time-consuming at all.


4. Don’t Let Yourself Exercise Off Calories So You Can Eat More

This sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. MyFitnessPal gives you extra calories to eat based on if you exercise. Makes sense, right? Go for a walk that burns 200 calories and you should be able to eat back those 200 calories.

But what I found was that when I entered my exercise that way, I would rationalize a piece of pie by saying I’d just toss in “an extra little workout in the evening.” I’d then find myself feeling obligated to crank out an hour on my elliptical machine to work off the pie, even if I was exhausted by the day’s end or really didn’t have time for it.

Doing this on repeat meant I was regularly both eating too much and exercising too much. It left me chronically sore and short on sleep, even though according to the calorie math I was doing just peachy.

So what do I do instead? I simply add an extra 150 calories daily to MFP’s recommended amount for me to account for the fact that I do burn calories through my workouts. MFP is right in that you should take exercise into account as you calculate how much to eat each day. But I find that subtracting exercise based on individual daily workouts rather than an average led to justifying both overeating AND overexercising. Does that make sense?

So absolutely pad your recommended calorie target a bit to account for your exercise. Thats healthy. But don’t let entering daily workouts get you into a potentially unhealthy pattern.

5. Be Okay with Flexibility and Guesstimating

This last one may be the most important of all. MyFitnessPal is a great tool. But remember: it’s not an exact science. And it’s unrealistic for you to expect it to be. For example, today for lunch I had a veggie burger with some chips and snap peas. I entered in ketchup as one of my items because I did have ketchup on the burger, and I specified a teaspoon as a guesstimate for how much ketchup I used.

Did I pull out a measuring spoon to get the ketchup quantity exactly right? Heck no! Ain’t nobody got time for that! I make peace with the fact that I’m logging to be accountable and aware of what I’m eating, but I don’t need everything to be perfectly precise.

I have also made peace with some meals being impossible to log. For instance, we eat dinner at my parents’ one or two Sundays a month. My mom makes fabulous meals that I have no idea how I could accurately log short of asking her for her recipes and then bringing along my own measuring cups, which would be totally weird. Mark and I will also occasionally eat out somewhere that isn’t a large chain and doesn’t have to provide nutritional data on their menu items. How should you MFP that?

In those cases what I typically do is enter a “dummy meal.” I search the MFP database and guesstimate a meal as a placeholder for the meal I know I can’t accurately log. And then I simply go into that meal with the goal to eat one normal-ish plate of whatever’s available. I’m almost certainly off a few calories in either direction, but that’s just not the end of the world. Plus, I’m willing to bet it all averages out in the end. It’s a classic case of understanding that health isn’t just about nutritional data but about being realistic and balanced with yourself mentally and emotionally as well.

Any other MyFitnessPal users out there? I’d love to get comments on how YOU leverage all the awesome this app has to offer while sidestepping the potential pitfalls.