It’s time for the summer slimdown
Fantastic; summer is upon us, the holiday is almost here, and the beach is looming. But there are storm clouds on the horizon: you’re not ready for the bikini or Speedos. In fact, you’re not even ready for any form of swimwear. Currently, your beach body is more walrus-shaped, rather than the super-sleek porpoise-look you hoped for! The summer slimdown has passed you by.
So, is it yet another two-weeks of baggy beach-wear and poor excuses? Telling everyone that you have delicate skin and burn easily. Well, hold the excuses because it may not be too late just yet. There may be still time to rid yourself of some of your unwanted wobbly-bits and feel better about the beach.
Welcome to our ‘summer slimdown’.
Go low, or go home?
Losing weight quickly involves going low-calorie. Sorry, but there’s no other way. Forget fat burners, creams, pills and potions because they won’t do it for you. (Have you ever noticed they all say, ‘can only help as part of a calorie-controlled diet?’) Exercise will obviously help, but you’d need to run a marathon a day to notice anything in the short-term.
So, it’s go low – or go home (or stay at home in this case!)
A multi-tasking eating plan for a summer slimdown
Normally, sustaining a low-calorie diet for more than two to three weeks is almost impossible. Not only do you get sick of it, but your metabolism takes a serious nose-dive as well. Then there’s the massive weight-gain-rebound effect. You come home resembling the type of marine mammal that environmentalists are usually trying to coax back into the water.
However, there’s a simple way to dodge these problems.
- Don’t set a daily calorie target but a weekly amount
- Keep within this total but vary your calorie intake from day to day
Some days will be very low calorie, others will be moderate or even high to allow your body to refeed. As long as you don’t go over your weekly allowance, you will still lose weight. It’s not boring either because you can still eat some nice foods on the refeed days. Plus, your metabolism doesn’t shut down, so there’s less of a rebound by the time you’ve got home. (This assumes that you haven’t eaten your bodyweight in chips everyday and drank enough alcohol to warrant a liver transplant.)
This is a system commonly called calorie cycling.
Calorie cycling: how does it work?
Your body doesn’t have a metabolic on/off switch that gets to midnight and goes Ding, that’s it for the day. Evolution has designed your metabolism not to be overly bothered by a few days of very little food. In fact, the warning bells for a drop in metabolic rate can take up to two-weeks to ring. Fortunately, the metabolic drop-off can be delayed even further by adding in periodic refeed days.
It’s not new, nor a fad
Varying your calorie intake from one day to another is a highly effective method of losing weight. It’s not a new idea; in fact, it’s been around for ages. It’s also known as feast and famine. (But you’ll need avoid the feast part if you want to speed up the weight loss). It was popularised recently as the 5:2 Diet, or Intermittent Fasting (IF).
All or nothing diets generally end up becoming all nothing
The downside with the 5:2 diet is that it’s an all or nothing plan. This can make it tedious and increasingly difficult to fit into your life. For example, you’ve survived your Monday fast and it’s now Thursday – time to go again. You’re focused, determined and prepared for the daytime hunger and an omelette for dinner.
But you didn’t realise until you got to work that it’s a colleague’s birthday and there’s free cake. You can’t say no; it’s your friend – and it’s cake. What can you do? You’d fast the next day, but you want to train first thing and you’ll need to eat afterwards. What about the weekend? Well, unless you have the social calendar of a leper, trying to fast at the weekend is futile. To overcome this dilemma, you’d need willpower that could bend iron bars. So, more often than not, it’s start all over again on Monday.
Also, fasting just one or two days per week won’t work in the short-term, it takes a while to see good results.
We have a couple of other options which we think work better.
1. The 16-hour fast
This is another version of intermittent fasting that only allows you to eat within an eight-hour window. It’s now known as time restricted feeding, however, we’ve used it to great success for many years. It works very simply: from your last meal in the evening, you can’t eat for the next 16-hours. Therefore, if your last meal was 7pm, you can’t eat any more food until 11am the following day. Obviously, you’ll need to drink, so water is your best option. You could also have sugar-free cordials and we also drink tea or coffee (milk is okay but no sugar).
The safe maximum number of fasting days you can have per week is five, spread out over the week as your lifestyle dictates. You could start with just two or three 16-hour fasting days and increase or decrease as necessary.
Once your 16-hour fast is over, your food choices are open. It would be difficult to overeat in just eight hours (not impossible however, just difficult). But if you really want to nail your diet in just a few weeks, don’t reward yourself with a biscuit for surviving the fast. We’d recommend that you stick to foods on our shopping list below to keep your nutrition high and calories low.
Note: If you don’t think you could cope without eating first thing, then try a carbs-free breakfast. For example, just have a couple of eggs (boiled or scrambled) or a high protein yoghurt with fresh strawberries. This will keep your insulin levels low and not defeat the object of the fast. Also, it doesn’t have to be exactly 16 hours; just fit in with whatever time suits your lunch break.
2. Calorie counting
This involves varying the calorie intake from day to day, again as your lifestyle dictates. The brilliance of this regime is it stops your body from adapting to a specific energy intake. It’s flexible and works around dilemmas such as birthdays, free cake and nights out. Plus, if you don’t go too low, too often, you will avoid the metabolic drop off.
First off, we’re not big believers in the accuracy of counting calories per se. Why not? Well, humans are complex biological and biochemical creatures, not simple maths equations. Our metabolisms are controlled by the ebb and flow of specific hormones, not simplistic 2 + 2 = 4 calculations. To us, the common methodology of counting calories is like measuring your waistline with an elastic tape measure.
That said, it works well in both the short-term and as an approximate benchmark to get started from. Just keep in mind that all the following calculations are all approximates and guidelines.
(For more information about counting calories, check out Why counting calories doesn’t work)
Let’s keep it simple
Everyone has a minimum amount of calories they need per day to stay alive. This is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Your BMR usually accounts for about 70% of the calories that you burn off daily. The remainder comes from general activity (about 20%), plus a further 10% used by your digestive system to process food. (We’ll mention exercise shortly.)
Now, for the purposes of a short-term plan such as this, we’re just focusing on your BMR calculation. There are a variety of internet tools that you can try, such as www.exrx.net. But, if you don’t want to go online, we often use a simpler method.
Quickly calculating your basal metabolic rate
First, start by converting your weight into pounds (1kg=2.2lbs). Then, multiply this figure by ten for men, or eight for women. Hey presto, you now have a rough figure for your basal metabolic rate.
Once you have this number – for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s 1,800 calories – you then convert this into a total weekly amount: 7 x 1,800 = 12,600 k/cals.
Now, we need to make some sort of deficit in this figure. The reduction will depend upon two criteria:
- How long you want the diet to run for
- How active you will be during the diet
If it’s three weeks or less, aim for a 30% reduction. This will be hard, but you’ve got to hit the ground running. If, however, you’ve got more than three weeks, or you intend to train hard, then start with just 20%. You can always drop more out later if necessary.
Applying a calorie cycling plan
Okay, to keep things simple, let’s take the middle ground and work on a 25% cut. This reduces the 12,600 weekly calorie allowances to approximately 9,500 calories. Your objective is not to eat more than 9,500 calories throughout the week.
Then, simply spread this amount over the week with low, moderate and normal (re-feed) days.
- Mon, Weds, Fri are low at 1,000 k/cals
- Tues, Thurs and Sat are moderate at 1,500 k/cals
- Sunday is a re-feed day at 2,000 k/cals
The permutations and amounts you chose are entirely up to. You could even add in a couple of 16-hour fasts and go as low as 700 k/cals on some days and eat a little more on others. Just don’t go over your weekly calorie allowance.
Warning: For most people, who are moderately active, these protocols should be okay. However, if you are very active and/or engage in strenuous training, then don’t fast and go low as well. Also, do not undertake this type of plan if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Nor if you are prone to, or have a history of, eating disorders (bulimia, binge-eating, etc.), mood swings, depression, etc. Fasting can interfere with some medications, so please contact your GP or local health practitioner first.
Do a food diary
We know food diaries are a pain in the bum, but they are often invaluable. If you don’t want to write things down, try an online food diary such as MyFitnessPal. It’s amazing what you can learn from paying attention to food labels and food diaries.
Many of our clients have walked in after a few days of using a food diary and said, “I know exactly what I’m doing wrong’. Nothing is easy in life; make the effort, write it down and read it, you’ll thank us in the end.
What to eat during the Summer Slimdown
It’s impossible in a short article such as this to cover every conceivable food stuff. (We cover this in greater detail in our books.)
So, as part of our Summer slimdown theme, we’ve put together a brief shopping list for you to consider.
The list is divided into three categories:
- LOW: These foods are lower calorie, yet full of nutrition. Therefore, they should form the basis of your diet.
- MODERATE: These foods are slighty higher in calorie values but again are highly nutritious. Try to avoid these foods on your ‘low’ days unless you have had a workout
- RE-FEED: These foods are generally high calorie, try and eat these sparingly. Don’t undo all your efforts by pigging-out on re-feed days. You are only trying to replenish your body, not stock it up for the next few days
- Skinless chicken, turkey.
- All types of fish, including shellfish.
- Eggs: boiled, poached, omelette, scrambled. In fact, anyway you like except fried
- Natural yoghurt including the pro-biotic and high-protein options.
- Semi skimmed or skimmed cow’s milk
- Unsweetened dairy alternatives: soya, goats milk, etc.
- All variations of tofu, tempeh, Seitan, Quorn, quinoa, mushroom, etc.
- Any veg that can be eaten raw, e.g., all salad veggies: tomatoes, onions, bell-peppers, etc.
- Any veg that takes under 10mins to cook (on a hob): broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, carrots, etc.
- Garlic, kale, alfalfa, lentils, chick peas and any type of bean.
- Strawberries and avocados
- All seeds, herbs and spices.
- Steak and lean cuts of beef, pork, gammon & ham. All game birds.
- Deli cuts (not reformed) of beef, pork, ham, etc.
- Lean minced steak.
- Swedes turnips, parsnips
- Wraps, crisp breads, rice cakes
- Almonds, brazil nuts and walnuts (maximum of one handful per serving).
- Unsweetened cereals: Weetabix, Shreddies, muesli, granola, etc.
(but beware of sugar content if they contain dried fruit).
- Porridge oats
- Any type of fruit (except bananas and grapes)
- Olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil
- Non-dairy butter substitutes (Bertolli, Pure, etc).
- Tomato, brown sauces and all chutneys and pickles
- Starchy carbs: rice, pasta, potatoes,
- Wheat-based foods: bread, plain biscuits
- Fruit: bananas and grapes
- Dried fruit
- Cereal bars (watch out for the sugar content)
TRY TO AVOID
- Fruit juice of any form
- Commercially made smoothies (Innocent, etc.)
- Peanuts & crisps
- Pies, pastries and other savoury foods
- Chocolate products
- Children’s cereals
What about exercise?
You’ve got to get active as well. But because this type of diet doesn’t lend itself to high-energy activities, don’t take up marathon-running or try a Tough-Mudder. Resistance training: weights, tubes, suspension trainer are fine, but go for volume, not intensity. (Volume means do more sets and reps but don’t push to complete failure or exhaustion.)
You can jog, run cycle or play badminton, etc., but our favourite cardio is power-marching. This isn’t the race-walking stuff where the participants are waddling about as if their bum is trying to chew a toffee. No, it’s simply walking at the type of pace that you would use if you were running late for something.
Power-marching is generally not too taxing, so you can use it with more frequency than running or cycling. Try to power march for least forty minutes per walk, three to four days per week. For more information about the best type of exercises for weight loss, check out Train smarter, not harder.
How much weight can you lose in two to three weeks?
Well, obviously everyone is different and we’re not going to predict miracles. However, we’ve regularly had clients that have shifted ten pounds (about 5kg) in just a few weeks. That’s often a couple of inches off a man’s waistline and a good dress size for a woman.
Let’s offer a great example of Karl, one of our clients that we help get ready for natural body building shows. In the first four weeks he lost over 10lbs (about 5kg) of fat.
Yes, this is not to everyone’s taste, nor do we expect it to be their goals. But it merely shows what can be done in a short space of time.
Regardless, even if you only want to lose a few pounds, you’ll feel better. Plus, you’ve made a bit of ‘space’ for the potential holiday excesses.
To be honest, there are no perfect options and we can pick spots off every plan, including our own. Our experience tells us that plans such as IF and calorie cycling work well for most people, especially short-term. They don’t need anything special in the way of specific foods or equipment. Plus, its inherent flexibility allows the user to fit the diet around a busy and varied lifestyle.
This makes it a great plan for anyone that needs to lose weight for weddings, holidays, little black dress events, etc.
If you want to learn more, we cover all of this in far greater detail in our books.
You can also contact us for a personalised dietary or training plan and consultations are free.
Everyone can slimdown for summer.
This is the first in a series of articles, hints, tips and videos about getting beach ready. Check out #getphysicalsummerslimdown for more
Paul & Ann
Get Physical Personal Training
We (Paul and Ann, Get Physical Ltd) are not doctors, nor are we licensed medical professionals. This website and blog is not here to diagnose any medical condition or replace your health care provider.