I need an effective, short-term weight loss and toning plan
I am 18 years old and I am determined to lose a few pounds and tone my body by the end of May. I just began running and I'm starting off by running a mile and hope to work up to a four-mile run four or five days a week. My diet is generally a bowl of cereal in the morning, and a turkey or ham sandwich with some type of fruit and a bottle of water. Dinner is something different every day, but usually healthy. I also have been doing an ab workout for about seven minutes after I run. Is what I'm doing effective? What are your suggestions?
Bravo for incorporating physical activity into your schedule! Regular exercise increases energy levels, improves quality of sleep, and boosts self-esteem. In terms of the effectiveness of your routine, it's difficult to say. Losing weight and toning up is influenced by multiple factors, including height, weight, bone density, genetics, and previous exercise regimen. By "a few pounds," do you mean two or ten or more? When setting out to change your body, it's good to ask yourself if the change you are striving for is realistic. In terms of your desired outcome, first ask yourself, "is this a realistic goal for me?" If you are unsure, it is wise to consult a personal trainer, exercise physiologist, registered dietitian, or your health care provider.
Part of effectively setting and reaching a goal means establishing one, or several, measurement criteria. Are you using a scale to measure body weight? Are you measuring body/fat composition? Strength? Clothes size? Body image? It's key to keep consistent with your indicators to know if you are making progress. If you are using a scale to measure body weight (in pounds), keep a few things in mind:
- Muscle weighs more than fat.
- Women especially can be prone to minor weight fluctuations due to menstruation and other types of hormonal activity.
- Water, an essential nutrient for all sorts of body functions, can tip the scale one way or another.
You can also incorporate some basic guidelines into your plan that will help you maintain an active lifestyle:
- Start slowly and build over time. It is smart to start off with a goal of running one mile as a workout, with the intention of increasing distance over time. Many people drop out of their exercise program because they go too hard, too fast, too soon. Pacing yourself, especially at the beginning, will help you establish confidence, self-awareness, and a strong fitness base.
- Incorporate variety into your exercise and eating routine. Including different types of food and activity into your schedule will help to maintain enjoyment and motivation. You mention running and abdominal exercises — are there other types of activities you enjoy? Decreasing body fat and increasing toning or strengthening of muscle requires a balance of cardiovascular and strength training activities. Also, a wide variety of foods will help to ensure that your body is getting the nutrients it needs. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and think about decorating your plate as though it were a box of Crayola crayons; that is, aim for foods that are rich in color, such as blueberries, spinach, salmon, and tomatoes.
- Find a friend. Studies have shown social support plays a vital role in exercise motivation and sticking to an activity plan. Recruit friends and/or family to join you on a run, accompany you to lunch, or offer support.
- Get plenty of rest. Sleep deprivation often makes everything more challenging, and it is especially easy to skip exercise when you feel tired. Sleeping well may help you avoid that trap. Plus, the more you exercise, the more rest your muscles will need to repair and recover.
- Make it fun. Listening to music, running in the sunshine, or playing a rousing game with friends are all examples of ways to maximize fun and make physical activity something you look forward to and enjoy.
Maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet is an integral part of living a healthy lifestyle and achieving your weight loss goals. Here are a few great tips that may help you achieve your nutrition goals:
- Keep a food diary.
- Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in sugars.
- Eat smaller meals more often — this can help ward off hunger so that you won't overeat at your next meal. Healthy snack options include low fat yogurt, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and whole-grain crackers.
- Prepare smaller portion sizes.
- Eat your favorite foods in moderation to help stifle cravings and help you to stick to your diet.
- Avoid unhealthy fad diets.
- Eat slowly — this can help you feel more full and avoid overeating.
Above all, keep in mind that every individual is different. If you feel good about what you are doing and are making progress, keep going until you reach your realistic, healthy goal. You can do it!
Originally published May 21, 2004
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