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Spark summer weight loss with simple steps, then focus on sustaining it

  • April 25, 2014
It may feel literally and figuratively that it is crunch time when it comes to getting summer-ready, but these UAB experts break down easy ways to make health a lifelong achievement beyond this season alone.

healthy perspectiveWith warm summer months fast approaching, many will resume January weight loss resolutions. Instead of resorting to crash diets or overtraining at the gym, University of Alabama at Birmingham health experts suggest taking steps to both lose weight and make good health a lifelong goal.

“The most important element in any wellness plan is self-awareness; this is a mental process, not an action process,” said Terrie Adams, fitness director at the UAB Hospital Health Club. “It’s about aligning your thoughts with the desire first, rather than taking action in order to achieve results or forcing something to happen.”

Adams says to practice removing self-judgments and tame that inner critic.

“Cutting out negative self-talk makes a huge difference,” Adams said. “It’s not that we start feeding and exercising the body differently to get it to a place where we can like it, it’s the other way around; we have to like our bodies enough to want to make health a priority.”

While Adams says there are no quick or easy ways to become fit, she suggests that sedentary beginners start building their aerobic base, endurance and stamina, known as cardio conditioning. After two solid weeks of cardio training — whether it is walking, swimming, biking or another heart-pumping activity — begin to gradually introduce strength training.

“The best way to burn fat is to build muscle and get strong. The fat-burning part will take care of itself once you start building muscle. The best way to build muscle is to strength train, and your body weight is one of the best weights available — no gym or equipment required.”

“The best way to burn fat is to build muscle and get strong,” Adams said. “The fat-burning part will take care of itself once you start building muscle. The best way to build muscle is to strength train, and your body weight is one of the best weights available — no gym or equipment required.”  

Adams says the first noticeable improvements will show up very quickly: Mood, energy level and seeing a physical difference can come in as little as a week.  

For more experienced exercisers, Adams likes high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, which describes any workout that alternates between intense bursts of activity and periods of less-intense activity or even complete rest.

“HIIT has been proved to burn more calories and recruit more muscles over steady-state workouts,” Adams said. “You burn more calories not only during a HIIT workout, but long after. Focus on higher-intensity training for shorter amounts of time rather than long, drawn-out workouts.”   

It is the combination of the physical activity and nutrition that will aid in losing weight and keeping it off. Krista Casazza, Ph.D., R.D., assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences, says that drastic measures aimed at “quick fixes” to shed pounds are not the healthy way to do this.

“Starvation methods cannot be sustained; though cleanses and detoxes are “in,” they really aren’t associated with a great deal of weight loss, and liquid diets such as juicing can result in losing only a few pounds,” Casazza said. “That said, a very low-calorie diet of any sort can lead to substantial weight loss.”

Casazza says it depends on the amount of weight an individual is trying to lose.  

“Rapid weight loss is not necessarily unsafe; however, it has to be coupled with adequate vitamin and mineral intake and, most importantly, maintenance of musculoskeletal mass,” Casazza said. “While exercise in itself may not lead to weight loss, the beneficial effects on whole-body metabolism when coupled with dietary restriction cannot be overlooked.”

Focusing on maintaining a balanced diet and eating in moderation are important components of good nutrition in general, for weight loss or weight maintenance, says Lynae Hanks, Ph.D., R.D., a UAB postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Medicine.

“If your goal is to lose weight, take a look at your typical eating behaviors: Do you drink sugary drinks or indulge in sugary or fatting toppings and condiments? Try cutting back in these areas if you do, and that will be a great start to renovating your diet,” Hanks said. “Add-ins like sugar-sweetened drinks and heavy dressings can sabotage your efforts in losing or maintaining weight.”  

Hanks says guilty pleasures do not have to be eliminated altogether as this can lead to feelings of deprivation and then getting off course by overindulging.  

“Instead of seeing these items as diet ‘villains,’ eat them in moderation and reward yourself with moderate and planned doses,” Hanks said. “Practice moderation, and balance your meals so you include a healthy variety of nutrition components.”

Hanks suggests being generous with portions of nonstarchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes, green beans and spinach.

Casazza and Hanks agree that there is no one-size prescription for everybody, but a healthier summer body requires four things:
  • sufficient hydration
  • nutritious meals
  • regular exercise
  • adequate sleep daily

“Motivating factors such as ‘bikini season’ are good inspiration for behavior change; however, one should approach adopting a healthier lifestyle in the long term — not simply make changes which are aimed to be short-lived,” Casazza said. “The importance of health should be the focus, not the season.”