Want to shape up for summer? Don’t wait until the last minute. If you start now, you’ve got six weeks or so––plenty of time to see some serious results before swimsuit season starts.
Six weeks may sound like an eternity, but if you’re trying to get in get in shape for summer, you’ll want to get going right away. I’m nudging you now, because many people have the tendency to put this off. As in, “I’m going on a surfing trip next week, and I can’t be seen looking like this!” A crash diet to take off a couple pounds in a week might make you slightly less self-conscious in your board shorts. But if you really want to make some headway before swimsuit season, the time to start is now.
Here’s the thing: a safe and achievable rate of weight loss is about one or two pounds a week. In order to lose a pound in a week’s time, you need to tilt your calorie balance in the negative direction by about 500 calories per day. Now, a pound of fat stores about 3500 calories. If you burn up 500 of those stored calories every day for a week, you’ll lose about a pound of fat. Larger people can often tip the balance a little further, coming up with a shortage of 750 or even 1000 calories a day to lose a bit more quickly.
Depending on your body size, that means that if you start now, you could lose 5 or 10 pounds by early June, and that could be enough to give you a beach body by the start of summer. With a one-two punch of diet and exercise, six weeks is enough time to see some noticeable changes in your muscle tone and shape if you dedicate some serious time to your workouts.
The best way to create your calorie ‘shortage’ is with a combination of diet and exercise. Don’t try to just do one or the other. For one thing, if your calorie needs aren’t that high to start with, you may not be able to cut out 500 calories a day from your meals without cutting back too far. You shouldn’t go much below 1200 calories a day. If you try to cut too much, not only is it harder to pack all your nutrient needs into fewer calories, but you also may not have enough energy to exercise. Trying the ‘exercise only’ approach is tough, too, because it takes a lot of exercise to burn up 500 calories––like a solid hour of nonstop swimming.
Focus on eating the most ‘nutrient dense’ foods––those foods that give you the most nutrition for the fewest calories per bite. Vegetables top the list, followed by the lowest fat proteins (fish and shellfish, poultry breast, egg whites, fat-free dairy products, protein powder), then followed by fruit and then whole grains.
Make sure to include some protein at every meal and snack. It will help keep you from getting too hungry in between meals.
Cut back on your whole grains for the first week or two to give yourself a little head start. You don’t want to cut them out completely, but cutting back to just a serving or two each day can help you save a lot of calories. As long as you’re eating plenty of veggies and fruit, you should be getting enough carbohydrates to fuel your exercise.
Careful calorie counting is the key, but it’s often one of the hardest things to do. This is why meal replacement shakes work so well. They take the guesswork out of calorie counting, because you know exactly how many calories are in them. Have a protein shake made with milk and fruit for two meals a day, then focus on veggies and protein for your third meal. Keep your snacks small and protein-packed (like a protein bar or a small carton of Greek yogurt), and you’ll keep your calorie guesswork to a minimum.