By Helen M. Ryan,
Certified Personal Trainer
You’re standing in the fitting room filled with dread. The harsh overhead lights don’t do anything to ease your fear of the garment clutched in your hand. You slowly strip down, peel on the suit. And scream. Yup, it’s bathing suit season once more.
It may seem a daunting task to fit into that suit (or swim shorts), especially if you have more than a few pounds to lose. There is no quick hacks to safely losing weight, however, but there are some simple steps you can take to get you there faster.
1. The magic weight loss combo
You need to both firm up your muscles and burn the layer of fat over them to put your best body forward. Doing just cardiovascular activities (ones which raise your heart rate) will help with fat loss but won’t change your basic underlying shape. Strength training will help firm and sculpt your muscles, and burn some fat, but may not be enough to trim that pesky layer. Cardio and weight training together is the magic combination for a new and improved physique.
2. Be a better body time-saver
Performing both aerobic exercise and strength training seems like it would take a lot of time, but it really doesn’t have to. The secret is working harder, smarter and being more efficient. Walking on a treadmill for hours on end is great for your overall health, but it’s not going to do that much to stoke your fat burning furnace. You need to work focused and targeted. Pick a challenging activity such as Spinning®, running, swimming or step aerobics (yes, that’s still around and better than ever). Or perform plyometric intervals like jump squats, knee tucks or side jumps. When you strength train, do exercises that use multiple muscles at once – push ups, squats, lunges, walking lunges, planks and pull ups. These burn more calories and work more of your body faster. The best of both worlds? Kettlebell training. Kettlebells are incredibly challenging cardiovascularly, and also strengthens your muscles. Kettlebell training burns a ton of calories and turns you into a fat burning machine (read my column on kettlebell training to learn more).
3. Supercharge your diet
Start your morning with a protein-rich meal to keep you fueled throughout the day. Low fat cottage cheese (without any sugary additives) is an excellent choice. Sprinkle some almonds and fresh berries on top to give you staying power and better heart health. Another benefit to eating a high-protein breakfast is you avoid the “afternoon slump” that plagues so many of us. This bout of fatigue often causes you to rush for a sugary, fattening snack to help keep you awake. Sugar in the afternoon does not help you fit into that bikini.
4. Carbs: To eat or not to eat…that is the question
Carbohydrates (breads, pastas, rice, sweets, cakes, tortillas, chips, candy, even some vegetables and fruit) are often villainized. In truth, we need carbs in our diet. What we don’t need are processed foods high in simple carbohydrates with little nutritional value. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are an important part of most diets. However, it’s easy to overdo “carbs” overall and if your goal is to lose weight quickly, backing off on the carbs might be a help.
What works for many is to limit “obvious” carbs to once per day (this does not include fruits or vegetables). You might have old fashioned rolled oats with your cottage cheese for breakfast and that would be your carb for the day. Or you choose an “extra fiber” bagel with lunch. Perhaps save your carb for dinnertime. The best time to eat a carbohydrate, by the way, is immediately before or after a hard exercise session. So if you really want that muffin, time it to correspond with your workouts.
It’s all a matter of finding what works for you. Too few carbs can leave you exhausted. Too many and you don’t lose weight. Chart what you eat and how you feel. Base your carb intake on that. There is nothing wrong with cutting back for a short period of time. But for the longer term, we all need the fiber and other benefits whole grains provide. Just use common sense and try to eat a balanced diet.
5. It’s all in the ‘tude
One of the easiest ways to look good in your bathing suit? Wear your smile and a happy attitude. It sounds hokey, I know, but if you think you look good, other people will think you look good, too. Stand confident. Stand tall. Be happy. Think of all the things your body has accomplished. Every scar, every stretch mark tells the story of your life. Remember – you are your own harshest critic. Others don’t see the faults you do. Cut yourself some slack.
Work hard. Eat smart. Wear a smile. It really is that simple.