A nutritionist explains what to do if you ‘cheated’ on your healthy diet this 4th of July

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If there’s nothing more American than apple pie, it doesn’t seem very patriotic to abstain from it on the 4th of July.

Nichola Whitehead, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, says that’s perfectly ok. Eating healthy is about making a lifestyle commitment that you can maintain for life. That means that the occasional “indulgence” — a perfectly charred burger or a slice of apple pie — is just fine, even if you know you’ve already had too much.

“It’s alright to overeat occasionally,” Whitehead told Business Insider.

That means that during a holiday barbecue or weekend ice cream outing, it’s ok to “cheat” on your healthy eating plan. Problems don’t typically arise until you start to revert to unhealthy eating habits repeatedly.

So, if you splurged on three different desserts this Independence Day and you find yourself consistently craving sweets after meals over the next few days, try having a piece of fresh fruit, drinking more water, or going for a walk instead.

“It’s overeating consistently day in and day out over the long term that causes weight gain,” she said.

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Keep in mind, too, that if you’ve managed to switch from subsisting on burgers and pastries to a diet that’s based mainly around vegetables and whole grains, you’ve already done the majority of the work. If you’ve been eating this way for a while, your body may have already begun to self-regulate, said Whitehead.

“If you overeat one night you’ll probably be less hungry the following day” she said. “So it’s really important to listen to your body.”

That involves taking the time to pay attention to cravings and especially to what Whitehead calls “triggers” — factors in your environment that might make you want to eat even when you aren’t hungry. “Being aware of what you’re craving is important. Are you craving chocolate because you’ve just seen it? Do you just need to relocate or move the chocolate inside a cupboard? Are you feeling emotional about something? Do you need to talk with your friends or maybe take a walk instead?”

Eating healthy over the long term involves noticing these cues and doing your best to follow them most of the time. That said, it’s still acceptable to override them every once in a while.

“It’s what you’re doing over the long term that’s really going to make a difference,” says Whitehead.

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