Like it or not, this time of year is always the same: Everyone's looking up new ways to lose weight or prepare yourself with strategies to fend off unwanted pounds as you head into the holiday season. It's not really necessary — all of the #bodypositive movements trending on social media are proof that you look amazing exactly as you are — but sometimes it's what a girl wants to feel comfortable in her own skin. And there's nothing wrong with that.
But when it comes to weight loss, it's easy to get sucked in by quick tricks and "hacky" loopholes that make it seem way easier than it actually is. That's why top personal trainers and nutritionists weighed in on the best slim-down strategies they dished out all year. Whether it be your fitness routine, your nutrition goals, or even your sleeping habits, these are the lifestyle tweaks the experts say actually work when it comes to weight loss.
In this day and age, when there are hundreds of different workouts to try, there's no reason to force yourself to exercise in a way that bores you to tears or makes you dread every single workout. Plus, repeatedly forcing yourself to run when you really hate it is an easy way to fall off the fitness bandwagon, says Kyra Williams, a certified personal trainer and CrossFit Level One trainer. "If you hate what you're doing, you won't look forward to it and once your willpower to force yourself is gone, you will go back to doing nothing," she says. Doing something you love makes it way more likely that you'll stick to it. If you don't know what that is yet, check out the most popular workouts of the year for ideas on what to try next.
Throw up a praise hands emoji, because 2016 was the year that women finally started embracing how awesome it is to lift heavy weights over tiny ones. But if you haven't gotten the memo on why it's so great, here's a fill-in: Lifting heavy weights leads to a boat-load of health benefits, including better bone health, more strength (duh), less belly fat, and a higher calorie burn after you've finished working out. And no, for the last time, you won't "look bulky" if you go for those 20-pound dumbbells over the 10-pound ones. Instead, you'll finally start to see the toned muscle definition everyone's always after. Williams says the reasoning is simple, really: "If you want to see visible muscle, you have to have muscle. If you want to have muscle, you have to lift weights." Time to go pick stuff up and put it down.
Quick-fix diets are exactly like they sound: They're not meant to last long-term. And that's why many of them find their way into "been there, failed that" territory. So for your New Year's resolution, eat and exercise in a way you could do for the rest of your life, says Williams. "A strict diet cannot be done forever, nor could a workout program that has you training four hours a day when you have a full-time job and other responsibilities," she says. "You will burn out. Think long-term instead and you'll be able to go forever." If you need help getting started, try these "diets" that have been proven to be more successful.
If you're worried about overeating the next time you're supposed to meet up with the girls for dinner, down two cups of water before you head out the door, suggests Jenna Wolfe, a certified personal trainer and fitness expert on the weight-loss app Lose It!'s advisory board. "It'll fill you up just enough to take the edge off your hunger," she says, so you can dig in without going overboard.
"By frequently wearing baggy or elastic-waisted pants, it's easy to overlook or ignore any weight you may be gaining," says Wolfe. "So get rid of those pants (or stow them away for cozy nights in only) and aim to wear form-fitting pants that'll keep you honest." No need to go crazy; just choose choose jeans based on your body type.
Always feel like you're starving an hour after you ate? You're probably not getting enough fiber. "It's more difficult for your body to break down fiber, keeping you fuller for longer," says Kristen Kirkpatrick, M.S., nutrition expert on Lose It!'s advisory board. "Plus, foods with lots of fiber have higher volume and fewer calories, allowing you to eat more without blowing through your calorie budget." Basically, fiber is a win-win (and it gives your digestive system a boost), so load up on any of these 53 fiber-filled foods to get your fix.
"'Fat-free' foods sound like a blessing, but they're really a curse," says Kirkpatrick. "To make something fat free, the manufacturer must replace the fat with sugar." And more sugar means more calories (and potentially more weight gain), so steer clear of the deceptive labels. (If you're constantly jonesing for more sugar, learn how to cut your cravings without going crazy.)
The Wild Diet is one of the more popular diets of the year, and for good reason: It focuses on ni processed foods and replacing it with all-natural bites like wild salmon, fresh veggies, local eggs, and even chocolate (mmm, chocolate). It aligns with Kirkpatrick's suggestions to be as real as you can with your nutrition — she says it's best to aim for 90 percent of your meals being made up of natural food — so you're not overloading your body with additives, sugar, and scary-looking chemically-processed ingredients.
When you feel ready to take on the task of losing weight, it's easy to feel like you have to adopt an all-or-nothing mentality. But that's basically setting yourself up for failure, says Angela Martindale, celebrity nutritionist. "People get excited about habit changes and go full-throttle for a short period of time before they feel defeated because they haven't been able to get what they want," she explains.
Instead, go for baby steps — that'll give you an overall plan and allow you to focus on short-term accomplishments. "That breeds positivity and optimism because of the success you'll feel after conquering each thing one step at a time," she says. "Eventually, those small steps create a big picture."
So if you want to run a marathon but have never run before, Martindale says your expectation needs to be that you just run for 10 minutes a day. "Take that first step toward whatever it is you are trying to achieve until you are a master at it, then move to the next level, and so on and so on," she says.
Meditation is the hot wellness trend of 2016, and with the encouragement of being able to do it "any time, anywhere," there's really no excuses to not give it a try. Research shows that those who meditate have less stress, and less stress can lead to weight loss. Plus, "deep, concentrated, intentional breathing exercises can do miracles not only for your body, but for resetting your mind," says Martindale. "Work-related stress, relationships, health concerns, finances, and daily pressures can wear down our ability to focus, sleep well, eat properly, and be emotionally balanced. You have to create spaces in your day just to breathe so that you can re-direct some of that stress from being destructive into a constructive management tool." Plus, there's even a thing as orgasmic meditation, and you know that's gotta be good.
The suggestion to focus on getting in enough protein isn't new, but Darin Hulslander, a Chicago-based personal trainer and nutritionist, says most people still tend to underestimate their needs because, while he says a female generally needs about 40 to 50 grams per day (the equivalent of a 5-8 oz. chicken breast), that number shoots up once you add in activity. The best way to figure out your needs? "Multiply your bodyweight in kilograms (use this calculator) by 1.3, and that's your minimum protein requirement for the day," says Hulslander.
Why is protein so important, though? "A deficiency can lead to fatigue, a weakened immune system, unclear thinking, and even weight gain," says Hulslander. Plus, research shows protein does wonders for muscle repair, so it's super beneficial when it comes to hitting your weight loss goals. On that front, Martindale suggests drinking a protein shake 30 minutes after your workout to reap the maximum benefits of the nutrient. And if you're using a protein powder, be sure to read the label. "Look for clean protein powders without soy, gums or artificial sweeteners," she says. "The more authentic, whole, and healthy the protein, the better your body will respond in healing and repair."
Yes, it's finally time to stop the calorie counting. "I tell all of my clients not to sit and try to count every macronutrient and calorie they consume," says Gisela Bouvier, R.D., owner of B Nutrition and Wellness. "When you focus so much on the numbers you can become obsessed with every gram and calorie — this can lead to disordered eating patterns and doesn't put the focus on good and wholesome nutrition." Instead, she says to focus on the quality of the foods you're eating to make sure you're getting the nutrients you need. "That way you'll learn proper nutrition and how to put together well-balanced meals and snacks with lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, polyunsaturated fats, and fruits and vegetables," she says. "When good nutrition is learned, weight loss occurs and becomes more sustainable."
"The days of 45 minutes to hour-long sessions on a cardio machine are long gone," says Bouvier. "To get an effective cardiovascular workout in, do high-intensity interval training (HIIT) instead. It brings your heart rate up then decreases it for a recovery period, so you'll burn calories and fat in a shorter period of time." Translation: You only need 15 to 20 minutes to squeeze in a solid workout, and you may even burn more calories than you would slogging it on the treadmill for an hour thanks to the after-burn effect.
Supplements may seem like a scary alternative only die-hard fitness freaks go for, but Bouvier says that's not the case. "Supplements are an absolutely crucial component to health and wellness because, even with a proper diet, you can't consume all of the nutrients your body needs on a daily basis," she explains. Incorporating multivitamins, fish oils, and a probiotic is a strong start, she says, and those who work out on the reg could also try pre- and post-workout supplements (like protein powder). "With a good supplement regimen, you'll have improved function in how nutrients and fuel are utilized to help with weight loss and muscle gain," adds Bouvier.
You know proper portion sizes matter, but here's a fun fact: The size of your meal should directly correlate with the time of day, too. Sarajean Rudman, M.S., a certified personal trainer and certified nutritionist, says you should follow the "royal" guidelines (sadly, this has nothing to do with Kate Middleton). "Eat breakfast like a prince, lunch like a king, and dinner like a pauper," she says. "Eating your smallest meal at least three hours prior to bed, and keeping it a small meal that is easy to digest, regulates the blood sugar and aids in a good night's sleep (and research has proven time and time again how important sleep is for weight loss). You'll also have more of a chance to burn off the energy if you eat your biggest meal in the middle of the day." If you want bonus points — and who doesn't, really? — Rudman says it's best to take a short walk after each meal to further support digestion and blood sugar regulation.
It's one of the most common excuses to skip your workout ever: "I don't have time." But that's likely because you're trying to squeeze it all in at once. That's not the most effective use of your time, says Rudman. "You should focus less on duration and more on frequency for physical activity," she explains. "If you don't have time to workout for 60 or 90 minutes, workout for 10 minutes several times throughout the day." Pick 10 different exercises and do them each for one-minute intervals. "Do this in the morning, noon, evening, whenever you can squeeze it in," says Rudman. That way you'll still fit in plenty of activity and you'll be revving your metabolism throughout the day, rather than all in one go.
When you're trying to lose weight, it may feel tempting to stay home and never, ever eat out. But don't do that (really, it's not worth it). Rudman says you can follow a color chart to stay on track. "Look for something dark green (spinach, kale, collard greens), something orange (squash, carrot, sweet potato), and add a protein (chicken, fish, steak)," she says. "You'll get a good boost of vitamin C, A, K, protein, and healthy resistant starches without having to outthink the room for creative dinner plans."
Logging enough shuteye has a direct effect on hitting your weight loss goals, and getting some quality vitamin D helps with both. "[If you go] outside first thing in the morning and let your skin and eyes be exposed to the sun and the weather — and then do the same thing at night before bed — it'll help naturally reset the circadian rhythms in your body and lead to a better night's sleep," says Rudman. How? "We actually have photoreceptor cells in our skin, so exposing ourselves to the blue and white light of daytime keeps us tuned into nature, followed by exposure to orange and yellow light at night to remind the body that the sun has gone down."
When cold weather hits, it's tempting to hit the gym for every workout. But Reggie Chambers, a certified personal trainer at New York Personal Training, says it's best to bust it out in nature as much as you can. "Taking advantage of cold days to workout outside will help you torch more calories since your body has to work harder to keep you warm," he explains. Sure, there are a lot of variables to determine how many calories you'll actually burn (things like your age, sex, and weight all play a role), but doing the same exact workout outside versus inside could net you a better burn.
Forget the dreadmill — it's time to finally make treadmill workouts more interesting. Instead of slogging away at the same pace in the same direction, Chambers suggests slowing down the speed and doing side lateral skips. "They primarily work the muscles in your butt, hips, and thighs, but they also hit the transverse abdominus — the deepest layer of the abdominal muscles — to add a little spice to your workout," he says. Try the following quickie routine: side lateral skips: 30 seconds on each side (repeat so you do skips twice per side),1 minute: sprint (as fast as you can go),1 minute: rest; repeat 4 times.
"When eating out, I see tons of people ordering vegetable side dishes, but they don't usually realize that those are often seasoned with salt and cooked or sautéed in oil," says Hulslander. "Most oils average a 3:1 omega ratio, or the ratio of healthy omega-3s to not-so-healthy fatty acids, which is considered unhealthy by most standards. Make sure to ask for steamed veggies if that's your choice."
Remember the good ol' school days, when jumping rope was something you actually did for fun, not exercise? It's time to bring that back, says fitness trainer Emily Skye. "Jumping rope is one of the most effective calorie-burning exercises you can do," she explains. "Try doing 1 minute of skipping, then 30 seconds of rest before repeating 10 times." Bonus: It only requires a tiny piece of equipment, you could have your kids do it, too, for some healthy family bonding, and Skye says just 10 minutes of jumping could burn upward of 100 calories.
Next time you're binge-watching The Mindy Project on Hulu, make those 30-second commercial breaks count. "See how many burpees you can get done and try to beat it during the next break," says Skye. If you're a beginner, start with modified burpees. To perform: Get into a push-up position, keep your body parallel to the ground with a tight tummy and straight back (no sagging in the middle), then jump your feet in so they land right near your hands. Stand straight up with tight abs and squeezed glutes to finish. To make it harder, perform a push-up before jumping your feet in toward your hand, and add a jump when you stand up.
You know those days when your schedule all of a sudden becomes insanely busy and then — whoops — before you know it it's 3 p.m. and you haven't eaten? Yeah, that's bad news bears. "Set an alarm to remind yourself to eat," says Skye. "It's important that you eat enough food every day because under-eating will lead to your body's metabolism slowing down and more fat being stored. Not to mention your immune system will be affected, cellular renewal will slow down, and you risk becoming lethargic, sluggish, or even sick." To really see success, Skye says it's important to figure out what works for you. "Some people prefer to eat several smaller meals throughout the day while others like to have three larger meals," she says.
A scale can be one way of checking in on your weight loss progress, but don't let it be the be-all, end-all. "Scales don't take into account muscle weight," says Skye, and that can stress you the eff out. "The worst thing you can do when trying to lose fat is stress about your weight because stress can actually cause your body to hold onto fat," adds Skye. Monitor progress by how your clothes fit or how you look in photos (you can snap mirror selfies weekly) instead, she suggests. "It's easy to become obsessive with measurements and body fat percentages, so make sure you never sacrifice health to look a certain way. How you feel mentally and physically and how your body functions should always be your priority."