Lots of times we have the best intentions but when it comes to weight loss, your lives get in the way. Most of us have jobs that keep us sedentary and so losing weight requires a real time commitment.
Don't give up. You don't need more than 24 hours in your day to eat less and move more. Read on to find out how to use your time to your advantage, no matter how busy you are.
Ditch the all or nothing mentality
Every step forward counts. "People often think they have to spend an hour at the gym or eat a diet full of hummus and superfoods, and when they can't attain that level they just give up and don't even try," says Jeff Katula, PhD, associate professor of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University. Don't look at your whole day as a success or failure, consider each decision you make as a new chance to do something healthy. You didn't go to the gym? Make a smart choice for dinner. Not all is lost.
Eat smaller portions
"You don't need to cook your own food or even eat different food to lose weight," says Katula. "You just need to eat less, and eating less doesn't take more time or cost more money." Also consider skipping seconds and dessert to cut calories in a sustainable way.
Don't skip meals
Going 4 or 5 hours without refueling can slow your metabolism, affect hormones and insulin levels, and contribute to unhealthy food choices when you do finally sit down to eat. "A lot of our overweight patients aren't necessarily overeating, but their eating patterns have become so erratic—they have a cup of coffee in the morning and then no real food until late afternoon," says Jessica Bartfield, MD, clinical assistant professor at Loyola University's Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care, "The key is to avoid that and keep a consistent schedule, whether that's three meals a day and a couple of snacks, or five mini meals."
Squeeze in more movement
Setting aside 30-60 minutes is ideal, "but you can burn a lot of calories in not-so-ideal workout situations, too," says Katula. You can break up your weekly recommended workout into short bursts. "If you can fit in 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes at night, and you can do that five days a week, you're there," Katula says.
Practice simple food swaps
"Whether it's leaving the cheese off a hamburger or switching from mayo to honey mustard, there are so many little things you can do and so many little swaps you can make over the course of a day that can add up and save you calories without costing you any extra time," Katula tells us. Think about what you are drinking too. Use less sugar in your coffee and trade your soda for seltzer water with lemon.
Don't sit when you can stand
"It may not add up to much weight loss on its own, but it certainly comes into play if you're looking to maintain any weight you're already losing," says Dr. Bartfield. Standing at work may not be an option so consider doing it at other times, like when you ride the subway, talk on the phone or watch TV.
Make sure you're sleeping enough
You might think it make sense to stay up late or get up early in order to fit in all you have to do in a day but this can backfire on you if you aren't getting enough shut eye. "If you're trying to change your behavior and lose weight by eating less and moving more, you will be more likely to achieve that if you are getting the proper amount of sleep," Katula says. If you're cutting it short, you'll lack energy but you'll also begin to crave sugary and fatty foods.
Use your weekends wisely
"Even though we're pressed for time, most of us have pretty predictable schedules," says Dr. Bartfield. "So it can help to spend some time on Saturday and Sunday shopping for healthy food, preparing some lunch and dinner items for the week, and deciding which days you're going to eat what." You can also use the weekend for longer workouts to make up for some of the time you're losing during the week.
Be active with friends and family
"You don't need to go to the gym for it to count as exercise," says Katula. "You can play with your kids for a few hours and still get your heart rate up and see beneficial results." Don't have kids? Join a sports league or a running group with your friends. Skip happy hour and take a spin class instead.
Switch to a high intensity workout
A good work out doesn't require hours of time at the gym. Studies have shown that 20 minutes of high intensity interval workout may burn more calories than 45 minutes on an elliptical. Go all out for 30 seconds, then a moderate pace for 45 seconds. Repeat 5 times. You can do this whatever your exercise of choice.
Use healthy meal shortcuts
"There are tons of good options in the freezer aisle, either for individuals or even family-size meals, that can be prepared quickly," Bartfield says. "Or you could buy a rotisserie chicken—take the skin off and slice it on top of a salad, or buy frozen vegetables to serve with it." (keep in mind that rotisserie chickens can be high in sodium). When this isn't an option, think carefully about the restaurant you choose so you aren't stuck making a last minute, unhealthy, decision.
Set up a home gym
If you don't have time to get to the gym or are stuck home with the kids, no reason you can't work out at home. You don't necessarily need to invest in a cardio machine—you can still get a great workout using nothing but your own body weight, or with a few simple tools (like hand weights and resistance bands) that take up next to no room in your home. Just roll out your yoga mat, set up a mirror, and you're ready to go.
Use high tech solutions
Most of us don't have the time or patience to keep track of all the numbers that are key to weight loss -- calories eaten, calories lost etc. Cue the fitness tracker. "These apps and devices can save an extraordinary amount of time and make it much easier to follow a specific plan or reach daily step goals or calorie goals," says Katula. Seeing the tracker on your wrist my also serve to keep you motivated to move.
Use social media
Put your time suck to good use. A 2014 study found that social media can be an affordable alternative to support groups like Weight Watchers. Take BodyRock for example, advice, workouts and like minded people all in one spot.
Eat more fiber
Eat at least 30 grams of fiber a day. People who did that for a year lost almost as much weight as those who followed a complicated diet plan with 13 components in a recent University of Massachusetts study. “For people who find it difficult to follow complex dietary recommendations, a simple-to-follow diet with just one message—increase your fiber intake—may be the way to go,” said study author Yunsheng Ma, MD. Think whole grains, beans, fruit and veggies.
Get a handle on stress
"I tell my patients the three areas affecting their weight they have the greatest control over is what they eat, how they move, and how they handle stress," says Bartfield. "Stress has a big influence on appetite, food intake, and how the body processes calories, and I think people underestimate that."
Reflect on your priorities
Take a look at what is occupying your time. "When my patients tell me they don't have time to lose weight, I ask them to really think about what they do have time for," says Katula. "Most people still find time to go to the doctor when they're sick or get their hair done when they need a cut, but they're not able to find a few minutes to exercise or eat well, because it just doesn't seem as urgent," Katula continues. The point is, if you can't find time to take care of yourself, it is time to look at changing your life.
No more excuses. What adjustments can you make today?