Summer means lots of time on the beach – and lots of opportunities for everyone to see that beach body you’ve been working on all winter. Unless, that is, your beach body is still in hibernation, and all the folks on the beach are going to see is cruel evidence of every slice of cake you had over the past nine months. Okay, don’t panic: here’s what you need to know about getting in shape this summer, plus a few tips for keeping your body happy when you get there.
At its core, losing weight is a pretty simple proposition: you just need to burn more energy than you take in. When we talk about energy in food, we’re talking about calories, so what you need is a classic calorie restriction diet plan.
Yes, what you eat matters, because eating nothing but Twinkies is bad for your health. But, believe it or not, eating nothing but Twinkies isn’t that important for your weight. In fact, a college professor once proved this by losing weight while eating nothing but Twinkies (obviously, he could not eat a lot of them). But the key to a good diet is to balance these two goals. You want to eat well, because you don’t want to die young. And you want to eat less, because you want to lose weight. Your beach body is going to rely on the latter, but don’t neglect the former. Seriously, you don’t want to be unhealthy.
How do you eat well? Well, try to eat a diet of “real” food – the stuff along the walls of your supermarket, not the processed stuff stacked in boxes in the aisles. If you want to get technical, start by tracking the three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. There’s a good chance there’s too much fat in your diet, and probably too many carbs, too. Calories are the most important factor in losing weight, but balancing your macronutrients will keep you as healthy as you’ll start to look, and may also help you feel full and energized.
Oh, and there are going to be some things you’ll want to avoid. Yes, it’s time to stop eating quite so much cheese and quite so many chips. And watch out for all of those calories you drink. Caloric sodas and slushies are just empty calories, and many Americans drink a huge percentage of their calories – never realizing that what they drink, rather than what they eat, is to blame for their weight. And public enemy number one here is – you guessed it – alcohol. Alcohol is incredibly caloric, and most of the calories are in the alcohol itself. So while sugary mixed drinks and big heavy beers add extra calories on top of the boozy ones, it’s not like shots are calorie-free – they’re actually quite caloric for their size, and they’ll add up. Cut back to lose weight (and if you ever feel like you have a problem with alcohol addiction, do your body the ultimate favor and seek out AA meetings in your area).
So your weight loss formula is just calories in, calories out. Eating less takes care of the first thing – there’s no trick, no fad diet, just good old fashioned calorie restriction. But what about calories out?
Well, that’s up to you. If you already exercise, that’s great – if not, start right now. Start with two or three days of exercise a week, and try to get to six or seven. Start with a half hour of exercise in each session, and try to work your way to an hour. Eventually, exercise will become a part of your routine – and losing weight will get a lot easier.
What you do for exercise is completely your own choice. Some people run, while others bike. Lifting weights is a great option, too – muscle needs calories to stick around, so every bit of muscle you add helps your caloric calculus.
But exercise doesn’t always have to feel like exercise. Plenty of people have active hobbies that feel more like fun than working out. Take dancing, for instance. Your local dance studio probably has classes for beginners, and it may even have dance classes specifically tailored to folks trying to lose weight – like you!
Treat your body right
At this point in the article, you’ll be skinny and looking great. No, no, just kidding – but you will look that way soon, and you’ll want to stay that way, right?
The key is to make good habits for the long term. That’s why it’s important to eat healthy while you’re eating less – because, ultimately, your goal should be to keep eating this way forever. The Twinkie diet is not sustainable, but a balanced diet of greens, proteins, and healthy snacks is.
This is also why it’s important to exercise regularly – so it becomes a habit, one you’re not likely to break even if it’s raining or you don’t feel all that well.
There’s no magic bullet here, unfortunately: the only way to ensure that you stay skinny is to keep up all the hard work that got you here. If you lost weight at a reasonable rate, you shouldn’t need to change your diet much to go from losing weight to maintaining your current weight. And there’s no need to stop exercising at all – just keep on doing it! Then, next year, you won’t need this guide at all.