If you're anything like me, the end of winter tends to be the most lethargic and melancholy time of the year. Months on end of Netflix, red wine, and stretchy tights and knits have enabled your body to become a smushier version of what it was last summer. Even though I consider myself to be pretty healthy (I exercise regularly and watch what I eat most of the time), the end of winter usually calls for a body re-set to get in my best shape for the warmer months.
The topic of weight loss and weight management is controversial, probably because it touches close to home for nearly everyone. I believe that almost everyone has wanted to lose weight at some point in their life, and that maintaining a healthy body is a daily battle that we all struggle with from time to time. We're also prone to excuses, especially when we're not feeling great about ourselves. It's easy to look at people who are in great shape and attribute it to genetics or some freakish, mutant love of exercising, rather than taking stock of our own habits and choices and taking steps to change them.
When I feel like my smushy body needs to change, conventional dieting wisdom of 'eat less, move more' doesn't really work for me: my demanding job doesn't allow a lot of time for movement, and the concept of 'eating less' works as long as I'm not hungry. That said, I tend to do a lot of research on how to whip my body back into shape as quickly as possible, and then balance there going forward versus trying to do the loooooong game of making tiny changes that never yield results, or following a strict diet for months on end.
Because my "get back in shape ASAP" posts tend to be quite popular (such as this one), I thought I'd lay out my game plan for the next week in case you're trying to do the same spring / summer prep for your own body.
#1 Cut out all alcohol Sunday through Thursday
I never said that this would be fun. Before you stop reading entirely, remember that alcohol dehydrates your skin, ages you and is high in calories. Begin associating a glass of wine with wrinkles and fat, and you'll stop wanting your nightly Pinot Noir in no time. If you've got a nightly drinking habit, it helps a lot to replace your drink of choice with something healthier. I drink club soda out of a wine glass with dinner and relax with a piping hot mug of Sleepy Time Vanilla tea before bed.
#2 Eliminate all processed foods, dairy and gluten for the entire week
If you're thinking, "But Colleen, what am I supposed to eat?" then you are on the right track. Vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and nuts (in moderation) are all fair game. It's not fun, but it will be WORTH IT when your butt starts shrinking (because it will).
#3 Don't eat after 8 p. and go to bed by 10p.
This one is huge, because it prevents you from late-night snacking AND sets you up for eight hours of sleep to give you enough energy and willpower to stick to you healthy eating goals for the next day. Although on Instagram I've been hating on the guided meditation 'Breathe' app for failing me in traffic, I've been setting a timer for 9:45p. to do an 8 minute 'body scan' meditation that puts me in a trance where I can hardly keep my eyes open. Getting to sleep by 10p. is no longer a problem for me.
#4 Fast intermittently for at least two days
This basically means that I don't eat anything for an 18-hour period two or three times per week - an intermittent fasting cycle will last from 8p. through 2p. the following day. There are a lot of benefits, including giving your body a break from digesting so it can process cellular waste and resetting your appetite. (If you're interested in learning more about the benefits of IF, check out this post.) I do intermittent fasting on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays and cannot say enough for what it does for my weight management and general health. It takes a little getting-used-to, but is worth setting it up as a habit for the long haul.
#5 Plan out your meals
The absolute WORST thing you can do is end up hungry without a plan. Even in those situations where you don't have a plan or forgot to pack your healthy lunch, you should have a backup plan. My 'forgot my lunch and I'm starving' backup plan is a Jimmy Johns Turkey Tom Unwich, easy mayo, with a pickle on the side. I also have a stash of protein bars in my desk drawer for emergencies when I would otherwise hit the vending machine.
#6 Eat the same things every day
Otherwise known as "killing your appetite with boredom." For the most part, we all stick to a pretty limited rotation of foods. It's human nature to gravitate towards following a pattern. Hacking this element of human nature can help accelerate your weight loss goals, because it's establishes a meal routine that is healthy AND drives boredom which will lead you to eat less over time. When I'm trying to reset, I'll eat this exact diet pretty much every day:
· Breakfast: green tea, protein bar or shake
· Snack: apple
· Lunch: salad with protein and oil/vinegar dressing
· Snack: olives, pistachios or dried vegetables
· Dinner: vegetables with chicken or pork
· Dessert: two or three squares of extra dark chocolate, or a decaf coffee with almond creamer
Keeping snacks and dessert as part of this is important to me so that I don't go crazy after I switch to meals with more variety. By day 3, I'm usually skipping my snacks and eating just what I need to actually ward off my hunger. Saves calories, and time!
#7 Avoid snacking whenever possible
While we're on the topic, aiming to cut snacking out of your pattern is also extremely helpful tactic. Even snacks that claim to be healthy, like nuts, are going to slow you down. Avoiding snacking is the goal, but sometimes you've got to give in. Having healthy options on hand (like dried veggies or blueberries) in the event that you cannot control the monster inside of you begging for chips will keep you on track.
#8 Limit fruit
Fruit in small portions (e.g., peaches on your Greek yogurt) is fine, but remember that fruit has a lot of sugar that your body treats the same as the sugar in, say, a Snickers bar. Overdoing it on fruit will slow you down.
#9 Exercise strategically
I believe there is such thing as too much exercise, the kind of thing that stimulates your appetite and causes you to eat all your gains. Instead, exercise smarter: add 10-15 m. of cardio exercise every morning and add two sessions of 30 min weight training during the week. I either walk my dog, or do burpees, squat jumps, and run up and down the stairs of my townhouse to get this in, and then see my trainer for the weight sessions.
#10 Take the "broccoli test" every time you want to eat
Here's the test: when you feel that niggle of hunger or wanting to eat something, ask yourself this question: "Would I eat a plate of broccoli if that's all I had?" If the answer is no, then you're probably not hungry. This would be the time to have a cup of tea, a giant glass of water or a stick of gum.
#11 Drink 72 ounces of water per day
I start my day every morning with a glass of water with lemon, to take my supplements. Then I carry around one of those plastic reusable 16 ounce Starbucks water cups with a straw and make it a point to fill it four times. This much water is great for flushing your system, improving the look of your skin, and keeping hunger in check.
#12 Walk everywhere
To the grocery store, the pharmacy, the dry cleaner, etc. Those extra steps add up! This 'walk everywhere' mantra also helps me to get more done around the house. Taking out the trash, vacuuming, picking up the living room, putting away laundry, etc. all count as movement that burn calories.
#13 Attach a reward to your goal
As in, "I will allow myself to buy those gold Valentino flats the moment the scale says X or my old pants fit again." I use this tactic for dual purposes: to prevent myself from spending money, and to reward myself for meeting a goal. I also like to take these fabulous turquoise silk pants that I've owned forever and hang them front and center in my closet. They are the most unforgiving article of clothing that I own, and the prospect of fitting comfortably into them motivates me to stay away from bad eating habits.
Some people might think these tactics to weight loss and weight management are unhealthy, and I recognize that everyone has to find what that work best for them. These are the ones that work well for me personally, and I'm always looking for new ideas - would love to hear any of your tips and tricks!
P.S. Do you want to get to your ideal shape even faster? Click here to subscribe and download a free copy of my secret (and very controversial...) shortcuts to fast-track weight loss.