Two weeks isn't very long at all. But it can be the perfect timeframe in which to kickstart a healthy lifestyle shift.
While you really can't lose much weight in this short amount of time, what you can do is shed a few pounds, crack the code on the best way for you to tone up and get energized for the long haul. You've got to start somewhere, right? Do it right here, right now.
1. Set Realistic Goals
If you're carrying around excess pounds, have low energy and even lower self-esteem, know two things. First, your body got this way, most likely, over the course of years, and you can't turn back the clock in two weeks (or even two months!) That said, you can use a self-imposed "deadline" of 14 days as motivation to create fresh, better-for-you habits.
Second, and more importantly: Positive changes will happen if you don't give up, asserts George Bein, a veteran personal trainer at Unique Health and Fitness in Huntington, New York. And setting realistic goals is the best way to make sure you don't get discouraged right out of the gate.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's healthy weight-loss guidelines, 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 "kickoff" period. Don't even think about extreme diets that promise double-digit weight loss in no time.
"A crash diets isn't healthy or sustainable. When you inevitably go off of it, you'll gain the weight back, if not more," stresses Bein.
Aside from losing a few pounds, attainable two-week goals might include greater energy, more flexibility and improved endurance for physical activity. Oh, and a more positive outlook on life may be a reasonable expectation as well.
Exercise is a mood-lifter, revealed an August 2013 study, updated in April 2018 by Harvard Medical School. The research also noted that, in some cases, working out might be as effective as taking an anti-depressant.
"A crash diet isn't healthy or sustainable. When you inevitably go off of it, you'll gain the weight back, if not more."
2. Eat to Lose Weight
Losing weight comes down to consuming fewer calories than necessary to meet your energy needs. How many calories that is, exactly, depends on several factors, including your age, gender, height and current weight.
You always want to check in with your doctor before starting any weight-loss effort, but a reliable online calculator or app, such as LIVESTRONG.com's MyPlate, can give you a sense of your target calorie count, as well as help you plan optimally nutritious meals.
Read More: Recommended Caloric Intake for Weight Loss
According to general Mayo Clinic guidelines, if you cut 500 to 1,000 calories a day from your typical diet, you'll lose 1 to 2 pounds a week, respectively. Things get a little trickier with time, though, as your body adjusts to the lower calorie intake. As you start to hit your weight-loss targets, you may find it harder to keep dropping extra pounds, and thus have to cut your calories further to reach your ultimate goal. Here are a few tips to help prevent a plateau:
Underestimate. Take slightly less than you usually do. You may not miss the extra food. If you are still hungry, eat more green vegetables. (It can't hurt to use smaller dishes, too.) At a party or buffet, scan all the offerings before deciding what's worth putting on your plate.
Check serving sizes. Be sure to carefully read the Nutrition Facts panel on a food item, not only for the number of calories per serving, but for the serving size. Many packaged foods seem, at a glance, to be a lower-calorie choice than they actually are. Plenty of snacks and drinks, packaged in what most of us would eat or drink as one serving, are actually two or more.
Rely on protein. Including protein in most of your meals 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 considerably more "work" than fat or carbohydrates.
Meat and fish are top high-protein choices. Also rich in protein are dairy products, beans and nuts. Clear soup with protein-rich and high-fiber ingredients is your friend, too. It's nutritious, fills you up and is relatively low in calories, even when you choose a big bowl.
Make savvy swaps. Think in terms of switching things up, rather than "going on a diet," to put a positive mental spin on your new eating plan.
"Shift out three processed foods that you typically eat, and replace those with three healthier options," suggests Bein. "That's much more doable than thinking you're going to overhaul literally everything you eat over the course of a couple of weeks."
- Ditch sugary drinks (or even chemical-laden diet soda) for seltzer
- Prepare a green vegetable at dinner instead of frozen French fries
- Dump chocolate-chunk granola bars in favor of grapes and strawberries
- Put sandwich filling in a sturdy romaine lettuce leaf instead of on bread
- Swap sweet tea for the unsweetened variety
- Trade your morning vanilla latte for coffee with Stevia and a splash of skim milk
3. Exercise to Feel and Look Your Best
According to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, physical activity is a key component of getting down to a healthier weight. To boot: People who exercise regularly may be more likely to keep weight off long-term.
First things first: Get clearance from your doctor to start exercising. Then begin with a low-impact activity. Bein recommends walking, especially if you've been completely sedentary. Aim for at least three sessions the first week, and add one more the second week. In each session, start out going a short, comfortable distance, then go just a little farther the next time.
Once you've gotten used to your exercise routine, you can up your calorie burn by picking up the pace at which you're walking. Or, alternate walking with jogging. "Run for 10 minutes, then walk for five," suggests Bein.
He also advocates the buddy system. Get a friend to commit to taking regular walks with you. "It's not only moral support, but keeps you accountable to get out there and do it," he explains.
Biking is another great option for beginners, notes Bein. He is a huge proponent of finding activities that not only burn calories, but get you outside enjoying yourself. "That's what is going to allow you to make fitness a permanent part of your life. If you actually like doing it, you will do it."
He points to kayaking, paddle boarding, snowshoeing, beach volleyball and unicycling as good forms of exercise that don't feel like a chore.
Strength training is important as well. Incorporating weights into your fitness routine helps you build muscle, which will make you look better no matter your weight. Bonus: Strength training also helps support good posture, an effect that can be noticed at the end of your 14 days.
Make the most of 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, such as rows and lunges, work multiple muscles at a time, so they torch more calories than more isolated exercises. For optimal results, it may be wise to work with a fitness professional who can assess your personal situation and fitness goals and help pinpoint the specific exercises that will work best.
Read More: Your Guide to Strength Training for Women
Two weeks may not seem like much, but marked with small victories, like switching to healthier snacks and getting into a walking habit, it can be the start of something big. Those 14 days can boost your confidence, which is what will keep your motivation — and momentum — going strong for a lifetime.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "What is Healthy Weight Loss?"
- Harvard University: "Exercise is an All-Natural Treatment to Fight Depression"
- United States Department of Agriculture: "Start Simple with MyPlate"
- Mayo Clinic: "Counting Calories: Get Back to Weight-Loss Basics"
- U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "Be Active Your Way"
- Unique Health and Fitness: "Why Unique?"