By Caroline L. Young, MS, RD, LD, RYT
Tired, irritated, distracted and uncomfortable.
Those are four ways many of my clients feel when they’ve restricted food and/or gone on a diet – often before beach season hits. Can you relate?
As a registered dietitian, my hope is to help people learn or re-learn how to nourish themselves in a way that is physically, mentally and emotionally healthy.
Instead of going on a detox or a diet to get ready for the summer, I’d like to suggest a flip of script for this year’s beach season – a way of approaching it that will leave you feeling more confident, at ease, joyful and present.
1. Start on the inside.
In preparing for summer, much of what we hear and read is about focusing on the outside – on our appearance. While there is no shame in wanting to look a certain way, at the end of the day what really matters is how we feel on the inside. And the better we feel on the inside, the more that will show up on the outside!
To start on the inside this year, take some inventory of your overall wellness: How’s your sleep? Are you moving your body regularly? Is your eating relatively balanced and consistent? Are you staying hydrated? Are you going to the bathroom regularly?
Sleep not great? Start some sleep hygiene practice, like keeping electronics out of the bedroom, being consistent with a bedtime, drinking herbal tea and practicing some gentle yoga or stretching . Constipated? Increase your fluids and add more fiber  into your diet (whole grains, peanuts and peanut butter, and fruits and veggies). Not moving much? Pick something you enjoy doing and commit to at least a few minutes each day, to help get you started.
As you start to ask yourself these questions, notice if there are any areas that need some love, and know that all these aspects of our well-being affect how we feel (and look) on a regular basis. If you work on these factors before the summer starts, you’ll feel so much better once it’s here!
2. Practice body respect.
Body image is not about having the fittest or most societally acceptable body. In fact, body image is how you think and feel about your own appearance and how you feel within your own skin. Working on improving body image and feeling more at ease in your body can increase both physical and mental health .
So, in getting ready for this summer season, what if you shift from focusing on body size (yours and others) to focusing on body respect? If you think about it, hyper-focusing on yours or others’ bodies is not healthy and certainly does not feel good. It takes you away from what matters (for example, that vacation you’re finally taking after being quarantined last summer!) and keeps you from remembering all the functions your body provides for you.
If this is a new concept to you, try starting with moving through each body part and thinking about how it functions for you, and what you can do because you have that working body part. Try asking yourself, how can I care for and treat my body with respect, and work with my body this summer, instead of against it?
3. Prepare to protect your skin.
One form of body respect is certainly taking care of our skin, especially when we’re out in the sun more than usual.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “protection from UV rays is important all year, not just during the summer. UV rays can reach you on cloudy and cool days, and they reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow. In the continental United States, UV rays tend to be strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.”
So, when getting you and/or your family ready for the summer, stock up on sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher), sunglasses and hats. If you are heading to the beach, pack an umbrella and beach cover-ups or t-shirts .
4. Use mindfulness tools.
Did you know that 30 to 50% of people spend their lives thinking about either the past or future ?
If you think you are part of that group, try inserting mindful moments into your days, to help yourself move into the new summer season with a calmer mind and more presence. This can be as simple as pausing for a few moments throughout each day to take a few deep breaths and engage your senses.
Click here to learn more about mindfulness.
5) Add nutritious foods.
Summer diets and detoxes are all about cutting food (and even whole food groups!) out of our food intakes. Instead, try focusing on adding nutritious foods into your diet this year without cutting any of the five food groups  (fruits/veggies, protein, fat, dairy and grains) out. Here are some examples of how to add more nutritious foods from each food group to help you get ready for summer:
- Fruits & veggies: Add a vegetable to each lunch meal! This may be sneaking in some veggies on your turkey sandwich or putting a banana in your PB&J.
- Protein: Make sustaining snacks by including a solid protein source. Try making a simple trail mix with peanuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips and pretzels.
- Fat: Add a heart-healthy fat source to increase the nutrient density and satisfaction of your breakfasts. This could be serving your toast with avocado or your cereal with a spoonful of peanut butter (sounds a little weird but it’s delicious).
- Dairy: Add yogurt as an afternoon or evening snack throughout the week for a solid source of calcium, vitamin D and probiotics. Stir in a little peanut powder and top it with berries.
- Grains: Include more nutrient-dense, complex grains and starches, like sweet potatoes and whole grains, on your next grocery list and add them into meals throughout the week.
Whether you choose one or all five of these ways of approaching the 2021 summer season, you’re bound to feel better than going on a restrictive diet. Here’s to a summer of feeling good from the inside, out!