If you're up against a two-week deadline to look fit, don't panic. While you might not be able to lose significant amounts of weight during that time, you can overhaul your lifestyle, lose a small amount of weight, and jump-start a new diet and exercise program that will get you lean and toned in time. Get the best results by setting realistic goals for what you'd like to accomplish in your two-week time frame; then use the tight deadline as motivation to change your lifestyle.
Start Strong With Realistic Goals
When you're up against a tight two-week deadline, you might feel tempted to go for a crash or fad diet that promises double-digit weight loss -- or a few smaller dress or pant sizes -- to reach your goals. Don't do it. Crash diets aren't sustainable, and the weight you lose will primarily come from water and lean tissue, not from body fat. When you inevitably go off the diet, you'll likely go back to your old lifestyle habits and gain the weight back -- and maybe a few pounds on top of that.
Any excess weight you're carrying accumulated over a period of months or years, and you can't lose it all in two weeks. By setting realistic goals, however, you can use your deadline as motivation to start a new lifestyle change -- one that will bring you longer-term results for fat loss, and will create new healthy habits, so you'll look fitter for life.
Safe, sustainable weight loss typically comes at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds each week, so set a goal to lose a maximum of 4 pounds of weight during your two-week time frame. Use this opportunity to set other fitness-related goals you can achieve within just two weeks; for example, decide to drink water instead of calorie-rich beverages each day, get several servings of veggies daily, or hit the gym at least four times a week. These smaller, achievable goals will help keep you motivated, so you'll keep getting fit after your deadline has passed.
Create a Calorie Deficit for Weight Loss
Losing weight during your two-week time frame requires eating and drinking fewer calories than you burn. This creates a calorie deficit, and your body fills the energy gap by metabolizing fat. For aggressive -- but safe -- weight loss, aim for a calorie deficit of 1,000 calories daily. That will allow you to lose an average of 2 pounds per week.
You might be able to create this deficit through diet alone, or it might require added exercise to avoid cutting too many calories. For example, a 32-year-old man who stands 6 feet tall and weighs 210 pounds needs 2,859 calories daily to maintain his weight if he leads a sedentary lifestyle. He could cut his calorie intake to 1,859 calories and lose an average of 2 pounds weekly, even without adding activity.
On the other hand, a 62-year old man with the same height, weight and lifestyle needs slightly fewer calories -- 2,627 -- to maintain his weight. Cutting his calorie intake to 1,627 calorie would take him below the minimum recommended calorie intake for men, which is 1,800 calories. So, to lose 2 pounds per week, he should eat 1,800 calories and burn an extra 173 calories daily through physical activity to create the 1,000-calorie deficit needed for a 2-pound-weekly weight loss.
Your daily calorie needs and target calories for weight loss depend on your age, gender, weight and height. Use an online calculator to get a personalized estimate; then subtract calories to create your 1,000-calorie deficit. Don't consume less than the recommend minimums of 1,800 calories daily for men and 1,200 calories for women, or you risk stalling your metabolism. If cutting 1,000 calories would take you under this lower limit, you'll need to exercise more to create part of the deficit, rather than just reduce calories.
Fill Up with Low Energy-Density Foods and Protein
You'll get the best results from your diet if you choose foods that keep you full. Feeling satisfied after your meals means you're less likely to feel ravenous and break your diet, and you'll be able to stick to your new eating plan long term.
One way to get full on fewer calories is to focus on low energy-density foods, which include fruits, veggies and broths. These foods tend to contain nutrients like water and fiber, which add to the bulk of your food without contributing energy so that even a generous serving is relatively low in calories. Shift the energy density of your food by making meals high in water; for example, instead of eating a chicken and rice casserole, make a chicken and rice soup full of fibrous veggies in a clear broth.
Including protein at your meals also keeps you full and offers a slight edge for burning calories. Your body burns a small amount of calories digesting the food you eat, and protein requires significantly more calories to digest than fat or carbohydrates. So by upping your protein intake, you'll slightly boost your daily calorie burn through digestion. Meat and fish are high in protein -- a stewed skinless chicken breast has 28 grams, while a 3-ounce portion of steamed or poached salmon has 23 grams. Plant-based foods can also up your protein intake -- a cup of garbanzo beans offers 15 grams, and an ounce of almonds boasts 6 grams.
Make Lower-Calorie Substitutions
Simply substituting low-calorie ingredients in place of higher-calorie ones makes it easier to lose weight and allows you to enjoy healthier or lower-calorie versions of the foods you enjoy. For example, ditch a carb-loaded flour tortilla and instead put sandwich fillings in a hearty romaine lettuce leaf for a lower-calorie wrap. You'll save 141 calories with that simple substitution.
If you typically crave pasta as comfort food, try making "zoodles" -- spiralized zucchini -- or spaghetti squash instead. A cup of spaghetti squash has 42 calories, and a large zucchini has 54 calories, while a cup of cooked spaghetti has 221 calories, so making this switch will save you between 167 and 179 calories.
Go for lower-fat dairy instead of whole-fat milk, cheese and yogurt. Swap sweetened iced tea for an unsweetened version, and trade your morning latte for coffee served black or sweetened with stevia.
Step Up Your Calorie Burn
Unless you have a lot of weight to lose, chances are you'll need aerobic activity to create the calorie deficit you need. Get medical clearance from your doctor to exercise; then go for the most vigorous cardiovascular exercise your health status allows. If you're just starting an exercise program, it might mean lower-impact exercise, like walking. However, you can up your calorie burn by pushing the pace to slightly faster than your typical walking pace. For example, a 155-pound person burns 149 calories in a half-hour walking at 3.5 miles per hour, but increases their calorie burn to 186 calories by increasing the pace to 4.5 miles per hour. If you're already relatively fit and conditioned for cardiovascular activity, pushing yourself to raise the intensity for a few 1-minute intervals during your aerobic exercise can help you burn more calories.
Add Circuits to Strength Training
While most people head straight to the treadmill to shed pounds, you'll want to hit the weight room as well. A two-week deadline leaves little time to see serious results, but incorporating weights into your fitness routine helps you build muscle, which will make you look fitter when you reach your goal weight. Strength training also helps support good posture, so you might notice you're able to stand straighter after two weeks, and appear thinner as a result.
Make the most from each strength training workout by using circuits -- meaning you move right from one exercise to the next, instead of taking rests between sets -- to boost your heart rate and burn more calories during your workout. Compound exercises, including rows and lunges, work multiple muscles at a time, so they also burn more calories than smaller, isolated exercises, and should feature prominently in your strength workouts.
For the best and fastest results, consult a fitness professional who can recommend the best exercises for your body type and goals.