Lighten Your Load

A five-step plan to help you stick with your New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and exercise.

If you were a piece of cheesecake, this would be a lonely time of year. It seems everyone is busy either sweating in a gym or eating lettuce.

But you aren’t cheesecake, although you may at times feel as if one has been surgically implanted in your abdomen. More likely, you are one among millions of Americans who’ve made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight.

Is that you? Then you’re probably also aware of the discouraging statistics: 50 to 80 percent of people abandon their NYRs by St. Patrick’s Day. And upward of 90 percent of dieters ultimately go back to their indulgent ways.

It’s true, and for a reason: Diets of denial are difficult for most of us to sustain for any length of time, say weight-loss experts. It’s just too hard to just say no to cheeseburgers and moose tracks ice cream. And our exercise routine is often the first to go when our lives become overwhelming.

We know it’s not easy. So we put together a simple five-step plan that will make losing weight and exercising regularly a lot more doable. Try it for four weeks. It’s a great way to kick off the year.

1. Put down fork; pick up pen. Keep a food diary for the next five days. Grab a notepad, and write down everything you eat or drink, including snacks, the amount, (did you have seconds?), time of day, and where you ate and with whom. Chances are it will give you an eye-popping picture of calorie-dense foods. It also may help you identify trigger foods and situations that cause you to overeat. Studies show that tracking food consumption is one of the most effective ways to avoid overeating. People who do this regularly lose more weight and keep it off longer than those who don’t journal their food.

2. Make a fist. Use your hand to eyeball proper portion sizes. For example, your outstretched palm is about the size of a serving of meat, poultry, or fish. Your clenched fist, a serving of pasta. Your thumb tip, an ounce of cheese. Portion control is one of your biggest weapons against weight gain. Your dinner plate can help, too. At dinner, fill half of it with vegetables and fruit. Split the other half equally with protein (lean meats, poultry, fish, and beans) and whole grains or starchy vegetables.

3. Avoid the white stuff. White bread, pasta, rice, anything made with white flour or sugar is a simple carbohydrate that causes your blood sugar to roller-coaster up and down, triggering cravings for more.

“The overweight contestants on ‘The Biggest Loser’ have a habit of eating way too much white stuff,” says Cheryl Forberg, R.D., a nutritionist for NBC’s hit reality show. She teaches them to eat more whole grains—oats, whole-grain bread, brown rice, vegetables—and protein, which the body burns more slowly and keeps blood sugar levels stable. However, there is one white food the dietician recommends: dairy.

“Most Americans don’t get enough calcium or dairy products in their diets,” Forberg says. “I recommend three servings of dairy a day, which is easy to achieve with milk on cereal, a yogurt, or a smoothie made with nonfat milk, and a little low-fat cheese or a cheese stick with a piece of fruit for a snack.”

4. Move more. You can do a lot to increase your calorie burn throughout the course of a day with a little effort. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park in the farthest parking spot at the mall or at work to force yourself to walk more. Stand up while talking on the phone. Take walking breaks.

At home, take a 30-minute walk every day. Start out slowly, then walk briskly for five minutes or until you become uncomfortably tired. Slow down your pace for three minutes to recover. Then begin walking briskly again for another five minutes and so on.

“Once you can walk continuously for 30 minutes, you can transition into a running program by adding running to a couple of walks per week,” says Amby Burfoot, editor at large for Runner’s World magazine.

5. Join the resistance movement. Resistance training strengthens bones, improves balance and flexibility, and builds lean muscle mass and strength, all important elements of fitness for outdoor adventure. What’s more, strength training boosts your metabolism and calorie burn throughout the day.

Because the benefits of working out can take a few weeks to notice, give yourself a more immediate payoff, says Bradley Cardinal, Ph.D., who is co-director of the Sport and Exercise Psychology Laboratory at Oregon State University, and an Eagle Scout. “Make a behavioral contract with yourself, saying, ‘I’ll do these workouts this week and on the weekend treat myself to a pizza and a movie,’” he says. “Self-bribery really does work.”



Warms up the muscles, builds aerobic fitness, and works the legs, back, and lats.

1. Start with your feet slightly apart and your arms at your sides.

2. Just as you remember from middle school, raise your hands above your head as you simultaneously jump up and spread your feet shoulder width apart. Jump, bring your feet together, and lower your arms. Repeat. Do 20.




Builds mobility and strength in your core and torso by conditioning your hips to move independently of your shoulders, important for avoiding muscle strain while hiking rocky terrain with a heavy backpack.

1. Lie face up on the floor and extend your arms and shoulders out to your sides. Bend your knees and keep them together; keep your heels on the floor.

2. Keep your knees touching, and allow them to fall to the right until they reach the floor. Next, twist them to the left. Do five reps to each side, gradually working up to a total of 20 reps.

Once you become comfortable, try this more advanced version: Lift your feet off the floor to make your legs form a right angle at the knees, and twist left and right as before.



Works the core, shoulders, and triceps.

1. Lie face down with your legs extended. Bend your arms and place your forearms on the floor with your elbows under your shoulders.

2. Lift your torso into a modified push-up so that your back is in a straight line from your heels to your head. You’ll be on the balls of your feet, bracing yourself up with your elbows, forearms and hands on the floor.

3. Tighten your back and abdominals to prevent your hips and gut from sagging toward the floor. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Lower yourself and rest, then rise up into the brace again. Repeat three times, or 30 seconds. Work toward eventually being able to hold the plank position for 60 seconds at a time.



Works the shoulders, quadriceps, hamstrings, core (the abdominals and back muscles that support the spine), and gluteals.

1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your arms so your hands are at shoulder height.

2. Squat down by bending your knees and pushing your hips back as if sitting in a chair. As you squat, simultaneously reach your arms toward the ceiling. Continue squatting until your thighs are parallel with the ground (or nearly).

3. Press back to the standing position, allowing your hands to come back to shoulder height. That’s one repetition. Do at least five reps and work up to 15.



Works the lower back, hamstrings, core, and shoulders; also builds ankle stability and balance for backpacking

1. Place a sturdy chair in front of you, and stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms reaching toward the ceiling.

2. Bend at the waist so your arms and upper body move forward as one. Place your right hand on the seat of the chair for balance, while simultaneously lifting your left leg behind you. Continue lifting that leg and bending forward until your body is parallel with the floor. (Your right foot should be directly under your right hip.)

3. Hold this position for 10 seconds, breathing normally. Stand up, and then repeat the exercise four more times.

4. Now repeat the exercise with your right leg lifted behind you and your left hand on the chair for five repetitions.

If this move becomes too easy in a few weeks, try it without using the chair. Instead, raise both arms out in front of you while balancing on one leg. With your body parallel to the floor, hold this position for three seconds, then stand up. Do 10 reps, then balance on the other leg and repeat 10 more times.

Jeff Csatari is the best-selling author of The Belly Off! Diet.


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