Summer is around the corner and you know what that means—shedding layers, baring skin and wanting to look (and feel) your best. And there’s good news. I’ve put together a 4-week plan that can help you lose that stubborn extra weight, while giving you healthy eating tools and strategies that you can keep using to continue and maintain your weight loss.
Here’s your 4-week plan to slim down for summer:
Start off with EatingWell’s 28-day meal plan for weight loss—depending on your daily calorie needs, you can healthfully lose up to 2 pounds a week on it. Using this meal plan takes the guesswork out of what to eat. Each of these days delivers meal ideas and recipes that will help you feel satisfied, while sticking to the calorie goal you need to lose weight. Then adopt one of the following new healthy behaviors each week. Follow the plan to a T or use it as a guide to healthy portions and ideas for food choices.
Week 1: Track what you eat
Whether you follow the meal plan or just use it as a guide, get started by taking stock of what you’re currently eating. You might think you know (sure, I had yogurt and fruit for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch), but when you actually write down every morsel that passes through your lips you may be surprised by how many “extras” you eat in a day—a chocolate from your co-worker’s candy bowl here, a few chips when you’re cooking dinner there—and those extras can add up. Find a way of tracking what you eat that works for you. Lots of phone apps exist (like the free Lose It! or MyFitnessPal iPhone apps) for tracking what you eat—some even let you take a photograph of your meal—or keep track in a simple notebook (be as specific as possible—portion size, calories). The key is to find a method that you’ll actually use…and then use it right after you eat.
Week 2: Stock your pantry with healthy foods
Next up, tackle your cupboards. If you have junk food lurking in plain sight then it’s likely you’ll eat it. Get rid of anything you find too tempting, then restock your pantry with healthy foods. Make sure you have lots of healthy, low-cal options on hand. Vegetables are low in calories and high in satisfying fiber, so they make an excellent option when hunger strikes—serve with a light dip for an afternoon snack or to munch on while cooking dinner. Check out our guide for a list of healthy foods to stock in your pantry.
Week 3: Schedule in exercise & ramp it up
It’s hard to lose weight by diet alone. That’s because to lose 1 pound of fat, you have to create a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you’re taking in) of 3,500 calories. That translates into 500 calories per day per week—which is easiest to do through a combination of exercise and replacing calorie-dense foods with lighter ones—think more vegetables and lean protein. If you already get the recommended 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week, start off by adding an extra 10 minutes—even if it’s just taking a short walk during your work day. Exercising 40 minutes 5 days a week can help ward off the weight gain that creeps up on women as they age, according to one research study. Also incorporate strength training into your workouts—it helps sculpt muscle and as you gain muscle your metabolism will get faster. Find exercise that you truly enjoy—you’ll be more motivated to do it and more likely to keep it up.
Related: 4 Ways to Boost Metabolism
Week 4: Refine your healthy eating strategy
By making the changes I’ve outlined for the first three weeks—like keeping track of what you eat and making healthy foods available—you might notice that your eating habits are already healthier. This week home in on healthy strategies that can help you shed even more pounds as you continue. Focus on eating more vegetables—they have a high water and fiber content, which helps you feel full on fewer calories. And scale down your portions of higher-calorie foods—try using smaller plates and bowls, which will make a smaller portion look more ample.
Must-Read: 7 Ways to Save 100 Calories Without Noticing
Do you want to lose weight for summer? What is your plan? Tell us what you think below.