Tweak your lifestyle
It’s a familiar story: You pledge to honor a daily elliptical routine and count every last calorie. But soon, you’re eating cupcakes at the office and grabbing happy hour mojitos, thinking, Oops, diet over.
There is a better way: Swap the all-or-nothing approach for one or two healthy switch-ups in your daily routine. “Doing this can lead to more weight loss than you ever imagined,” says Marissa Lippert, RD, author of The Cheater’s Diet.
In fact, we talked to readers who knocked off 10, 25, even 60 pounds with some easy tweaks. Borrow their slim-down secrets to transform your body the real-world way.
Get fit in five
“I try to fit in small bouts of exercise whenever possible, like doing jumping jacks or crunches during television commercials or dancing while washing dishes. This burns extra calories and keeps me from mindlessly munching in front of the TV. Now my clothes fit way better, and I’m more toned than ever.” —Megan Tiscareno, Hammond, IN
Skip the salty aisle
“I reached my goal weight after I stopped routinely buying snacks at the grocery store. If I wanted a bag of chips or a candy bar, I had to walk to the store to get it. That inconvenience usually made me ignore my cravings.” —Heather Del Baso, Worcester, MA
Have a 300-calorie breakfast
“I used to skip breakfast, but now I never go without. I always eat about 300 calories of a healthy mix of protein and whole grains. My go-to meal: a sandwich with natural peanut butter and apple butter. It keeps my hunger down so I snack less throughout the day. In a little over a year, I’ve shed 65 pounds.”—Bo Hale, Tulsa, OK
Kick the habit
“I quit smoking, and right away joined a gym and started working out with a personal trainer. There was no way I could exercise and feel healthy if I kept lighting up. I’ve already dropped 37 pounds in three months!” —Leila Fathi, Memphis, TN
Stock up on these
While there are heaps of good-for-you foods out there, some key ingredients make it a lot easier to meet your weight-loss goals. Next grocery store run, be sure to place Newgent’s top three diet-friendly items in your cart: balsamic vinegar (it adds a pop of low-cal flavor to veggies and salads), in-shell nuts (their protein and fiber keep you satiated), and fat-free plain yogurt (a creamy, comforting source of protein). “Plus, Greek yogurt also works wonders as a natural low-calorie base for dressings and dips—or as a tangier alternative to sour cream,” says Newgent. Talk about a multitasker!
Curb your sweet tooth
Got a late-night sugar craving that just won’t quit? “To satisfy your sweet tooth without pushing yourself over the calorie edge, even in the late night hours, think ‘fruit first,'” says Jackie Newgent, RD, author of The Big Green Cookbook. So resist that chocolate cake siren, and instead enjoy a sliced apple with a tablespoon of nut butter (like peanut or almond) or fresh fig halves spread with ricotta. Then sleep sweet, knowing you’re still on the right, healthy track.
Police your portions
Does your steak take up more than half your plate? Think about cutting your serving of beef in half. That’s because it’s best to try and fill half your plate with veggies or a mixture of veggies and fresh fruit, says Newgent, so that it’s harder to overdo it on the more caloric dishes (like cheesy potatoes or barbecue sauce–slathered ribs—yum!).
What you eat is only one part of the weight-loss equation. Diet alone might help you drop pounds, but you’ll have trouble keeping them off if you don’t exercise. And that’s not to mention the added benefits you’ll miss out on, from improved mood, to better sleep, to disease prevention. “The exercise has to be there,” says Jim White, a registered dietitian and personal trainer certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Most experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, most or all days of the week. Typically, 30 minutes a day offers disease-prevention benefits, while 60 minutes helps with weight maintenance. Working out for 90 minutes a day helps on both fronts – and melts additional pounds. Regular exercise also cuts the risk of heart disease and diabetes, improves blood pressure and cholesterol levels, promotes better sleep, and builds healthy bones, muscles and joints.
Consider these highlights of exercise research published in 2013:
• Among stroke patients, exercise was a more effective treatment than drugs, according to a study published in BMJ in October 2013. And for those who had suffered a heart attack, exercise after the incident was as effective as drugs in preventing early deaths.
• Pregnant women who exercise as little as 20 minutes three times a week can boost their babies’ brain activity. So say researchers at the University of Montreal, who presented their findings in November at the Neuroscience 2013 conference. Researchers tracked two groups of women: those who were given an exercise regimen, and those who were not. They recorded the newborns’ brain activity levels at 8 to 12 days of life and found that the babies of moms who exercised had more fully developed brains compared to babies whose moms didn’t work out.
• Only one in five adults in the U.S., or 20 percent, meet the government’s recommendations for the amount of weekly aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise. That’s according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in May 2013. Researchers found that, nationwide, about 50 percent of adults get the recommended amounts of aerobic activity – 150 minutes a week, if you’re working out at a moderate-intensity – and about 30 percent engage in the recommended muscle-strengthening activity.
Some diets offer specific exercise routines. For example, Jenny Craig members get programs tailored to their individual fitness level. The Spark Solution diet, mapped out in a book by the same name, provides daily workouts for the first two weeks, along with roughly 40 pages devoted to fitness, including photos to show how certain exercises should be performed, a workout “menu” with the number of calories various workouts burn and other practical fitness guidance. And while the Flat Belly diet doesn’t require exercise, the book does outline an optional plan, including workout descriptions, intensity and duration. It recommends cardio exercise to burn calories and shed fat; strength training to build muscle and boost metabolism; and core-focused exercises to tone and tighten the midsection.
Still, other diets provide less guidance, doing no more than suggesting, yes, you should exercise. If that’s the case, remember that physical activity need not be drudgery. Take a Zumba dance class, go hiking, jump rope or bounce on a trampoline. Try kayaking, Pilates or swimming; vigorous household chores and yard work count, too. (Washing your car for an hour will burn 204 calories, according to caloriecount.com; vacuuming burns 238 in the same amount of time.) For the best conditioning, switch up your routine every 12 weeks, including frequency, intensity and type. And avoid an all-or-nothing mentality: It’s better to take a 30-minute walk five times a week than to run half a marathon on just one day.