Those living in the Northeast are all letting out a sigh of relief that winter is finally coming to an end. Yet the change of seasons is bittersweet for many people as a whole new stressor now enters their lives: the dreaded bikini season. You may have enjoyed spending the winter cozying up with your oversized sweaters and comfort foods, but it is now time to shed the winter weight and go into the summer feeling healthy and strong.
Putting on a little bit of “hibernation weight” is a normal adaptation to the cold weather and there is nothing wrong with wanting to get your “beach body” back just in time for the warm summer months. No matter what time of year you are trying to lose weight, it is important to know what to do and what not to do so that you can create healthy and permanent weight loss.
If you identify yourself as a chronic dieter, the first and most important step to weight loss is having a healthy mindset and relationship with food. So following the “do’s and don’ts” that follow might not necessarily be for you. As long as you have a “non-dieter’s” mindset, it is now time for a spring cleaning, not only of your closets but of your kitchen pantries!
Eat Breakfast: If you think that skipping breakfast will yield weight loss because you are decreasing your caloric intake for the day, think again. Getting in the habit of eating a morning meal is one of the best practices for weight loss and your overall health. Eating breakfast is attributed to reduced hunger pangs at lunch time (thus making it easier to avoid overeating), healthier food choices at each succeeding meal and increased energy. In hopes to shed weight, a lot of people turn towards fruit and vegetable juices to supplement a morning meal, but all this will do is spike your blood sugar and cause you to be hungry soon thereafter. Rather, focus on incorporating a combination of lean protein, whole grains, fruit and dairy into your morning meal to replenish your glycogen stores and get your metabolism going first thing in the morning.
Balance Every Meal: When people want to lose weight fast (as many people do right before summer begins), the first thing they do is eliminate foods or entire food groups. This belief of eating as little as possible to “get skinny” is only setting yourself up for disappointment. The truth is the best way to lose weight and achieve the summer body you desire is to include every food group and balance each and every meal with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats. This way, you will keep your metabolism working hard and fast to keep you on track with your weight loss!
Stay Hydrated: Though water isn’t some magical beverage that directly burns fat, staying hydrated by drinking water throughout the day is one of the best ways to get you looking and feeling your best. Many people tend to confuse thirst with hunger, which causes them to eat rather than drink. Go out and buy yourself a reusable water bottle that you can refill throughout the day so that you know you’re staying hydrated. Not only does hydration prevent overeating, but it also benefits your complexion, giving your skin a healthy glow throughout the summer months.
Eat as Whole as Possible: When putting together your meals and snacks, a great rule of thumb to always keep in the back of your mind is to fill your plate with as many “whole” foods as possible. So what does this mean? Whole foods are those that have not been or have been minimally processed, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fresh lean meats, nuts, seeds, legumes, milk and plain yogurt. Eating “as close to the ground” as possible is a great tip to follow to get your body in shape for the summer, which brings to me to my final beach body “do”.
Eliminate Processed Foods: Look around the supermarket and grocery stores and you’ll find aisles upon aisles of processed foods. These foods are loaded with sugar, fat and sodium and are a major culprit in weight gain. It might seem like a no brainer to avoid eating fast food and caloric meals out at restaurants when trying to shed pounds for the summer, but what you really have to watch out for are those processed foods on the supermarket shelves that are seemingly healthy. What I am referring to are packaged snack foods labeled as “fat free”, “100 calorie” snack packs, protein bars that are loaded with impossible to pronounce ingredients, and frozen “diet” meals that are often laden with sodium and processed junk. Rather than eating a protein bar, or eating a lot of “fat free” snacks, revisit beach body “do” numbers 2 and 4 and balance every meal with real, whole foods!
Succumb to Fad Weight Loss Programs: Keep in mind that the months right before summer is the best time for the weight loss industry to suck you into purchasing their programs. Why? Because you want results fast, and they know that there is nothing more convincing than displaying images of fit and toned men and women who used “their” program to be bathing suit ready. There is no doubt that everyone wants to look good on the beach or by the pool, but I can assure you that following a “beach body” diet is not the way you are going to get there. Yes, you may lose the weight fast, but what happens in the middle of July when you’ve been off that diet for a month? Achieving the body you love to show off during the summer will happen when you begin to making lifestyle changes you can carry with you year round.
Eliminate Foods or Meals: This common mistake is one made by thousands of people trying to lose weight. Restricting your caloric intake by eliminating certain foods or entire meals will only decrease your energy, slow your metabolism and lead to overeating. In the months before summer, really focus on tuning into your biological signals of hunger and satiety. Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you are satisfied. Focus on eating whole, balanced meals but don’t forbid yourself from having foods you love in moderation. The more foods you eliminate, the more foods you will over indulge in at a later time, which will prevent you from achieving a summer body you are proud to show off!
Exercise for the Wrong Reasons: When setting your summer body goal, you might envision yourself having a flat belly and toned muscles, all of which require exercise to achieve. Daily physical activity is an essential component of weight loss and building muscle, but exercise is often taken too far, especially if you have set a goal for yourself to look a certain way. Over exercising for the sole purpose of burning calories will cause exercise to be something you don’t necessarily want to do every day; it will become a dreaded activity for you. Instead, you want to change your attitude towards exercise to view it as a means to move your body, work up a sweat, and feel exhilarated. Strive for an hour of physical activity 5 days a week, whether at the gym, running outside, swimming, hiking or putting on a workout video in your living room. You want to focus on the feeling exercise gives you, not necessarily the visual effect it is having on your body.
Compare Yourself to Others: Often times, when people have an image in their mind of the summer body they want to achieve, it stems from what other people look like. In the society we live in, it is almost impossible not to compare yourself to others, whether it is the Victoria’s Secret model sporting the bikini you just purchased or peers showing off their bodies on social media. But learning to focus on your own progress, being happy in your own skin and comparing yourself to no one but yourself is one of the healthiest, most positive mindsets to have. There is nothing more beautiful than someone who is confident and embraces the body they were born with.
While you may feel that you only have a few short months to shed the winter pounds, don’t drastically alter your eating and exercise habits. If you notice that eating is no longer pleasurable and that exercise is taking too much out of you, it is likely that much of what you are doing falls on the “don’t” list. Be gentle with yourself and remember that a true beach body is one that is healthy and not achieved through drastic dieting and restriction!