Woman running
Illustration: Nicole Kaufman
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Weeks 1 & 2:

Food Switch: Replace soda with water, unsweetened iced tea, or fat-free milk. Diet soda is okay, but limit the amount, as it may encourage cravings for sweet foods.

Cardio: Fifteen minutes of activity such as walking or riding a stationary bike five times a week. You should be working hard enough so that you can talk, but not for very long.

Strength: None. Starting a strength-training program can stimulate hunger. That's why I recommend waiting until you get a few healthy diet changes under your belt.

Traps to Avoid: Don't be tempted by a shortcut (a fat-burning pill, a fad diet). It may work for a while, but to lose weight permanently you need to move more, eat less, and figure out the emotional reasons you turn to food.


Weeks 3 & 4:

Food Switch: Trade in your white bread for 100 percent whole grain, in addition, try incorporating whole grain pasta and brown rice into your diet.

Cardio: Add five more minutes to each workout session, for a total of 20 minutes, five days a week.

Strength: None at this time.

Traps to Avoid: Exercise is tough. You can shed pounds by just cutting calories, but among successful long-term weight losers, 90 percent exercise regularly. Physical activity also improves mood, sleep, even sex.


Weeks 5 & 6:

Food Switch: Cut out trans fat (look for it on labels—or for "partially hydrogenated oil"). Find baked goods and spreads without it, or make your own, using healthy fats, such as olive and corn oil.

Cardio: Add five more minutes of cardio to each workout, for a total of 25 minutes, five days a week.

Strength: Start with eight moves that work the major muscle groups—triceps extensionbiceps curlsquat. Do one to two sets of eight to 10 reps for each, three times a week. Get all of Bob's fitness moves!

Traps to Avoid: Have you thought about the emotional reasons behind why you overeat? You'll keep relapsing if you don't. Try keeping a journal to help get at the deeper issues you need to address.


Weeks 7 & 8:

Food Switch:
Switch from fried foods to roasted, sautéed, or baked. Try roasted potatoes, baked (and lightly breaded) chicken, and vegetables sautéed in olive oil.

Cardio: Add five more minutes of cardio to each workout session, for a total of 30 minutes, five days a week.

Strength: Continue with your strength training routine.

Traps to Avoid: Your initual enthusiasm may be wearing thin—so sudden work demands or an injury can throw you off your program. Figure out now how you'll respond to such setbacks.


Weeks 9 & 10:

Food Switch: Skim the fat from dairy: Go from whole or 2 percent milk and yogurt to 1 percent or fat-free versions. Also try calcium- and vitamin D-enriched soy milk with no more than 100 calories per cup.

Cardio: Add five more minutes of cardio to each workout, for a total of 35 minutes, five days a week.

Strength: Add another set of eight to 10 reps to each of the moves in your routine.

Traps to Avoid: You're beginning to appreciate the work involved in weight control. Many people set out to lose 20 to 30 percent of their total weight, but 10 percent is more realistic You may want to revisit your initial goal.


Weeks 11 & 12:


Food Switch: Consider cutting out alcohol as a way to eliminate calories. Instead of beer, wine, or a cocktail, order sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice (or another low-calorie drink) and see if it doesn't make a big difference.

Cardio: Add five more minutes of cardio to each workout, for a total of 40 minutes, five days a week.

Strength: Continue with  your strength-training program.

Traps to Avoid: The pounds have come off—great. But now you find yourself skipping a workout and allowing a second helping here and there. Remember, weight loss is not a finish line but the beginning of a process in which you learn about yourself and improve your life. The longer you persist, the easier it gets.

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