Do you feel like it’s increasingly harder to feel fit, toned and healthy? Or perhaps you’re finding that the things you used to do to shift those few extra pounds gained over Christmas or on holiday don’t work as well anymore? If so, you are definitely not alone.
There are a number of reasons why it can seem harder to stay in shape as you head into your forties and beyond. The main factors I see in my clients are changing hormones (especially connected to the menopause), increased stress levels, lack of sleep, an overly sedentary lifestyle, dietary problems and – the most common one – lack of time. You may identify with just one or two of these factors or the whole list. When you get to the point of thinking “right, it’s time to do something”, it can be tempting to focus all your efforts on a diet or an exercise programme or some kind of supplement or meal replacement. However, I see the best results in clients who adopt a more holistic and gradual approach to improving their wellbeing rather than just focusing on shifting pounds as quickly as possible. The clients who get the results are the ones who take action not only on improving their diets and exercising more effectively, but also on managing their stress and prioritising sleep. In a nutshell, they start to take self care seriously and they are committed to it as a journey rather than a quick fix.
I’ve compiled a list of my top 7 weight loss and toning up tips that will get you the results you want provided you are consistent and patient:
1. Keep a food diary
There’s a saying that you can’t out train a bad diet and it’s true! You can exercise 5 or 6 days a week, but unless you are careful with your diet for the majority of the time, you won’t get the results you want. Keeping a food diary for a week is a really good way to see where your diet may be letting you down. Those weekend glasses of wine, morning lattes and late evening snacks all add up in terms of calorie intake. Many of my clients find that keeping a food diary for a couple of weeks not only helps them track their food intake more accurately, but it also helps them eat more mindfully and make more conscious food choices.
2. Think about when you eat, not just what you eat
There is a lot of evidence that our bodies benefit from fasting, especially from a weight loss point of view. Now I’m not suggesting that you stop eating for 3 days or immediately start the 5:2 or 16:8 diets without looking carefully into whether these approaches are suitable for your particular needs . But I do recommend to all my clients who are generally fit and well that they try to introduce a 12 hour daily fasting period. This may mean eating breakfast later or having dinner earlier. Most people can manage one or the other. For me, it means eating my breakfast around 8am and finishing my dinner by 7.30pm. I don’t manage to do it every day but as with my general approach to diet, I aim for 80/20 – so about 5 days a week. One thing to bear in mind is that you still have to eat healthy food during your non fasting periods in order to get the benefits. I also advise my clients who want to lose weight to taper off their carbs over the course of the day. So start with a good healthy carb breakfast such as oats, have a smaller serving of carbs at lunch and then go light with carbs for dinner. Make sure you include protein and a small serving of healthy fat with each meal – and lots and lots of vegetables.
3. Drink more water
It’s easy to mistake thirst for hunger so next time you get a case of what you think is the munchies, have a glass of water first, then see if you are still hungry. Track your water consumption over the day – you may be surprised how little water you drink on busy days when you are running from appointment to appointment. It’s easy to stay hydrated if you get in the habit of always carrying a water bottle with you and drinking from it regularly. You should aim for 1.5 to 2 litres of water per day, possibly more if it’s very hot weather or you are doing a lot of exercise.
4. Exercise smarter, not harder or longer
In order to have better definition in your body, you need to exercise in a way that challenges your muscles and burns fat. Strength training, which you can do using your own bodyweight or resistance equipment, will help increase your muscle definition as well as making you stronger. If you are carrying excess body fat, you also need to do fat burning exercise. Interval training is proven to be highly effective for burning body fat. For best results, you should aim to do 2 strength training sessions per week and 2 interval training sessions per week. You don’t need to spend hours in the gym either – 20-30 minutes per workout will get you results if you push yourself hard enough. You also need to keep as active as possible during the day – get up from your desk and walk around, take the stairs, do some hoovering or gardening. I tell all my clients who have desk jobs to get up from their desks at least once an hour and walk around for 5 minutes – it could going to the water fountain to fill up their bottles, walking over to speak to a colleague instead of sending an email or walking to a slightly further coffee shop for their morning coffee. Not only is this good for your body, but you’ll be more productive and focused when you get back to your desk.
5. Prioritise sleep and relaxation
If you are not getting enough sleep, you will find it much harder to lose body fat. The same thing goes if you are not managing your stress and making time for regular relaxation. Lack of sleep and stress play havoc with your hormones and this has a knock on effect on your weight. When you are tired, your hormones make you feel hungry with a particular craving for sugar and starchy carbs. Stress is equally unhelpful from a weight loss point of view as it produces cortisol- an excess of cortisol often leads to stubborn belly fat. Plus feeling tired generally does not translate well to feeling motivated to exercise. To help improve your sleep, try a week where you go to bed at roughly the same time every night and give yourself an 8 hour sleep window. Make sure you switch off those screens at least an hour before bedtime. Try to make some time during the day for relaxation – just 10 minutes a day of doing something you really enjoy can help you unwind and de-stress. Daily practices such as mindfulness, yoga and breathing exercises can really help with stress management and general wellbeing.
6. Don’t weigh yourself
The numbers on the scales are not always an accurate reflection of how your body is changing and in particular, whether you are losing body fat and replacing it with lean muscle. If you can bear to take a selfie in your underwear or bikini, that will give you a much better sense of how your body is changing. If that’s not your style, then take your measurements around your waist, hips and the tops of your arms. After a month of regular training, healthy eating and prioritising self care, those numbers should go down and you should start to notice some visible differences.
7. Use visualisation to keep you motivated
You may think you don’t have time to exercise or make healthy food, but the reality is that you probably just haven’t made it a priority. So motivation is more likely to be your biggest barrier than actual lack of time. When you’re motivated to do something, you prioritise it. I have many friends and clients who say they were in the best shape of their lives on their wedding day. There’s not much more motivating than looking amazing on your big day! It’s not as easy to find that level of motivation when you don’t have a wedding dress to squeeze into, but you can still be motivated. An exercise that I find can help with motivation is to visualise a future version yourself looking and feeling amazing, wearing a particular outfit – it could be on holiday you have planned or attending a big event. Any time you are feeling unmotivated, use that visualisation to help get you out the door for your run or to stop you from eating that chocolate brownie.
The cold hard truth is that there’s no quick fix to healthy weight loss, especially if you want it to last. You need to invest time and energy into changing your lifestyle and habits – but once these actions become habits, it all becomes so much easier. You stop having the argument with yourself about whether you can be bothered to exercise, you enjoy eating fresh fruit and vegetables and chocolates and cake fall rightly into their place as occasional treat. It’s as much about your mindset as the actions you take.
There’s no quick fix to healthy weight loss, especially if you want it to last. It’s as much about your mindset as the actions you take.
If you feel like you need some help creating healthy habits along with a personalised strategy for a healthy lifestyle, check out my ENERGISE 1 to 1 Coaching Programme.