I often hear the complaint: “I’m working out almost every day, but my weight won’t budge.” What many people don’t realize is that exercise is the easy part. Learning to eat right–and sticking with a healthy-eating plan–is a much bigger challenge when it comes to shedding extra pounds and changing the shape of your body. You can kill yourself in the gym, sweating through an hour or more of cardio daily and lifting weights until you drop. But the results aren’t going to show if there’s a layer of fat sticking around due to a poor diet.
Here’s an easy breakdown to remember: weight loss is about 80% nutrition, 10% exercise and 10% genes. If you want to slim down and tone up, eating a clean, healthy diet must be top priority. Not sure what you’re doing wrong? These guidelines are a good place to start:
Eat 5 or 6 small meals a day. Rather than the traditional “big three,” aim for five or six smaller meals spaced evenly throughout the day. Each should include protein and carbohydrates. To keep portion sizes in check, remember that a serving of protein is about the size of your palm, while a serving of carbs should fit in your cupped hand.
Choose sources wisely. When picking protein, choose lean sources such as chicken, tuna, salmon, turkey, white pork and egg whites. Complex carbs should come from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These important nutrients will help keep your blood sugar levels balanced and keep your appetite in check by making you feel fuller longer.
Include healthy fats. Not all fat is bad! Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and avocados. You can also try sprinkling chia seeds or flax seeds onto yogurt or oatmeal, or stir them into your morning smoothie, for extra omega-3s.
Keep an eye on calories. Eating more frequently throughout the day will require slightly more careful calorie monitoring. Try to keep your smaller meals to between 300 and 400 calories each.
Don’t skip meals. Avoiding food may seem like a smart way to keep your daily calorie count low, but in reality, starving yourself forces your metabolism to slow. When you’re eating right, your body will burn through calories quickly for fuel—so it’s important to eat all of your daily meals. Be prepared, and take food with you if you have to be away from home or the office.
Stay away from sugar. To keep your metabolism burning, try to keep refined sugar and simple sugars off your plate. Personally, when I cut out sugar, I feel more energetic, less bloated and healthier overall.
Say goodbye to soda, sugary juices and energy drinks. One of the best things you can do to clean your diet is to replace unhealthy beverages with water. Sipping pure H2O throughout the day will keep you hydrated while also keeping your body systems running smoothly. Miss flavor? Add Berry, Lemon Drop or Orange Valencia stevia drops to your water bottle.
Supplement your diet. Dieters should, at the very least, take a multivitamin to help fill in “nutrient gaps” that may result from smaller portion sizes and restricted eating. But other nutrients, such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) or green tea, can provide extra support for your weight loss efforts.*
It’s amazing the results that can be achieved when you combine a healthy diet and regular exercise. Give it time, and not only will you see lower numbers on the scale, but you’ll notice greater definition in your body—and strength, too. Change won’t happen overnight, but be consistent and you’ll see and feel the difference.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
IFBB figure professional Melissa Transou, a fitness expert, wife and mother, blogs about the unique sports and nutrition needs of women and female athletes exclusively for Vitacost.com. Learn more about Melissa in this recent RXMuscle.com spotlight article, connect with her on Facebook or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.