How’s that New Year’s resolution going? I’ll admit, I started 2012 with a bang and I’ve already made lots of adjustments to the plans I made in December. But I find that a flexible approach works best for me; and that’s the case with most other people, too.
So many people are tempted to jump in to a weight loss plan with both feet, and that’s not the best recipe for success … for a lot of reasons. For one, changing your entire lifestyle is impractical, and is incredibly challenging for most people. The way we eat and the amount of activity we get make up a huge portion of our daily habits, and throwing them all out in favor of a new set of behaviors is easier said than done. Another reason for taking things slowly is that our bodies are extremely adaptable, and if you make huge changes all at once, your body will adapt and you’ll have nowhere to go — ever heard of anorexics who eat fewer and fewer calories and can’t lose weight — or even gain it? You don’t want to turn into the healthy version of that!
If you have a lot of weight to lose, or you’re starting from scratch, don’t slash your calories and start spending hours each day slaving away in the gym. Make small changes, watch the fat come off, and once you’ve plateaued (stopped making further progress), change something else. This is great psychologically, because you’re not changing your entire life at once, and it’s also great for fat loss, because you’re changing things up as soon as your body adjusts to whatever you’re doing. Think of fat loss in phases; you start at phase 1 and move to the next phase only when you’ve stopped losing fat.
Phase 1: Try to eat clean 6 days a week. Eating clean, in this context, means focusing on single-ingredient foods (fruit, veggies, meat, oats, rice, yogurt, etc.) or natural, convenient substitutes like Quest bars. Try to get a lot of protein and ditch crappy carbs like chips, french fries, and white bread. Avoid fast food as much as possible, and skip sugary soda. If you’re just starting out, don’t even worry about exercise yet.
Phase 2: Keep eating clean, but try to tighten up your eating a bit more. Avoid carbs before bed and add in more veggies. Try lean protein like chicken and turkey most of the time. If you’re ready for the gym, start with just 3 workouts a week; strength training and/or cardio, whichever is easiest for your schedule.
Phase 3: Tighten up your eating even more; it may be time to scale back on the amount of food you’re consuming; just don’t end up hungry! Try to plan out your meals, or batch cook, but don’t worry too much about portion sizes. Increase your time in the gym if it feels right.
If you plateau after phase 3 (by this point you will probably have lost a lot of fat), you can add things like tracking your food, HIIT cardio, heavier strength training, carb cycling, etc.