Getting and staying fit is a long-term commitment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t kick-start a weight loss plan and shed a few pounds in a pinch.
Whether you’re trying to get a head start on a healthier 2020 or you just want to look a little more svelte for your office holiday party, you can drop some poundage while staying healthy — no crash diets or weird cleanses required.
Here are some common-sense tips to a trimmer bod on-demand… well, almost.
Put down the croissant and listen up: Turns out there’s some science to the idea of cutting down on starches and sugars, especially in the short term.
For starters, according to a 2007 study, cutting carbs may help you feel less hungry, which means you’ll eat less overall. The low carb regimen made famous by Instagram (#keto, anyone?) isn’t anything new. In fact, keto is basically next-gen Atkins.
The first rule of keto? Fat is your friend. The second (and much harder) rule? You can’t eat more than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.
If you keep carbs to a bare — and we mean BARE — minimum, your body doesn’t have enough glucose to burn for energy, so it burns stored fat for fuel instead. (Boom goes the dynamite!)
Some of that fat also gets turned into chemicals called ketones that help supply energy to your brain.
So while butter is definitely on the keto menu, bread is most certainly not. While it may be hard to believe, research has shown that a diet high in fat and protein is more effective for weight loss than a low fat diet.
If you really commit, it’s not uncommon to lose up to 10 pounds of water weight and body fat in the first week of a keto diet. (More on water weight later.)
But keep in mind that keto is not for everyone, and you should chat with your doctor or nutritionist before embarking on a very low carb diet.
When it comes to low carb meal planning, keep it simple with the following formula: protein + fat + low carb veggies = success.
The importance of packing in the protein can’t be overstated. Aside from the fact that it keeps you from getting hangry, a 2002 study found that eating enough protein can boost metabolism by 80 to 100 calories per day.
Here are some protein-packed foods to nosh on:
- Eggs. Don’t toss the yolks, either!
- All kinds of meat. Beef, pork, chicken, lamb, turkey — the works!
- Fish and seafood. Shrimp, cod, salmon, tuna — the underwater world is your oyster. Also, oysters!
As far as vegetables go, you’ve gotta be a bit more picky, but you can still feel more than full on less than 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day. Pass on starchier ones like potatoes, squash, and carrots and go for more fibrous options.
You’ll get the most bang for your nutritional buck (not to mention bigger portions) out of veggies like:
- leafy greens
- brussels sprouts
And when it comes to fats, just make sure they’re natural and non-hydrogenated.
Here are some essentials to stock up on:
- coconut oil
- olive oil
- avocado oil
Another tip: Steer clear of packaged foods and premade sauces, which may contain hidden sugars. All in all, just keep it simple in the kitchen and experiment with fresh herbs and spices.
Who knows — cutting back on all the processed extras in your diet may have the bonus effect of adding weight to your wallet while you lose some on the scale.
While giving your diet a serious low carb #GlowUp can make the pounds melt away all on its own, you can fast-track your results by adding some exercise to the mix. Hit the gym — more specifically, the weight rack.
Keep in mind that if you’re new to weight training, you may want to seek out a trainer for a few pointers.
Lifting weights helps boost your metabolism, which can take a hit when you’re losing weight. According to a 2008 study, it also helps preserve fat-free body mass (i.e., muscle), which burns more energy at rest than your wobbly bits.
For the best results:
Make room for some gym time 3 or 4 times per week. If weight training isn’t for you, try to fit in some cardio in the form of jogging, cycling, running, or swimming.
HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is another way to supercharge your fat-burning potential.
Think of it as short and extreme bursts of cardio. It not only revs your metabolism and stimulates your fat-burning hormones but also taps into the carbs stored in your muscle tissue.
Try to incorporate HIIT into your workout plan three or four times per week. According to a 2006 study, 5 to 10 minutes can be five times more effective than the same amount of regular cardio. So no more excuses about not having the time to work out.
To get the most out of HIIT, you’ve gotta give it your all. Commit to sprints that are about 30 seconds long. You can do HIIT running outside, in place, or on any type of cardio machine.
Here are a few ways to break down your workouts:
- Workout 1: 20 x 10-second sprint with 20 seconds rest
- Workout 2: 10 x 20-second sprint with 40 seconds rest
- Workout 3: 7 x 30-second sprint with 60 seconds rest
- Workout 4: 15 x 15-second sprint with 30 seconds rest
Just like weight training, HIIT packs a punch when it comes to knocking off the pounds. Whether you stick to one or combine the two, these forms of exercise come with the added benefit of boosting your metabolism and burning fat more efficiently.
Simply saying no to carbs will help your body retain less water. Less sugar in your bloodstream means lower insulin levels, which signals your kidneys to pump out excess sodium and water in your body, so you can say buh-bye to bloating.
But there are some other things you can do to wring yourself out.
For starters, a 2009 study found that dandelion extract has diuretic effects. Coffee is another way to beat bloating, as long as it’s not decaf. Your regular cup of joe is a healthy source of caffeine, which can help you lose excess water and burn fat to boot.
Lastly, watch out for food intolerances. If you have a less-than-friendly relationship with gluten or lactose, these dietary triggers can increase water retention and make you look puffier than you otherwise would.
While starving yourself is a definite no-go, a quick break from food in the form of intermittent fasting can help you lose weight and improve your metabolism.
There are a few ways to do intermittent fasting, but some popular methods include fasting for 14 to 16 hours a day or doing a 24-hour fast once or twice a week.
There’s one obvious reason intermittent fasting works: You wind up eating less. However, it also triggers hormonal changes that make it easier to lose weight, like lowering your insulin levels and increasing growth hormone and fat-burning norepinephrine.
Depending on your lifestyle and any underlying health conditions, intermittent fasting may not be a suitable option for you, and one type of plan may prove more effective for you than another.
Here are 10 sensible tips to help you maximize your efforts and stay on track:
- Hit snooze when you can. Getting enough sleep is absolutely key to maintaining a moderate weight.
- Protein-packed mornings. Research has shown that eating protein for breakfast can keep you from getting a case of the hangries later in the day.
- Don’t speed-eat. Eating slowly can make it easier to tell when you feel full, so you eat less overall.
- Make it a single. Scaling back on alcohol is a simple way to consume fewer calories — plus, you’ll avoid the less-than-optimal food decisions that may occur when you’re tipsy.
- Scale back on soda and juice. Consider sugary drinks your sworn enemy if you’re trying to lose some weight.
- Hydrate. Drinking water half an hour before meals can help you feel more full and eat less when you’re at the table.
- Keep tabs on the scale. Research has shown that daily weigh-ins can help people lose weight and keep it off. But don’t obsess over it — a little variation from day to day is normal.
- Stay calm. Stressing out can cause weight gain, especially if you seek comfort in not-so-healthy foods. Stress also increases the amount of cortisol in your body, which can contribute to weight gain.
- Fill up on fiber. Getting enough soluble fiber from food or even in supplement form can reduce body fat, especially around your middle.
- Track yourself. Staying on course with an eating and exercise plan can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you’re busy. Investing in a fitness tracker may help you stay organized and track your progress.
If you stick to a low carb plan, you can lose quite a bit of weight (5 to 10 pounds) in the first week, with smaller but progressive drops each week after that. Keep in mind: The more weight you have to shed, the more you’ll lose and the faster you’ll lose it.
Making the switch to a low carb diet can be a bit of a biological roller coaster at first. If you start to feel a bit under the weather at first, you may be dealing with “keto flu.”
Some common symptoms include headache, nausea, fatigue, decreased physical performance, poor sleep, and increased hunger. The good news is that this lasts only a few days, until your body adjusts.
Once you get over any bodily humps, it’s smooth sailing across an ocean of health benefits that extends far beyond the horizon of weight loss.
Some added benefits of following the aforementioned tips include:
- lower blood pressure
- lower blood sugar
- a reduction in small, dense LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff)
- an increase in HDL cholesterol (the good stuff)
- lower triglycerides
Before you embark on any weight loss journey, it’s important to take into account your lifestyle, your preexisting conditions, and any medications you’re taking.
For peeps with diabetes, any sweeping changes to your diet could affect your insulin levels, which are priority number one. So it’s best to talk to your doc before doing anything drastic.
An aside about metformin and diabetes
Speaking of diabetes, if you have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, metformin (a medication that helps you burn more calories when you exercise) could help you double down on your weight loss strategy.
In fact, some doctors may prescribe metformin for weight loss in people without diabetes, but this is considered an “off-label” use and isn’t approved by the FDA.
Like any medication, metformin comes with risks and potential side effects, especially if you have underlying kidney or liver problems or if you drink more than your share of alcohol while taking it.
To be crystal clear, the goal of metformin is to control blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes — who are really the only people who should be taking it. The healthiest and most sustainable way to lose weight is to get active and eat healthfully.
In a #selfie culture obsessed with broadcasting how “good” you look at every conceivable moment, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy relationship with your weight and your body.
That’s why it’s extra important to be kind to yourself and appreciate your body. You’re the same amazing human at any weight, and beauty really does come in all shapes and sizes. Plus, good looks can come at a price, but health is absolutely priceless.
Even if you want to drop a few pounds, make sure you do it while loving your body every step of the way. Letting superficial insecurities or small setbacks get the best of you can derail your motivation, so keep those negative thoughts in check!
Here are a few ways to overcome a body-shaming spiral:
- Don’t follow any social media accounts that make you feel less than awesome about yourself.
- Know that just because you think something negative about your body doesn’t mean it’s true.
- Practice gratitude for all the awesome things your body can do.
- Don’t be a wallflower because of your weight. Hiding yourself only feeds the shame monsters in your head!
Whether you’re trying to lose 3 pounds or 30, no number on the scale is worth more than your health and well-being. With healthy food choices and a little sweat, you can achieve your weight loss and fitness goals in both the short and long term.