The football season has officially begun. Many people spend this time of year maneuvering between watching their favorite sport and watching their own waistlines. And whether you actually care about the game, or if you're only interested in the tailgate parties and other festivities, you should care about what you eat. I sometimes say that a single day of eating whatever you want is OK, but that doesn't work for football season, in which there are many, many game days.
Follow these tips, and you'll survive the season feeling more like an athlete than a couch potato.
• Definitely do not go to a game hungry. If you're leaving early in the morning to get a good tailgating spot, make sure to eat breakfast. If you're going to an afternoon game at a sports bar or friend's house, grab a snack before you walk out the door. The more satiated you are to begin with, the easier it is to resist temptation later.
• Squeeze in some fitness before the kickoff. Whether it is a brisk 30 minute walk, a workout at the gym, or a yoga class – do something that makes you feel that your body is a temple and not a garbage disposal.
• Plan ahead, and have your kitchen stocked with healthy foods. This way, if all else fails, you can get easily back on track nutritionally the next day.
• Pizza: At the pizzeria, ask for the pie to be cut into smaller slices than what's typical, or do it yourself before serving. Also, make your pizza an opportunity for healthy toppings, such as broccoli, spinach and artichoke, in lieu of artery-clogging fats, such as pepperoni, sausage and meatball.
• Subs: There's nothing easier than serving a sandwich at game time. Instead of white-flour, doughy breads with high-fat and high-sodium deli meats, choose 100 percent whole-grain sliced breads with fresh turkey or grilled chicken, avocado and lots of veggies. Cut the sandwiches in quarters to keep portion sizes in check.
• Chili: As the temperature starts to drop, nothing is more enjoyable than a hot bowl of chili. This year, try making yours with either very lean ground sirloin, skinless ground chicken or turkey. Add more beans than chopped meat, and load it up with veggies. Ladle the chili into cup-size portions instead of bowlfuls, and top it with low-fat sour cream instead of the full-fat variety.
• Hotdogs, hamburgers and bratwurst: Sure, everyone loves the typical barbecue fare, but haven't they been enjoyed all summer long? This time, when firing up the grill, think outside the box. Try grilled chicken and veggie skewers, sliders of ground sirloin (instead of full hamburgers of ground chuck), portobello mushroom burgers and even some grilled fruit. Yes, grilled pineapple is delicious.
• Chicken wings: While chicken wings are probably popular in terms of game time foods, they're not so popular in terms of calories. If completely switching to the chicken skewers mentioned above sounds disappointing, throw chicken wings on the grill. After seasoning them with a little salt and pepper, olive oil and your favorite barbecue sauce, those typical fried wings might soon be forgotten.
• Chips and dips. It's hard to keep from grazing (and racking up the calories) when there are abundant amounts of chips and pretzels at your fingertips. Turn grazing into something positive by serving tons of raw veggies. Include a tasty low-fat dip or hummus that even the veggie-averse would love. For the die-hard chip lovers, serve baked chips instead of fried, and provide salsa for dipping. I do love guacamole, but if you know you love it too much and tend to be a double-dipper, than I would try and avoid it.
• If you're up for whatever is on the game day menu, eat what is served – just eat less of it. And if you know this is going to be a weekend routine for a while, then perhaps you should become a little pickier with what you eat.
• Halftime should not be synonymous with overeating or over-drinking. This is the perfect time to get up and stretch your legs (which doesn't mean walking to grab another beer).
• Assess how much you ate during the first half of the game, and decide your next move. This can help determine whether you personally come out a winner or a loser when the game is over.
• Take this as an opportunity to chat with the people you're watching the game with. It's much easier to talk without a mouthful of food.
• The bottom line that is even if you ignored every one of these tips on game day, it's behind you now. Feeling guilty about your food and beverage choices doesn't make anything better.
• Your postgame mantra should be "back on track." Resume your healthy eating and exercise routine. Or hopefully, congratulate yourself on a day well done.
• Gear up for next game day. Hopefully both you and your team will win.
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Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist, media personality, spokesperson, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans's expert nutrition advice has been featured in Glamour, Fitness, Health, Self and Shape, and on national television and radio, including The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, ABC News, Primetime, and Sirius/XM Dr. Radio.