No more excuses. If you want to have a better beach body this summer, now’s the time to start working toward your goal. The only way to tone your body and keep the pounds off is by forming new healthy habits.
What people find most difficult when they set out to lose weight is the expectation of a quick fix, according to Angela Martindale, a celebrity nutritionist, fitness trainer, and Utah’s number one wellness coach. “Understanding that dedication and commitment to the process takes time and staying committed is often the biggest hurdle,” she says.
The first thing Martindale tells clients is that they need to commit. “Commit to a realistic goal, commit to the hard work it takes and commit to not giving up when it gets hard.”
Planning is important and the first week of a weight-loss program, which can be described as the most difficult, should be structured but incorporate healthy behaviors, Dr. Adams says. “I like my clients to gain momentum and confidence, so often the focus in the first few weeks is on regular eating, recognizing hunger, and maintaining minimum levels of activity daily.” If too much is expected in the beginning, a sense of having to be perfect will develop, and this always leads to failure, he adds. “Weight loss programs aren’t about being perfect; they are about being consistent.”
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Consuming protein for breakfast will set you up for success, Martindale says. “I teach my clients 30 in 30 – within 30 minutes of waking you should have up to 30 grams of protein. “You will stay satisfied longer, you will have energy and you won’t spike insulin and suffer from that low you may experience after sugar or carbs settles,” she adds. Making sure to have protein to jump start your metabolism is more important for sustainable energy and fat burning than eating a big breakfast that is improperly balanced.
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“Cravings are a normal part of human nature,” Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., CISSN, from Eat Right Fitness in Houston says. “No one is immune to them. This also means they should not be ignored.” When cravings are overlooked, this often leads to compulsive eating, binging, or other unhealthy choices. Learning to incorporate foods you crave in small amounts is a healthy way to keep your diet enjoyable without sabotaging your weight loss efforts, Dr. Adams adds.
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“People like feeling successful,” Maria A. Bella, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietician and founder of Top Balance Nutrition, says. “It's better to set a goal of losing 5 lbs. per month and then super-exceed that goal than to set a goal of dropping 10 in a week and feel like a failure when losing three. To me, a loss is a loss and that's a success.”
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When on a weight-loss plan, Dr. Adams suggests “casual days.” This is a day when your routine is different, like during the weekend perhaps, when you can eat a bit differently than on days you are following your weight-loss plan. “This doesn’t mean feasting on junk; rather it means to relax their diet a bit and don't think about every bite as being part of their weight-loss approach,” Dr. Adams says.
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Martindale says she checks on her hydration and makes sure she has water with her at all times, as often dehydration can mask as hunger. “Drink a tall glass of water before you start eating and then stop before you get full,” she adds. “If the urge to continue eating is all to consuming, put your napkin over your plate, push it away and get up and brush your teeth,” she adds. “This is my favorite trick.”
“Hypothalamus in our brain tends to confuse thirst and hunger,” Bella says. Herbal teas and some carbonated beverages count.
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“If someone doesn’t like to work out, I get them to make a list of activities they enjoy,” Dr. Adams says. Burning calories isn’t always about sweating in a gym, running endlessly on a treadmill, or having a trainer yell at you. “Incorporating healthy activities like yard work, gardening, and walking the dog can greatly increase calorie expenditure without seeming like an arduous task; but most importantly, it decreases dangerous sedentary time,” he adds.
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People rely too much on processed, low-calorie items. “Lean protein and produce are so low in calories that the weight starts coming off naturally once people switch to an unprocessed diet,” Bella says. “When it comes to sugar - not all sugar is created equal. I do not fear fruits and vegetables - just make sure to stay away from added forms of sugar.”
“Ultimately accountability must come down to the individual; however, in early stages, having someone else help with accountability can prove very successful,” Dr. Adams says. “Using a nutritionist, like myself, for regular check-ins can be very beneficial. Additionally, hiring a trainer or even just having a workout partner can help with consistency and accountability,” he adds.
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Portion size is very important. “Overeating is the leading cause of obesity,” Martindale says. “Eating smaller meals every 3 hours fuels your metabolism and prevents blood sugar spikes and drops,” she adds.
In scientific research, there isn’t a definitive conclusion whether small frequent meals 5-6 times per day are any better for weight loss than the normal “three squares” per day,” Dr. Adams adds. People have different schedules and appetite levels. This is important in putting together a customized approach. Between meals, snacks can help people who overeat their main meals, but this may lead to overconsumption for the entire day.
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Meals That Transform, of which Martindale is president, is a gluten-free brand, which prohibits bread on any meal plans. “We do not have the same, easily digestible wheat of yesterday, today,” she says. “We have wheat that is genetically and chemically treated for the most part, which means our digestive system is not only digesting the wheat itself, but the GMO's and chemicals used today as well. This combination has created a heightened sensitivity to gluten in many people, and with the added sugars and yeast in most breads, I find it to be an excess food."
“When I work with clients that are not currently exercising, the first thing we work on is consistency,” Dr. Adams says. “I don’t want them to focus so much [on] the details; I want them focusing on making exercise and activity a regular part of their daily routine.” For example, people should start with 30 minutes per day of exercise or moderate activity. But they must schedule this so it becomes a regular part of their day. “Again, living a healthier lifestyle is only achieved with consistent behavior, not binging on excessive exercise,” he adds.
Whether you choose to change two meals out of three and keep one meal per day as it used to be so changing everything at once is less of a shock, or you prefer to write out a weekly meal plan, make sure the changes include protein and fiber from fruits or vegetables with every meal and snack, Bella says. “Both suppress hunger and set you up for success.”
“Hydration is magic in the body,” Martindale says. Good hydration prevents bladder and kidney tract infections, skin issues, flushing free radicals and toxins out of cells. Drinking enough water helps you avoid headaches (hangovers anyone?) and balances the scales as it is a great market of true hunger vs. dehydration.
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“I recommend alternating workouts every day to give one part of your body time to repair, while the other is being utilized as the best method of specific gym fitness,” Martindale says. “I suggest some cardio and yoga everyday (20-25 minutes) either at the gym, outside, or as part of a hobby/class so the metabolism continues to work and your body can feel itself in movement.” If someone is making the transition to physical fitness after years of being sedentary, then they may need a customized plan that allows for the transition. “But I do not recommend people skip out on being active in a healthy lifestyle change or for weight loss,” she adds.
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“The number one bad habit I encounter with my weight-loss clients is living in ‘reaction’ mode, not ‘action’ mode,” Dr. Adams says. This means most people do not plan their weight loss efforts. Healthier habits are not built over night; they require planning. “Getting people to start each day thinking about what meals and snacks they need for the day, and how they are going to get these meals and snacks, instead of relying on convenience or fast foods, will help them stay in ‘action’ mode and make better choices,” he adds.
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Vegetable soups, roasted veggies, and even frozen dried snacks count, Bella says. “Make egg whites for breakfast with extra veggies or a frittata that can be heated up in the morning.” Another option is turkey roll-ups for a snack with extra veggies rolled inside. Lunch can be butternut squash soup with fat-free Greek yogurt mixed in for additional protein and creaminess without added saturated fat. For dinner, make roasted carrot or parsnip fries for dinner.
Many low fat options on store shelves still use chemical alternatives to natural sugar, so although they may say “less” sugar, they are equally unhealthy for your body, according to Martindale. “Utilizing local, organic honeys for your sweet tooth are a great alternative to additional sugar or chemical substitutes,” she says. The more education people have on how the body responds to what it is subjected to, the more people can eat because food is fueling the body, not just making you full, she adds.
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“I never like clients to reward themselves with food,” Dr. Adams says. “This creates an unhealthy relationship with food. I like clients to learn to have anything they want, in moderation.” He recommends people to have a 100-calorie snack of anything they want every day. However, they must really think about what they truly desire and not waste these calories. “100 calories isn’t going to ruin their diet or thwart their weight loss efforts,” he adds.
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A healthy rate of weight loss after the beginning stages are complete is usually around one pound per week, according to Dr. Adams. When a person reaches a plateau, which mean no weight loss or changes in body composition, Dr. Adams recommends several days of “casual eating” so people get their mind and body reconditioned from the grinds of a weight-loss plan. “I tend to encourage a few more calories on these casual days to possibly offset any metabolic adaptations that may have occurred. Then I help them get back on a weight-loss plan, usually with a bit more protein added to the mix.”
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When you reach a plateau, Bella suggests eating every four hours. “Every meal and snack should have lean protein and either a fruit or a vegetable. I do not like counting calories. Be aware that fats – oils, avocado, nuts – are very energy dense and you need to use caution when adding them to your meals.” Starches do not suppress hunger the same way protein does.