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Five tips for making better bad Mardi Gras decisions

Mardi Gras is near, which means it's time for cheer, beer, and that neutral ground spot we hold so dear. But that doesn't mean you should let Fat Tuesday literally live up to its name.

During Carnival, we often tend to fill up our stomachs as much as our bead bags. Between the non-stop revelry of parties and parades, it can be challenging to maintain a healthy diet and fitness plan. So what can you do? You can let it all hang out, or you can put a few reasonable strategies in place to keep yourself from embodying the "Fat" in Tuesday. Realistically, you’re going to make some not-so-healthy decisions, so here are five ways to make better bad Carnival choices:

Yes,you're going to eat king cake. But how you do it helps take the fat out of Fat Tuesday.

Yes, you're going to eat king cake. But how you do it helps take the fat out of Fat Tuesday.

1) Eat Early and Eat Wisely

In order to make it to the parade route, we often head to the neutral ground straight from work, with maybe a quick stop at home to put on a purple, green and gold crawfish polo. This usually means missing an evening snack and definitely means missing the opportunity to prepare a healthy dinner. Before you head out, grab an apple, Greek yogurt cup, or sandwich made with lean protein (prepared in advance, so you can grab and go) to avoid the urge to splurge on that box of Popeye’s chicken your friend brought to the parade.

2) Breakfast or Bust

You’ve heard it before -- Mardi Gras is a marathon, so it’s important to start your day with calories to get your digestive system started, your metabolism humming, and your ghrelin and leptin (the hormones that regulate your food intake) levels balanced so you make it through the finish line without tackling a young child to steal his or her cotton candy.

And just because it’s Carnival doesn’t mean you can sprinkle your Wheaties with leftover King Cake sugar. Remember, breakfast should always be low in sugar, high in protein, and consumed within an hour of waking.

3) Slow Down to Go Down

Health studies have indicated that humans are usually able to satisfy sugar-cravings within 10 to 12 minutes of consumption. Keep your king cake addiction in check by taking three minutes between each bite of cake so your brain can catch up with your stomach. This will enable you to leave most of the king cake on the table and subsequently cause you to feel better about your will power, your self-discipline, and your waistline. You'll also avoid being the jerk at the party who's monopolizing the coveted pastry.

4) Sip Sparingly and See Clearly

How many calories are lurking in that daiquiri go-cup that you refill a few times throughout the day? A couple of cocktail facts to consider: a go-cup full of Margarita mix and tequila can include up to 500 calories; a typical Bloody Mary on the parade route can reach 400 calories, and no, that does not make it an adequate meal replacement. Being mindful of both what you’re drinking and how much of it will not only prevent you from packing on a Mardi gut, but also decrease the likelihood that you’ll end up in an NOPD trailer!

An easy swap: Replace that margarita mix with a couple of fresh squeezed limes and reach for that bottle of seltzer water instead of the tonic and your hips will thank you.

5) Walk the Talk

We’ve all been there -- on the parade route, staring at the same masked super-krewe riders for 20 minutes because a tractor has broken down. Instead of complaining, haggling for more beads, or burning your eyes with the same view for who knows how long, use the opportunity to crunch in your daily exercise. When the floats stop rolling, you start walking.

And don’t forget to Mardi Gras Mambo whenever you get the chance.

Good times, much like good lives, start with setting goals, forming a plan of action, and then executing. Setting fitness and health goals doesn’t have to rob you of a fun and free Mardi Gras. Moderation is the key to living in New Orleans, partaking in Carnival, and still prioritizing your health and wellness.

Nolan Ferraro is a New Orleans-based personal trainer and wellness coach, recognized as the Best Personal Trainer by locals in Gambit's Best of New Orleans awards in 2010, 2011, and 2012 and honored in Gambit’s “40 Under 40.” Nolan's fitness studio Salire was also recognized in 2011 as the #1 Fitness Boot Camp.  Nolan will launch a new group exercise program in March, “Power in the Park,” a month-long fitness boot camp in City Park.