When you want to lose 10 pounds for an occasion next month, such as a high school reunion or your best friend’s wedding, think twice before going on a fad diet. Instead of focusing on short-term results, change your food choices and lifestyle for good, taking the first month to wean yourself from unhealthy fare and habits. With the launch of a healthy eating plan, you’ll both lose weight and lay the foundation for a lifetime of weight management. Consult your doctor or a dietitian before making major changes to your daily regimen.
Fad Diet Promises
You’ve seen all the promises – 10 pounds or more lost in a month, a week or even days. Any diet that claims you’ll lose more than 2 pounds a week and has before-and-after photos to “prove” it is a fad, according to FamilyDoctor.org. On these types of diets, you will lose water weight and probably muscle in the first week or two because of the stringent diet demands – maybe cutting out or severely restricting an entire food group, like carbohydrates. The big problem with fad diets is that even when they deliver quick initial weight loss, you are likely to gain the weight back – and maybe more.
For reliable weight loss, you are better off starting a healthy eating plan that will put you on track to lose weight both initially and over time and to incorporate that with a program of regular physical activity.
Preliminary Weight-Loss Techniques
Although not everyone is the same, the nutritional rule of thumb is that to lose a pound of weight, you need to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories. To lose 10 pounds in a month, then, you’d have to eliminate a total of 35,000 calories, either by reducing food intake, exercising to burn calories or a combination of both. That sounds like a huge amount, but consider some simple items you already have in your diet that are contributing mightily to your daily calories.
For starters, examine your food and drink choices and shave away empty calories, the ones that contribute nothing in the way of nutrients. Sugary foods and beverages should be the first to go. If you’re accustomed to drinking two regular colas a day, one with lunch and another in mid-afternoon for a pick-me-up, you should know that each 12-ounce serving of regular cola comes in at 155 calories, or 310 for two. If you eliminate those two servings from your daily plan, you’d cut 9,300 calories in the course of a month, without even making any other changes – almost 3 pounds of weight. Replace the cola with plain water, or, if you crave the fizz, drink sparkling mineral water for zero calories.
Fast foods should be the next on your list to go. Maybe your go-to lunch is a burger and fries at a fast food restaurant close to your office. Even keeping the burger, you’d save 497 calories by forgoing a large serving of fries; if you normally eat fries three times a week, you’d save almost 6,000 calories in a month cutting them out. With those two small changes, you’ve spared 15,300 calories in a month, or just under 4.5 pounds.
Think about the other calorie-laden foods you can eliminate or limit. How many times in a month do you indulge in ice cream? A single cup of chocolate ice cream contains 371 calories. Even if you only have it once a week, that’s 1,500 calories a month that you could have spared. With that change, you’ve saved almost 17,000 calories, or close to half of your goal.
Portion Control for Weight Loss
Early on in your weight-loss plan, learn to distinguish between servings and portions. A serving is the recommended amount of a food on which nutritional information – like calories – is based. In contrast, a portion is what you actually serve yourself, and the two measurements may be miles apart. If you, for example, you fill your plate with pasta for two nights a week, you may be getting as much as 2 cups for your portion, when the correct serving size of cooked pasta is only 1/2 cup. Two cups of cooked spaghetti contain almost 400 calories, while 1/2 cup is a fourth of that. If you cut back to the recommended serving size, you save almost 300 calories a meal, or 2,400 calories over the course of a month – and that doesn’t include the calories saved by eating less sauce and cheese.
Or suppose your idea of a satisfying dinner means a “piece” of steak that, if you actually weighed it, might be 1 pound raw. While that’s a common portion, the correct serving size is just 3 ounces of meat – about the size of a deck of cards. Your savings by opting for 3 ounces of steak twice a week is just under 4,300 calories for the month.
These two changes to common portions spare you a total of almost 7,000 calories over the course of a month, or about 2 pounds.
Staying Full While Losing Weight
If you’re cutting out foods and reducing portions, you’re likely wondering how you’ll stay full in the process of trying to lose 10 pounds. The answer lies in the concept of low energy density,and this is where changing your food choices comes into play.
Foods that are low in energy, or calories, yet high in nutrients, are your best friends when you’re trying to lose weight and keep it off. These foods supply fewer calories per gram, meaning that you can eat more of them than you can of high-energy-dense foods. Low-energy-dense foods also tend to be rich in water, fiber and protein, all of which help to keep you feeling full. Satiety helps you control your food intake and, in turn, manage your weight.
Consider that you can eat one and a half oranges for the same amount of calories as just three pretzel rods. The oranges are full of satisfying fiber and also vitamin C, while the pretzel rods are mostly high in sodium, a nutrient that can cause bloating and water weight gain. In one study, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2005, adequate vitamin C intake helped subjects burn fat during exercise 30 percent better than vitamin C-depleted individuals. This nutrient has a host of other benefits, too, like protecting your cells from damage, boosting your immunity and keeping your tissues and bones healthy.
In lieu of a high-energy-dense bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, choose a whole grain like low-energy-dense, fiber-rich oatmeal topped with sliced apple and cinnamon. Fill most of your lunch and dinner plate with low-energy-dense vegetables that are also high in fiber, like green veggies, and eat higher-calorie, higher-fat foods like meat in 3-ounce servings. Or add vegetables like broccoli, spinach, bell pepper and mushrooms to your half-cup of cooked spaghetti to fill up your plate and your stomach. Instead of a full cup of ice cream for dessert, have a quarter- or half-cup and top it with a handful of low-calorie, fiber-rich berries. Better yet, swap the ice cream for a container of creamy Greek yogurt, which is higher in protein and lower in calories.
Exercise for Weight Loss
Diet alone won’t melt away the pounds; you’ll also need to burn calories through a regular program of exercise. Research suggests 30 minutes of aerobic activity on at least five days of the week will work for weight loss. If you need to lose more quickly, though – like 10 pounds in a month – you may benefit from up to 60 minutes. This could mean very brisk walking, cycling, swimming, running, or playing a sport. A person who weighs 155 pounds will burn 186 calories in a brisk, 30-minute walk, while the same person will burn 372 calories by swimming laps for the same amount of time. Choose something you like to do, and stick with it for the best results. If you love to swim, you can burn from 1,500 to 2,200 calories in a week by swimming laps for just a half-hour most days of the week, depending on your weight. In a month, that’s 6,000 to 8,800 calories.
Combine your aerobic program with strength training; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests working all muscle groups on at least two days a week. This will help you tone and build lean muscle as you lose those 10 pounds, leaving you looking trim and feeling strong.
- FamilyDoctor.org: What You Need to Know about Fad Diets
- Today’s Dietitian: Farewell to the 3,500-Calorie Rule
- USDA: Foods Search
- NIH: Serving Sizes and Portions
- Cleveland Clinic: Meal Preparation
- CDC: Low-Energy Dense Foods and Weight Management
- Healthaliciousness: Comparison Tool
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: Strategies for Healthy Weight Loss
- MedlinePlus: Vitamin C
- Health.gov: How Much Exercise Is Best for Weight Loss?