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Diets have helped millions of people get fit and lose weight. They’ve also helped millions of people hate the very idea of dieting. Besides the fact they mercilessly keep us from all the wonderful, tasty foods we love — in the name of health and a better body, of course, which is a fair point — diets often lack personalization, which can hurt their effectiveness and sustainability. What follows here, therefore, is not a diet or blueprint of calorically perfect meals but rather a progressive 14-day set of fueling strategies to help you clean up your nutrition habits before summer.
“Typically, people make too many changes at once and it’s too much to handle,” says Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC. “Big lifestyle changes are better tackled not in diets, but in small increments to set you up for long-term success.”
Adopt one of these food or lifestyle adjustments per day and ease into your bikini like a boss — a super-lean, take-no-prisoners boss who makes performance nutrition look easy.
Day 1: Drink More Water
Water assists in nearly every process in your body, and adequate hydration is essential for proper metabolic function. It also keeps you full without adding calories to your daily total: According to a 2016 scientific review published in the journal Frontiers of Nutrition, being properly hydrated may increase metabolism because of expanded cell volume.
Do this: Aim to drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. Have a water bottle handy at all times and set a timer on your smartphone to remind you to drink up.
Day 2: Say Yes to Egg Yolks
Researchers at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center found that those who ate eggs for breakfast were leaner and had fewer cravings than those who didn’t, as reported in the Journal of Diabetes and Its Complications. Plus, the protein from eggs provides much-needed amino acids to repair and rebuild muscles as well as heart-healthy omega-3 fats from the vitamin-rich yolks. The perfect egg partners: slow-digesting carbs like oats and brightly colored fruits and veggies to add vitamins, antioxidants and physique-friendly fiber.
Do this: Schedule a set time for breakfast every day. Prep food the night before, and make sure to include eggs with your meal to build muscle and reduce cravings.
Day 3: Chew Your Food
Research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that more chewing was associated with lower blood levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, as well as higher levels of CCK, a hormone believed to reduce appetite.
Do this: Take a bite of food and notice how long you typically chew it. Then increase that time by two to promote satiety and calorie control.
Day 4: Hit the Hay
In the past decade, science has linked sleeping less than six hours per night to increased hunger, imbalanced hormones, and altered metabolism and body composition. Consider sleep deprivation’s effect on hunger cues: Not getting enough zzz’s increases ghrelin (the hormone that makes you hungry) and decreases leptin (the hormone that makes you feel full). The result: You never feel satiated and may continue to nosh, pulling in calories well beyond your nutritional needs.
Do this: Turn off the TV and other devices and get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Having trouble nodding off? Try sublingual melatonin — a naturally produced hormone that promotes a sound, restful sleep.
Day 5: Exchange Your Grains
Refined grain products are everywhere because they’re cheap, and bread, pasta and pancakes are really easy to get your hands on. However, these are all lousy nutritional sources. Besides cutting back a lot on these empty carbohydrates, trade them out for whole-grain and whole-wheat options. They taste great and slow down digestion because of their high-fiber and nutrient content, reducing the negative impact on blood sugar and insulin release.
Do this: Today’s task is a two-parter. First, go into your pantry, grab your refined grain products — bread, tortillas, pasta, pancake mix, etc. — and drop them in the trash. Then head to the store to buy products labeled “whole wheat” or “whole grain,” and which contain as few additives and preservatives as possible.
Day 6: Fill Your Protein Gaps
If you’re training at an appropriate level of intensity in the gym — muscles burning, sweat beading — maximizing recovery with protein afterward is crucial. Protein supplies your body with amino acids, increasing your ability to add lean muscle, which serves as a metabolism-boosting, calorie-burning engine. Ingesting whole-food animal proteins is optimal because they present a complete amino-acid profile, but supplementing with powders such as whey, casein, soy, pea and even hemp protein are valuable alternatives, as well.
Day 7: Plan Ahead
Lack of preparation and planning is the death knell of every aspiring dieter, and the first time you head to the fridge hungry and realize you have to cook, the more likely you are to heat up that leftover pizza or head to the drive-thru. To stay focused and on track, you need to plan ahead and prepare plenty of healthy meals, snacks and lunches. Look at your upcoming schedule and see when and what you need to cook ahead of time to make it through the week successfully. No time to cook? Microwaveable oatmeal (without sugar), bagged salads, rotisserie chicken and ready-to-drink protein shakes are good in a pinch.
Do this: Spend an afternoon cooking your healthy foods in large batches, and portion them out into storage containers for the whole week.
Day 8: Get Your Jolt
A 2017 review published in the Journal of Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology found that caffeine may improve weight maintenance through thermogenesis, fat oxidation and energy intake. The sympathetic nervous system is involved in the regulation of energy balance and lipolysis — the breakdown of fat to glycerol and fatty acids — and sympathetic stimulation of white adipose tissue may play an important role in the regulation of total body fat — a major plus for caffeine supplementation. Hard-training individuals will like to supplement caffeine anhydrous, the most researched version, but a morning cup of coffee is helpful, too: Caffeine in brewed coffee or tea boosts alertness, temporarily increases strength and may reduce perceived exertion rates. Get your first caffeine fix at breakfast to start your day with a bang, and six hours later, have another hit 30 to 60 minutes before your first rep at the gym. Limit caffeine before bedtime to ensure optimal sleep, and allow several hours between helpings to avoid jitters.
Do this: Take 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine once or twice daily for performance benefits.
Day 9: Cast Your Fishing Line
Fish oil is a health-and-performance powerhouse supporting brain and joint function while boosting your fat-burning capabilities. Research published in PLOS One showed that those who took 3 grams of fish oil per day increased resting metabolic rate by 14 percent, boosted energy expenditure during exercise by 10 percent, and accelerated the rate of fat oxidation during rest by 19 percent and during exercise by 27 percent. In addition, fish-oil consumption lowered triglyceride levels by 29 percent and increased lean mass by 4 percent.
Do this: Purchase a basic quality fish-oil product and take two softgels per day with food. In addition, aim for one or two servings per week of a quality oily fish like salmon, trout and tuna.
Day 10: Expand Your Menu
The importance of antioxidants for active individuals cannot be stressed enough. “They need to be a regular fixture in the diet to be effective at fighting inflammation and boosting immunity and skin and heart health,” White says. “The best sources are plant-based foods, fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.”
Do this: Select the brightest, most colorful produce such as bell peppers, tomatoes, cranberries, raspberries and blueberries. Other produce such as kale and goji berries have been touted as “superfoods” for their per-gram antioxidant content. Augment your intake with a quality multivitamin to ensure optimal nutrition.
Day 11: Snack Smart
You’ve probably heard that eating smaller meals throughout the day enhances your metabolism, but the science on meal frequency continues to evolve, with research showing that three- and six-meal-per-day eaters lost about the same amount of fat overall in clinical trials. Rather than focusing on eating a set number of meals at a certain time, develop appropriate snacking habits so that you reach for the right things when hunger sets in to keep your metabolism revved and your cravings at bay.
Do this: Have low-sugar, protein-rich snacks available to you at all times. Think almonds, Greek yogurt, protein powder and hard-boiled eggs.
Day 12: Sup on Spuds
One food that helps you stay full and happy — while also scoring high in general deliciousness — is the almighty potato. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition examined whether potatoes really caused weight gain, and of the three groups studied — those eating a reduced calorie/high-glycemic index diet, those on a reduced calorie/low-glycemic index diet, and the control group — all lost weight after 12 weeks, even though their diet consisted of five to seven servings of potatoes per week. Considering that one medium-size potato with the skin on contains just 110 calories, more potassium than a banana, and no fat, sodium or cholesterol, you can feel good about adding it to your menu rotation.
Do this: A potato any time of day can prevent a comfort-food binge. Drizzle cooked potatoes with organic extra-virgin olive oil and a bit of pepper for a guilt-free craving crusher.
Day 13: Keep a Record
Maintaining a food journal helps you quantify your journey and adjust as necessary to reach your goals. Often, you won’t realize your nutritional weaknesses until you actually expose them on paper. Kaiser Permanente conducted a study of 1,700 participants that examined the effect of food journaling on weight loss. Those who kept a food journal lost twice as much weight as those who did not keep track. To ensure that you stick to your practice, try an app: A study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research reported a 93 percent adherence rate among smartphone app users over a six-month period, as compared to a 55 and 53 percent adherence rate among the website and paper diary groups, respectively.
Do this: When you journal, enter everything you ingest, including water, carbs, protein and fat, as well as sodium and fiber. Also note how you’re feeling and see what’s working and what’s not. Your journal can be as complicated as an online fitness tracker or smartphone app or as simple as a notebook if you’re old school.
Day 14: Go Hungry
Research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that intermittent fasting — stretches of 13 to 16 hours or more without eating — could help you lose 0.5 to 1.7 pounds per week while also improving body composition. (And yes, this covers sleep time.)
Do this: Once or twice per month for two consecutive days, go 12 to 16 hours without food by passing on dinner, then having a reasonable breakfast. During the day on those two days, keep calories between 500 to 700 and your water consumption and workout schedule normal.