Creating a simple fitness and nutrition plan can change your body—and your life, in just one month.
Your set of hand weights is gathering dust under the television. Your new walking shoes are still in the box. You had pizza for dinner twice this week.
OK. Enough judgment and self-trash talk. Forgive yourself. There’s still plenty of time left in 2018 to establish some healthy habits and see the results this year. For down-to-earth advice, we turned to Christal Churchill, an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)-certified personal trainer and nutrition expert at Zone Health and Fitness in Ocala. Her years as a trainer and background in nutrition have helped many clients achieve success by linking fitness with a healthy eating plan.
Christal shared common sense advice to making over your eating habits and a realistic exercise program that can be done at home without specialized equipment.
“Fitness really begins between your ears,” says Christal, who clearly understands the role psychology plays in the whole weight loss/fitness quest. “It all starts in your head; your thoughts are so important to your overall health and well-being.”
She reminds clients not to be obsessed with weight. It’s just a number and doesn’t tell you how much muscle you’ve gained. Remember that muscle weighs more than fat, and adding that muscle is key to your body functioning as it was designed to do.
“As you increase muscle, your body fat goes down, and when you build muscle, you burn more fat—even just sitting,” Christal explains. “One pound of muscle burns 50 calories at rest, so 10 pounds of muscle will burn 500 calories at rest. If you needed incentive to gain muscle, here it is!”
You’ve likely read those bizarre stories online: “I Ate Nothing But Twinkies for a Month and Lost 15 Pounds” or “How to Lose Weight on a Fast Food Diet.” Although this might make you feel better about your own eating habits, let’s be honest here. To make real progress, you can’t just start working out. You also need to address the way you eat.
“Food is 85 percent of your body changing, so you need a healthy lifestyle in the kitchen,” says Christal. “You will always get results from exercise, but it’s when you combine exercise with nutrition that you get optimal results.”
For starters, Christal recommends writing down everything you eat for a week. This will help you identify patterns, such as stress or boredom eating, and start to make changes.
There are countless diet plans and cookbooks for healthy eating, but rather than adhere to a specific list of foods to eat (some of which you probably wouldn’t like), start incorporating basic changes in how you eat. Here’s what a healthy balanced meal should look like:
- Half: vegetables (primarily green ones)
- One-quarter: low-fat protein (skinless chicken breast, fish, etc.)
- One-quarter: complex carbohydrates (brown rice, sweet potato, spaghetti squash, chickpeas, etc.)
“Anything that can fit in your palm is about 4 ounces, which is a good portion of protein for both men and women to stick with,” says Christal. “A closed fist size is the amount of carbs you should have per day. Fill the rest of your plate with veggies; green ones are especially good for you and are considered ‘free’ foods.”
But wait, aren’t we supposed to load up on fruit, too?
“Even though it’s natural, fruit is still sugar, so go easy on it and preferably stick with berries, as they’re loaded with antioxidants,” says Christal, who advises limiting fruit to one serving a day, making it a good choice for dessert.
Christal adds that many people only eat twice a day, when, ideally, they should have at least four to five small meals daily.
“The best analogy is to think of your body as a machine, which loses production when it has to stop and start your metabolism,” she explains. “Keep it fueled with small, healthy meals throughout the day. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, you want to keep eating.”
Hydrate With Water
Soda manufacturers have done a brilliant job marketing products that have no nutritional value whatsoever, and many Americans are hooked. If you’re one of them, start gradually weaning yourself off and make it a point to hydrate yourself with water.
Adequate hydration and sleep are crucial to health, yet many people skimp on both.
Adults age 18 to 64 should get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. (Those 65 and older can get by with seven to eight.)
The old “eight glasses of water a day” isn’t necessarily correct, as the amount you need is based on your individual weight. Here’s a general formula to determine how much water you need daily: Drink half your body weight in ounces per day. (For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you need a minimum of 80 ounces of water daily.)
Christal recommends buying a container that holds as much water as you need and drink it throughout the day. She notes that if your body isn’t used to getting the water it needs, you may feel a little bloated at first and have to urinate more frequently, but don’t worry, your body will adjust in a week or two.
The color of your urine is a good barometer as to whether or not you’re drinking enough water. If you’re adequately hydrated, it should be clear or very pale yellow.
If you haven’t been physically active at all, start with walking 20 to 30 minutes a day. The idea is to create a routine. Then, in a couple weeks, you can ease into doing the exercises in the program.
When you’re walking (or doing any physical activity), putting your hands up over your head significantly increases the level of exertion. It’s an easy way to make your body work harder.
Pick up a set of resistance bands (start with “light”), and begin using them for simple movements and stretches. Unlike free weights, this form of strength training requires you to control muscle contraction the entire time.
Measuring Cardio Intensity
- Use the research-validated “Talk Test” to determine intensity during cardio exercise.
Perform the test using a phrase that takes about 20 to 30 seconds to say, such as the Pledge of Allegiance. If you can talk comfortably while exercising, your body is utilizing fat as a primary source of fuel. Once it becomes difficult to talk, carbohydrates have become the primary source of fuel for the activity.
- If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, you can also get a good measure of the level of your physical activity by talking.
- If you’re able to converse regularly, your activity level is low.
- If it’s still possible to talk, but harder, you’re at a moderate level.
- Once you’re not able to talk well at all, you’ve hit a high level.
Get With The Program
Follow this routine and you’ll begin to feel better and see results in just a few weeks. Core exercises help flatten the tummy, while also developing strength and definition in the hips and thighs. Christal recommends: bird dog, side plank, front plank, glute bridge and crunches. (Ask a personal trainer to show you how to properly perform exercises or look them up online.)
- Keep track of every single thing you eat.
- Drink water (not sugar-added beverages) to quench thirst.
- If you drink soda, start cutting back.
- Increase the amount of vegetables you’re eating.
- Choose three alternating days to exercise. Perform one set (12 repetitions) of each core region exercise. Rest at least 30 seconds before moving on to the next exercise. Walk 15 minutes continuously three days this week, using a pace where it’s comfortable to hold a conversation.
- Make it a point not to eat closer than two hours before bedtime.
- Continue cutting back on soda (if applicable).
- Follow the healthy balanced plate amounts/types of food.
- Again, choose three alternating days, and progress to two sets (increase to 15 reps each) of each exercise, resting for 30 seconds between each set. Complete both sets before moving on to the next exercise. Walk for 15 minutes continuously, a minimum of four different times, using a pace where it’s comfortable to hold a conversation.
- Reward yourself (not with food!) for being consistent with your healthy eating plan. Buy yourself a new coffee mug, piece of workout gear, etc.
- Try different complex carb options (substitute spaghetti squash or zucchini spirals for pasta, etc.).
- Don’t have more than two protein or meal replacement shakes a day; you need actual food, not just protein.
- Again, choose three alternating days. You’ll be doing the exercises as a circuit, completing a single set (15 reps) of each, resting between each exercise for 15 seconds and then continuing. Perform the entire circuit (all exercises) twice so you do two sets of each exercise. Walk for 20 minutes continuously, a minimum of three different days, using a pace where it’s comfortable to hold a conversation.
- Continue making healthy food choices.
- Fine tune those choices by swapping healthier items (for example, mashed avocado for mayo on sandwiches).
- Continue to choose three alternating days. Your goal is to complete the entire circuit before taking a rest interval of one minute. If possible, repeat the circuit three times. Walk for 20 minutes continuously, a minimum of four different days, using a pace where it’s comfortable to hold a conversation.