Every Friday is Health Tip Day at Zen Habits.
I think this one will be a bit controversial — weight loss theories seem to be a bit divisive, judging from past posts on this topics, as people have very strong opinions about the right way to lose weight.
However, this post isn’t going to explore any of those theories. It’s meant to be a simple plan for people who have trouble losing weight.
These people don’t need to go into the scientific theories, and they probably don’t want to count calories or do any kind of complicated calculations. They just want a few simple steps that they can do, right now, that will work.
When I started running last year, and eating healthier (eventually becoming a near-vegan), I lost more than 20 pounds and kept them off. This year, my workout plan has been disrupted a couple of times by illness and then a back injury, but in July I’ve gotten back on track and can already feel the changes. I am confident that I’ll have a fairly flat stomach by the end of the year, barring any future injuries or severe illnesses.
Anyway, I recently had a few readers ask me about my weight loss plan. Well, I don’t diet, and I don’t do anything too intense. I’ve just made some simple lifestyle changes, one at a time, and I feel much healthier as a result. The weight loss is slower than with some of the more drastic plans, but I feel that they’re more permanent, because I’m in this for life, not for short-term weight loss.
If this sounds right for you, check out the following plan. Of course, you all know that I’m not a doctor, a dietician, a certified personal trainer, or in any way qualified to give advice. You know that you should see a doctor before starting a plan like this, to prevent any serious health consequences. However, this plan is based on the advice of experts much more knowledgeable than me, and I can testify that it works — for me, and for others I know who’ve done similar things.
There is nothing revolutionary in this plan. It’s common-sense, and simple:
Zen To Slim Weight Loss Plan
Step 1: Begin gradual exercise. Instead of trying to change your entire life with an intense weight loss plan, we’re going to start small. All you want to do is make a commitment to get yourself moving for at least 10 or 15 minutes each day for 30 days straight.
Some key points:
- Type of exercise. If you’re already a runner or a cyclist or something similar, then begin a very, very modest program of resuming that exercise. Otherwise, walking, a treadmill, hiking, a cycling machine, rowing, or something similar would work. Mixing it up is a great idea, alternating different exercises on different days. The actual exercise you do doesn’t matter, as long as you get moving.
- Most important here: start out really easy. People tend to start out with a lot of enthusiasm, and then burn out, skip a workout or two, and then the plan has failed. In this plan, you want to go short and slow. If you normally run 3-4 miles, for example, just run 1-2 miles. Go for about half of what you think you can do. You can always add more later.
- It’s important that you try to do it every day. Mark your successes on your calendar — gold stars always work well — and try to keep the marks going every day. If you can do short, easy workouts, and mix up the exercises a little, you can do it every day.
- Set aside some time to do this every day. If you’ve had success working out in the morning before, use that time. Otherwise, do it right after work.
- Strength. Another point is that you can do strength workouts, but don’t do anything too hard in the first couple of weeks. Just some pushups, crunches, lunges, squats, with no weights. That might sound easy to some of you, but the key, again, is to start out slow.
- Just start. Last key point: if you are feeling resistance to exercising, just tell yourself that you have to lace up your shoes and get out the door. How long you do it doesn’t matter — even 5 minutes is good. I bet, though, that once you start, you’ll want to keep going for at least 15 minutes.
Step 2: Replace fatty and greasy foods with healthier foods. You’re not going to go on a diet. But take a look at what you eat, and try to slowly replace the greasier and fattier foods you eat (think: fast food, or fried food) with healthier alternatives.
Some key points for this step:
- Examples: if you cook fried chicken, try baked instead. If you eat burgers, try a veggie burger or a low-fat turkey sandwich. If you eat pizza, try making your own pizza, with a store-bought crust, pizza sauce, veggies, and olive oil, with no cheese. You get the idea.
- Gradual change: Now, you don’t need to change all these foods overnight. But after you do the 30-day exercise challenge in Step 1, do a second 30-day challenge where you replace one fatty food a day with a healthier alternative. Slowly, replace more and more fatty foods with healthier ones. You’ll get used to it over the course of a month.
- Exercise: Also continue the daily exercise in the second month, increasing the duration of your workouts a little at a time if you can.
Step 3: Eat smaller meals, more frequently. Once you start getting used to less fatty foods, try eating smaller portions, and eating 5-6 times per day instead of just 3 big meals.
Some key points:
- The 5-6 meals: A good schedule is to eat breakfast, then a mid-morning snack, then a small early lunch, then a second small lunch a couple of hours later, then a small late-afternoon snack, then a small, light dinner. If that’s too much, just try adding a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack, and make the main three meals smaller.
- Snacks: Make sure that your snacks are healthy ones. Good ones include fruits, nuts, low-fat pretzels, low-fat cheese, low-fat yogurt, cut up veggies.
- Wait: For your meals, try eating just one moderate-size serving. If you feel like a second serving, wait 20 minutes, then see if you’re full. It’s important that you gradually reduce your portions, and learn to eat only until you’re satiated, not until you’re bursting.
Step 4: Intensify exercise slowly. Once you’ve gone a month or so doing very short and easy workouts each day, and your body is used to daily exercise, you can gradually intensify the exercise.
- Duration: The first thing you should increase is the duration of your workouts. Without working out any harder, keeping the low intensity of your previous workouts, just add 5 minutes to your workout. Stick to this new duration for 2-3 workouts, then add another 5 minutes. Your goal is to get to about 40-45 minutes (although eventually doing an hour once a week is good too).
- Intensity: After your body gets used to going for longer, once a week or so, try a slightly more intense workout. First, make the duration of the workout much shorter for this intense workout. For example, instead of running or walking for 40 minutes, do 20 minutes. Second, go harder in intervals. For example, do 3-4 minutes at a faster pace, then go at an easy pace, then a faster pace, and so on. Be sure to warm up first, and cool down at the end. When you first start doing the intervals, do them only at a slightly higher intensity, gradually increasing that intensity as the weeks go by.
- Hard-easy: If you do longer or more intense workouts, be sure to follow them with an easy workout. For example, if you do a longer workout of 45 minutes, just do 20-25 minutes the next day. Or if you do interval workouts one day, do a short easy one the next day. Consider the longer or more intense workouts your “hard” days, and never have two hard days in a row — otherwise, you may get injured or burn out.
Step 5: Replace sugary foods with healthier treats. The next target food area is sugary foods. Just as you did with fatty foods, try to replace them with healthier alternatives one at a time. With the combination of lower fat and less sugar in your diet, and your exercise, you should start losing weight much faster by this step.
Some points to make:
- Challenge: Just like with the fatty foods, try another 30-day challenge with the sweets. See if you can go the whole month without sweets! Or try a more gradual approach, and have less each day.
- Cheat day: If you try a month without sweets, I suggest a cheat day. For me, it’s Saturday, when I can eat whatever desserts I want. Interestingly, I don’t eat as many desserts on my cheat days as I used to. It’s not like I pig out, although I don’t restrict myself either.
- Alternatives: Come up with a list of alternatives to sweets, stock up on them, and get rid of the sweets in your house. For example, if you usually have a candy bar for a snack, have fruits or veggies instead. Often we just want something to munch on.
- Drinks: If you drink sodas or juices, cut out those calories by drinking water, exclusively (except perhaps for a single cup of coffee in the morning).
- Whole grains: If you haven’t yet, look for whole grain alternatives to things you might be eating, including cereal, bread, brown rice, etc.