Small changes add up to big results over time, especially if you’re looking to lose weight with tweaks to your nutrition and fitness habits. Moreover, making simple changes gradually helps ensure it’s an overall lifestyle change and something that’s sustainable long term — preventing the likelihood you’ll gain the weight right back.
“People should plan to establish habits that they can follow indefinitely,” says Tami Smith, a certified personal trainer based in Williamstown, Massachusetts. “They should ask themselves this question: ‘Is this something that I can see myself adhering to forever?’ If the answer is no, then it’s not a great plan.”
The healthy habits outlined below are ideal for starting small, although if it’s still intimidating, don’t worry, you can always go at your own pace and implement two a week or even two a month. Find what works best for your lifestyle and build from there.
While it’s a great plan to form better weight-loss in the new year, you can always start (or return to it) anytime.
Replace some of your caloric beverages with water. Keep a water bottle nearby to encourage you to drink regularly throughout the day. “Increasing one’s water intake is definitely an important tool in any weight-loss program since it can help fill you up,” says Keri Gans, RDN, a nutrition consultant based in New York City and author of “The Small Change Diet.” “If someone does not like the taste of water, I suggest flavoring it with fruit slices or herbs or pouring a glass of sparkling water.”
Adding short spurts of exercise to your schedule increases your step count and also helps counteract the negative effects of sitting. “Three 10-minute walks per day can eventually be condensed to two 15-minute walks per day, then one 30-minute walk,” says Smith. After that, you might want to continue to increase your distance, notes Smith.
Instead of eliminating certain items from your diet, gradually add more fruits and vegetables, which provide several important vitamins and minerals and nutrients like fiber that keep you full. Over time, you may find yourself gravitating toward produce, instead of processed foods, which saves calories and helps you shed pounds. “Choose to have one fruit per day, perhaps as a dessert with lunch, and then build to 2–4 servings per day,” says Gans. The same goes with vegetables; gradually build them into your diet, starting with breakfast. The more successful you are, the more likely you are to keep including more.”
Bodyweight exercises are awesome for improving strength and building lean muscle, which can help burn more calories.“I recommend starting with bodyweight exercises before attempting to add weights to the mix,” says Smith. Pick a bodyweight exercise (or two) to master such as lunges, burpees or pushups. Perform 4 sets of 12–15.
If mindless snacking is your downfall, consider what you’re eating and your portion sizes. “View snacks as mini-meals,” suggests Gans. “Focus on enjoying something that is less than 200 calories, contains under 6 grams of added sugar, more than 5 grams of protein, and at least 3 grams of fiber.”
You’ll be more likely to follow through long term if you stick with a pace that feels achievable.
“Start at a low intensity and build as your fitness levels improve,” says Sergio Pedemonte, a certified personal trainer based in Toronto. Go for a walk, do some gentle yoga or cycle at an easy effort, for example.
Writing down what you eat and drink can help you realize every morsel you’re consuming, including food you steal from other people’s plates or bites you sample while cooking. “Many people who are starting a weight-loss program benefit from food journaling,” says Gans. “It enables them to see exactly what they are eating and when, as well as mistakes they may be making.” Use an app like MyFitnessPal to help you notice trends and make healthy swaps.
“I recommend beginners start with 2–3 full-body workouts a week for one month before moving into split training — i.e., upper-body and lower-body workouts,” says Pedemonte. This can help you get the most bang for your buck at the start, and it doesn’t have to be super long, either. Try this 10-minute, no-equipment, total-body workout.
Think about the healthy changes you want to make to your diet — high-protein make-ahead breakfasts, more fruits and vegetables, fewer soft drinks — and map out the items you’ll need the next time you get groceries. “Planning meals ahead of time and shopping accordingly is one of the best ways to set yourself up for success,” says Gans. It’ll save you time, money and calories.
You might feel like pushing yourself, but avoiding too much too soon may keep you from becoming sidelined unnecessarily. “Starting slow minimizes the risk of getting injured the first week,” says Pedemonte. One way to make sure you’re not overexerting yourself is to calculate your heart rate zone (or use a monitor like Wahoo Fitness TICKR to do it for you) and aim to stay in zones 1–3 this week and progress until you can spend more time in zones 4 and 5.
Remember, consistency beats perfection for losing weight. If you’re eating healthily 80% of the time, you’re on target. If you slip up, don’t feel like all is lost — just be prepared to follow healthy habits again at the next meal. “Healthy eating does not mean choosing healthy foods 100% of the time,” underscores Gans. “One of the best things you can do to set yourself up for success is already be mentally prepared for some failure.”
Fitness challenges, like this 31-day squat, lunge and pushup plan can help you commit to moving your body daily. Building and maintaining a streak can be motivating and keep things exciting. “It’s a great way to connect with others, particularly during these times,” notes Smith, so be sure to get your loved ones involved.
Sleep is often overlooked, but it greatly impacts nutrition, fitness and weight loss. Aiming for quality sleep (at least 7–8 hours per night), can help curb cravings, allow your body to recover after a tough workout and keep hormones in check to support weight loss. “Setting a bedtime allows you to make better decisions about what you eat and when you eat it,” says Pedemonte. “[And] while the body is sleeping, it goes through a recovery process that allows the body to burn fat, repair tissues and build muscle.” Check-in with how much sleep you’re getting, and if it’s not enough, set your bedtime 15 minutes earlier each night until you hit your goal.
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