6 Summer Diet Traps That Pile on the Pounds

PHOTO: potato salad
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It has been sweltering throughout much of the U.S., and while high temperatures and humidity can lead to eating light, hot weather can also result to unconsciously taking in hundreds of excess calories. Here are six major calorie traps you may unknowingly fall into while attempting to chill out–and what to reach for instead.

Summer Diet Traps

Choosing Calorific Salads

A garden salad is a natural choice on a hot day, but between dressing and toppings like cheese, nuts, avocado, and dried fruit, even healthful salads can pack as many calories as hearty hot dishes. For example, a Seared Ahi Salad at PF Chang's contains 740 calories, 130 more than Shrimp Lo Mein. At CPK, a full portion of BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad with avocado contains 1,280 calories, 220 more than The Original BBQ Chicken Pizza with bacon. And at Chili's, a Quesadilla Explosion Salad contains at 1,360 calories, 30 more than a Classic Bacon Burger – including the fries!

How to Lighten Up

When dining out, check out the nutrition facts online in advance, as well as a description of the meal, so you can plan some strategic omissions. A great rule of thumb is to avoid doubling up on similar ingredients. For example, the Chili's salad includes both corn relish and corn tortilla strips. It's also topped with shredded cheese, in addition to cheese quesadilla wedges.

To avoid overload, pick your favorites, and forgo the can-live-withouts.

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Summer Diet Traps

Too Many Calorie-Dense Chilled Dishes

Chilled dishes like coleslaw, as well as tuna, chicken, macaroni, pasta, and potato salad are lunchtime and picnic staples throughout the summer. But when consumed together, the calorie content in even small portions can add up fast. A half cup serving each (about the size of half a tennis ball) of tuna salad, potato salad, and coleslaw can clock in at over 500 calories, 80 more than a fast food meal of chicken nuggets and small fries.

How to Lighten Up

In my book, the quality of what you put in your body is the most important consideration, so I'm not saying that homemade salads are just as bad as fast food. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't strive for balance. For example, if you use mayo or an oil-based vinaigrette in one dish, opt for lighter ways to season your accompaniments.

Dress tuna with balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, and dried Italian herbs. And for a creamy coating, try hummus or mashed avocado–two tablespoons of each contain about 50 calories, compared to 90 in just one tablespoon of mayo.

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Summer Diet Traps

Reaching for the Wrong Thirst Quenchers

Lemonade, sweet tea, smoothies, iced coffee drinks…they all tend to be summertime go-tos. But each is loaded with added sugar, which according to published research, won't fill you up. In other words, when you eat 250 calories worth of solid food, you tend to eat less of other things. But when you take in the same number of calories from a 20-ounce bottle of lemonade, those digits just get tacked onto the total, rather than displacing other foods. And in many cases, downing a frosty drink is like sipping dessert through a straw–a 16-ounce strawberry smoothie and a medium sized vanilla blended coffee drink each pack about 300 calories, the amount in a cupcake or glazed donut.

How to Lighten Up

The best beverage year round, but especially throughout the summer, is good old naturally calorie-free H2O. If you need flavor, choose healthy ways to spruce it up. Add fresh sprigs of mint, wedges of lemon, lime, or key lime, a bit of mashed in-season fruit, like berries or wedges of peach or apricot, fresh grated ginger, or organic citrus zest.

You can also add a small splash of 100 percent fruit juice, like white grape or apple (this also works great in unsweetened ice tea). And if you love bubbles, look for flavor-infused all natural seltzer or sparkling water–just make sure the only ingredients are carbonated water and natural flavor. If you're used to sweeter drinks, I promise, your taste buds will adjust. I've had clients who thought they'd never be able to get through a day without sugary drinks who now find them sickly sweet and completely unappealing.

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Summer Diet Traps

Cold Sandwich Carb Overkill

Packing a sandwich or wrap for lunch just makes sense in the summer. But if you spend the afternoon sitting at a desk, you may not be able to afford all those carbs. A sundried tomato or spinach wrap (which contain just a scant amount of veggies and are primarily made from white flour by the way) contain about 50 grams of carb, and two slices of artisan bread can easily pack 45 grams.

How to Lighten Up

I don't believe in no-carb diets, but I am in favor of matching your carb intake to your activity level. If it's going to be low in the hours after a meal, use outer Romaine or butter lettuce leaves in place of bread, or opt for an open-faced sandwich. One of my clients combined these techniques (bread on the bottom, lettuce on top) and loves the texture contrast so much she can't imagine eating a sandwich any other way.

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Summer Diet Traps

Chillin' Via Frozen Treats

For many, ice cream is a must eat in the summer, even if it's a vegan version made with coconut or almond milk. And while it is possible to sensibly build this splurge into a healthy diet, a lot of my clients get into the habit of enjoying it too often.

To burn off a pint a week from July through September, you'd have to spend an extra 25 hours on the elliptical. And froyo isn't much better–a medium portion of vanilla with no toppings contains about the same number of calories as a half-cup of premium ice cream.

How to Lighten Up

Whip up your own icy but lighter indulgences. Fill popsicle molds with vanilla almond milk, berries, and chocolate chips. Or dip a mini banana in melted dark chocolate, wrap in wax paper, and freeze.

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Summer Diet Traps

Cooling Off With Alcohol

Cracking open an ice cold beer is a summer custom. But knocking back just two regular 12 ounce brewskies three night a week means consuming an extra 364 carb grams between now and Labor Day, the amount in an entire loaf of bread.

How to Lighten Up

Go for light or ultra light beer, to save 7 and 10 grams of carbs per can or bottle respectively. And check out my previous post (about how to avoid summertime calorie bombs), which includes my recipe for satisfying, but skinny pina colada!

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's Health's contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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