It’s already May. The heat is rising in the South, and the rest of the country soon will follow. Of course this means swimsuit season, and a plan to arrive at a healthy weight will help you look good at the pool and make you healthier overall, say University of Alabama at Birmingham experts.
“Start by throwing away all clothing catalogs with skinny models in skimpy bikinis on the front,” says Beth Kitchin, Ph.D., R.D., UAB assistant professor of nutrition sciences. “Then buy a bathing suit that flatters your shape. Going to extremes for weight-loss leads to yo-yo dieting and makes you feel bad about yourself.”
Healthy living is not about the number on the scale, but rather feeling good about yourself and being comfortable or confident in your skin, says Lauren Whitt, Ph.D., UAB Wellness coordinator. “The goal is to be a healthy size for you, so focus your attitude and energy on becoming the best version of yourself and enjoy the journey to health.”
Be realistic about attainable weight loss, says Retta Evans, Ph.D., UAB associate professor of health education. Talk to your doctor to find out how much weight you need to lose to be healthy and set a date for achieving that goal. If it’s summer – try June 1. Then, count the weeks that you have to lose weight.
“You can safely be able to lose up to 2 pounds per week. So if you have four weeks until your specified date, for example, you can set a goal to lose 6 to 8 pounds,” Evans says. “If you need to lose more, you can always establish new goals after some weight-loss.”
With a healthy goal weight and date in place, avoid overwhelming yourself, says Whitt. Make only one lifestyle change per day. “Taking small steps towards your goal will make it more attainable. Try little things, such as drinking one fewer soda a day or eating breakfast,” Whitt says. “An early morning meal with protein should keep you satisfied until lunchtime and help you resist high-fat, sugary mid-morning snacks.”
But skipping meals is a no-no when trying to be healthier. If you want to reduce calories, Kitchin advises you keep a food record for a few days or use a weight-loss app on your smart phone that requires you to note what you eat. “You'll find out where extra calories are coming from,” she says.
Our experts suggest these meal guidelines:
- Make half your meals fruits and vegetables, a quarter should be grains, and the last quarter should be lean proteins such as poultry and fish
- Choose recipes that are low-fat and high-fiber
- Eat smart portion sizes and skip the seconds
- Choose fried foods less often or share/cut portion sizes
- When dining out, order items that are baked, braised, broiled, grilled, poached, roasted or steamed
- Don’t order items that are batter-fried, pan-fried, buttered, creamed or breaded
Plus, swap the sugary drinks for diet sodas, unsweetened tea or water, and limit the alcohol you drink. Whitt says women should stick with one drink and men can have up to two. “Alcohol tends to increase your appetite and provides calories without nutrients. If you skip it altogether, you can reach your goals more easily,” she says.
You also must increase your activity levels.
“Start slow and be consistent. Make exercise an event on your work calendar so you have a reminder,” Evans says. “Pack a bag with your work-out gear the night before and leave it in your vehicle so you have no excuse.”
Now choose the right workout for you.
“If you are a social person, try going to a group class like Zumba or step aerobics,” Whitt says. “Conversely if you are more into a solo workout, go with walking, running or even swimming.”
Aim for getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week, says Whitt. “If you burn at least 250 calories through exercise and cut out at least 250 calories from food — one 20 oz. bottle of soda — you easily can lose at least 1 pound a week.”
Finally, don’t set your goal of getting in shape with an “all or nothing” approach, says UAB clinical psychologist Josh Klapow, Ph.D.
“One splurge doesn’t mean all is lost and you should give up your efforts to get healthier,” says Klapow.
“You can have the summery, not-so-healthy foods and still stay healthy,” Klapow adds. “If you go to a barbecue one night and ignore your diet, no worries. Getting in shape does not require perfection; just get back on track the next morning.”
Bottom line: work up a good sweat and watch what you eat. Just losing 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight can lead to improvement in blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugars, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Healthy lifestyle changes will benefit you for a lifetime.