A diet and exercise program can help you make the best of the body your genetics gave you. While you can't turn a lanky, lean frame into an hourglass, working out and eating healthy helps you lose weight, gain muscle and feel more energetic. Changing your body composition by adding muscle and losing fat also improves your stamina and makes you look firmer and more sculpted. The amount of reshaping you can accomplish depends on your current physique, how long you have to devote to the process and your level of commitment.
Determine Your Body Reshaping Goals
Before embarking on a diet and exercise plan, define what reshaping means to you. You may want to shrink your size, become more toned and fit looking, bulk up or maybe even get lean enough to show a six-pack. The initial stage of losing fat and becoming stronger requires dietary and exercise effort, but getting to the point of looking fitness-model lean takes serious sacrifices and extra hard work. The greater the transformation you desire, the more behaviors you'll need to change.
The extent to which you wish to reshape your body determines your diet and exercise plan. For example, if you're an overweight man with an unhealthy body fat level of 23 percent or a woman with 32 percent, you'll change your shape by reducing your body fat to a healthy 18 percent as a man or 25 percent as a woman. This requires reducing calories, exercising several days per week and giving up some indulgences -- but you might find it a manageable process.
If, however, you're already a relatively lean man who wants to reduce from 18 percent body fat to 14 percent, or a relatively lean woman who wants to reduce from 25 percent to 20 percent, you'll need to commit to almost daily workouts and avoid treats most of the time.
Jump-Start Your Fat Loss With Diet
You'll likely need to drop some body fat to reshape your body. Use an online calculator to find out your daily calories needs, or you can consult with a dietitian. Then subtract from that number to create a calorie deficit of between 250 and 1,000 calories daily to lose between 1/2 and 2 pounds of weight per week. Go for the higher end of the deficit if you have significant weight to lose. As you get leaner, weight loss naturally slows down, so you'll need to keep the calorie deficit more moderate too, so you don't lose lean muscle mass.
Small behavioral changes help you create the calorie deficit when you first start out. Drink less soda, alcohol and fruit juice; choose whole grains, such as brown rice, instead of refined grains, such as white bread; choose baked, broiled or grilled proteins rather than breaded and fried ones; and opt for fruit instead of a sugary dessert.
At each meal, eat ample watery, fibrous vegetables, such as leafy greens, cauliflower, green beans and eggplant. To keep portions in check, divide your plate into four sections. Reserve one-quarter for a lean protein, one-quarter for a whole grain or starchy vegetable and the remaining half for non-starchy vegetables. Sample meals include skinless roast chicken with brown rice pilaf and steamed asparagus or water-packed tuna with a chopped vegetable salad and small whole-wheat roll. Snacks should also include whole, unprocessed foods, such as fresh fruit, low-fat yogurt or a scant handful of raw nuts.
Exercise for Reshaping Your Physique
Begin exercising regularly. If you're new to the process, or coming back after a long hiatus, work your way up to the minimum 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Activities such as brisk walking, light cycling, swimming laps and doubles tennis qualify.
Also, become acquainted with weight training. Start with just one set of eight to 12 repetitions of an exercise for every major muscle group. Master body weight exercises -- such as pushups, pullups, squats and dips -- first. Once 12 repetitions become easy and you're more comfortable with the moves, add more weight and additional sets. A fitness professional may be your best resource to help you develop a program. You'll want to do at least two strength-training sessions per week on non-consecutive days.
Reshape Your Body From Fit to Fitter
If you already exercise and eat pretty healthfully, but want more dramatic changes to your body, you'll need to target your efforts. From a dietary standpoint, be more diligent about protein intake and serving sizes at meals. Aim for about 0.6 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of your body weight per day.
At each meal, have 4 to 6 ounces of lean protein, 1/2 to 1 cup of whole grains or starchy vegetables and a couple of large handfuls of watery, fibrous vegetables or fresh fruit. For example, have two hard-boiled eggs with 1/2 cup of oatmeal, skim milk and blueberries; a fillet of roasted salmon with a baked sweet potato and steamed broccoli; or stir fried chicken breast with broccoli, snow peas and brown rice. You'll need to limit how much you eat out or enjoy a treat to just once every few weeks. Calorie intake should still be below what you burn daily, but you may aim for the lower deficit of 250 to 500 calories per day to ensure you're losing mainly fat.
Your exercise efforts must also become more stringent. You'll need to work out just about every day for 60 to 90 minutes. Have four or five sessions per week involve cardio, some of which should involve high-intensity interval training -- alternating short bouts of all-out effort with short bouts of lower-intensity work.
You'll also follow a stricter strength-training routine that has you lifting weights three to four times per week, depending on your schedule. If you adopt a total-body routine that works every major muscle group, three times per week is sufficient. Three to six sets of compound exercises using heavy weights for eight to 12 repetitions should be your goal. Appropriate moves include back squats, walking lunges, chest presses, rows, triceps extensions, deadlifts and core rotations. Alternatively, plan your strength workouts as a three-day cycle: Work upper body on one day, lower body the next; take a rest day from weight training on the third day, and then repeat.
Fine-Tuning Your Physique
Work with your natural assets and use resistance training to alter your body's proportions. For example, if you have a boxy build, create the illusion of a skinnier waist by losing body fat and doing extra exercises -- such as rear deltoid flyes and military presses -- that help your shoulders and upper back appear broader. If you have skinny legs and a bulkier upper body, make the majority of your strength-training sessions focus on lower body exercises such as squats, leg curls and leg presses using heavy weights to build muscle.
Certain body shape changes can't happen with exercise or diet. Large breasts, long limbs and a dainty rib cage are genetic endowments. Remember to appreciate and work with the body you've been given. A quality diet and commitment at the gym will help you be the fittest and healthiest possible.