For those of us in Cape Town, around October we start to see a glimmer of hope that summer is on its way. We see a few days go by with no rain, the temperatures start to tip 20 degrees and the tell-tale wind starts to blow a little.
Of course with those signs of good weather approaching, we also start to think a little more about our bodies. Come December, we’re not going to be wearing layers anymore and we want to look our best in our summer clothes and on the beach!
Unfortunately, we can’t go back and undo the eating and drinking we did during the winter months. We also can’t go back and do those sessions in the gym or at the Pilates Studio that we skipped because it was too dark and cold to get up in the morning. So it’s not surprising that this is the time of year that people start to look around for quick ways to do some damage control!
This is also the time of year that many people’s attentions turn to fad diets and crazy new workout programs in the hopes of getting fast results. The good news is that none of that is necessary. It is possible to see a serious change in your body in a short time (particularly if you’ve been a bit lax over the last few months) using a few simple guidelines which are laid out in this article.
Does that mean you can hope to look like a swimsuit model in a few short weeks? Probably not! But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a real and visible impact on your figure in a short time. In fact, you can see some results you’ll be very happy with in as little as 4 weeks. However, to really give your body a chance to be summer-ready, you should give yourself 6-8 weeks during which you follow the guidelines outlined below.
Note: This article will take you 15-20 minutes to read in its entirety
The tools you need to get in shape for summer
Many people will try to tell you that to get in shape for summer, you need to focus on just one thing. Guess what? It’s not just exercise or just a diet and certainly not drinking some detox concoction every morning that’s going to make an impact on your body. To see a serious change, you need to use all the tools at your disposal at the same time. In order of priority, these are:
Below, I’m going to explain how to use each of these tools effectively. It’s not about doing anything crazy or extreme on any of these dimensions, but rather taking a sensible, coordinated approach on all three.
Some people may be surprised to see that diet is above exercise in this list – that’s not a mistake. The reality is that when it comes to body composition and particularly fat loss (the things that matter when you put on that swimsuit), what you eat will have a bigger impact than what you do in the gym. Trying to get in shape for summer purely through exercise with no focus on your diet will get you nowhere fast. For a detailed explanation of why this is, read our first post on eating for fat loss. Otherwise, read on to learn how you can use your diet to your advantage without doing anything too painful.
Get in shape for summer – Diet
There’s a lot you can do with your diet to help with fat loss but, to keep it simple, I’ve outlined just 3 basic principles to follow. I’ve also included some more extreme techniques at the end of this section for those who are looking for that extra push. However, you will definitely see some serious results following only these 3 principles:
- Cut sugar out of your diet
- Limit your intake of carbohydrates
- Take a break one day per week (optional)
1) Cut sugar out of your diet
This first principle of dieting is really just the price of admission. It has the potential to have the biggest impact on your waistline if followed and the power to completely scupper your efforts if not. To get in shape for summer, you have to cut sugar out of your diet!
I’ve covered the details behind sugar and body fat in a previous post that I’d encourage you to read. However, in basic terms, eating sugar puts your body into fat storage mode by raising your blood sugar which in turn raises your insulin levels. When your body is in this state, it’s very difficult to lose body fat.
The first step is to cut out the obvious sources of sugar: don’t add it to your drinks, don’t eat desserts and don’t drink soft drinks. Unfortunately, that isn’t the end of the story. Sugar is lurking in a few places that we might not expect to find it that we need to be equally aware of. Here are some places to watch out:
- Fruit juicesMost fruit juices are actually packed with sugar. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the nutritional label at the back. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the word fruit is in there. If you’re trying to lose fat, your best bet is to drink water.
- Alcoholic beveragesIf it tastes sweet, there’s a reason. If you’re going to drink a little alcohol, try to stick to low-carb and low sugar beverages like dry wine and spirits (and don’t mix them with sugary drinks!) Check out our post on booze & your belly for more information.
- FruitsAlthough fruits have a lot of really great health properties, the unfortunate reality is that many are naturally high in sugar such as grapes and bananas. If you’re trying to lose fat, stick to low sugar fruits like berries. For more information, read our post on fruit.
- Prepared foodsYou’ll be shocked to see how many prepared foods, from ready-meals to salad dressings, actually contain a lot of sugar. Get in the habit of looking at nutrition labels for sugar content and try to stick to whole foods that you prepare yourself to avoid any surprises!
2) Limit your intake of carbohydrates
Not all carbohydrates are created equal and some have an effect on your body that is very similar to that of sugar. Carbs like white bread, white rice, pasta & potatoes make it seriously difficult to lose body fat. For a more detailed look at the types of carbohydrates, read our post on choosing your carbs.
However, this doesn’t mean that “healthier carbs” like whole grain bread and brown rice don’t limit fat loss. They just have a more moderate effect on your body than their refined cousins. Equally, it’s difficult to be constantly thinking about whether a carb is the right type of carb. My suggestion while you’re trying to get in shape for summer: limit your starch intake wherever you can.
The reality is that it’s easier to follow a principle of not eating grains and starches than to try to be selective. This will also yield better results. If you are going to eat some starch, make healthier choices: whole grain bread over white, brown rice over white rice, sweet potatoes over normal potatoes, etc. But to make things really simple and effective, I’d consider just removing these foods from your diet while you’re trying to get your body ready for the beach. For more information about this approach, read: Getting serious about fat loss – Step 1: reconsidering grains.
One final note on carbohydrates: like sugar, they can be lurking in surprising places. Make sure you’re reading nutritional labels, particularly with regard to prepared foods.
3) Take a break one day per week (optional)
Some of you may be thinking that this advice sounds next to impossible. You live for sweets, bread, rice & pasta and you can’t imagine eating a meal without a glass of coke. Unfortunately for you, that diet’s just not going to fly if you’re trying to get in shape for summer. However, I can offer you a bit of respite every few days.
If you’re finding this way of eating really challenging, pick one day per week (and I mean only one) and eat whatever you want to, in any quantity you want to. This isn’t going to help your fat loss efforts. In fact, it’s probably going to slow you down a little, but you can’t do too much damage in a single day. Take your one day per week and eat whatever you like. Just make sure you go back to eating the way we’ve discussed the following morning!
One trick, suggested by Tim Ferris who was one of the first diet writers to advocate a “cheat day” is that if you get a craving before your day has come around, write down what it is you’re craving and make sure you eat lots of it on your day off. It’s a great way to manage your own psychology and keep your transgressions to one day per week.
If you’ve got the will-power to take this approach without one “cheat day” per week, even better. The reality is that these days aren’t necessary, they’re just a psychological tool to keep you eating the right way the other 6 days of the week.
So what am I eating?
Some of you may read these guidelines and be unsure as to what you can safely eat if you’re trying to get in shape for summer. The good news is that there is a lot of very satisfying food that you can eat and you don’t have to count calories.
You’ll notice that nowhere in the list of foods to avoid is there any mention of fat (or protein for that matter). The reality is that eating fat is not what makes you fat – sugar and carbs are the culprits. For that reason, you can eat a lot of comforting and filling foods while still make serious progress. These include but aren’t limited to:
- Fish – Any kind is great
- Red meat – No issues with any type
- Poultry – any variety you like
- Vegetables – You should be eating a lot of these with a lot of variety (potatoes don’t count). Raw in salads, roasted, stir-fried or steamed – it’s all a great choice!
- Cheeses – Try to keep this to small quantities but a bit of cheese won’t do any harm
- Some fruit – Ideally you’ll keep this to the occasional bowl of berries (which are naturally low in sugar)
- Nuts – These are great to snack on. Try to avoid cashews and pistachios which are higher in carbs. Almonds and macadamias are great choices!
Note: If you’re reducing your grains, vegetables will become your main source of fibre. Make sure you’re eating lots of them to ensure healthy digestion!
The reality is that there are a lot of choices and if you’re limited for ideas, just have a quick look at the Studio2Pilates facebook page. We’ll also be posting some recipes on both the blog and facebook in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we also recommend the Slow Carb Cook Book by Tim Ferris. It’s available for free online and includes lots of recipes that meet these guidelines.
Taking it to the next level
If you’re keen to supercharge your diet for fat loss, there are a couple more things that you can do. As they’ve been covered in other posts, I’m just going to provide a link to them here for those who are interested.
Those who want to to get into more detail about diet and fat loss should have a look at all of our previous posts on eating for fat loss in the Nutrition section.
Remember – you don’t need these additional measures to see results but they may well accelerate them.
Get in shape for summer – Exercise
The first principle of exercising to get in shape for summer is pretty simple: do some. The reality is that any activity is beneficial for fat loss and general health. I’m going to outline some basic ideas on what you should be doing below, but if you’re not going to be able follow them, just make sure that you’re doing some form of exercise at least 3 times a week (and ideally 5 or more). It doesn’t have to be overly strenuous or complicated – just get out there and do something.
Having said all that, there are some guidelines that will help you maximise your efforts as you transform your body. Ideally, you should incorporate these 3 elements into your routine:
- Resistance training: 2-3 times per week
- Cardio: 1-2 times per week
- General activity: 1-2 times per week
Most importantly, do what you enjoy. If any of these three elements feel like a chore, you’re probably not going to stick with them. So pick some forms of exercise that you enjoy in each of these categories and be consistent.
1) Resistance training: 2-3 times per week
Resistance training is any form of exercise aimed at strengthening your muscles. This is the most important part of your exercise regime for a few reasons. Firstly, doing resistance training burns some calories, which can only help as you’re trying to get your body looking good. Secondly, resistance training will help to give you a toned look because your muscles will be in better shape.
Most importantly, resistance training pays dividends even after you’ve finished your workout. When you work your muscles hard, your body continues to burn more calories to repair them for a period of time afterwards. Furthermore, if you build a little more muscle, your body will burn more calories even at resting state which means you can get away with eating more!
It’s also worth mentioning that if you are indulging in some carbohydrates, resistance training will help to lessen the blow they might have on your fat loss efforts. You expend stored carbs when you work your muscles and worked muscles are more likely to store carbs as energy rather than letting them be stored as fat.
You’ve got many options to choose from when it comes to resistance training but here are a few to consider:
- Lifting weights (make sure you know what you’re doing or that someone can show you the technique)
- Resistance-focused classes like Body Pump
- Pilates! We weren’t going to leave that out of course! Bias aside, Pilates is a great form of resistance exercise
- Functional training like Crossfit (this isn’t for the faint of heart)
2) Cardio: 1-2 times per week
There was a time when cardio was considered the most important form of exercise. While thinking on that has started to change, it’s still important to get some cardio in every week. Not only does cardio burn calories, it also helps to maintain your general cardiovascular health which is very important!
Cardio comes in many forms and levels of intensity. You can choose what you’re comfortable with but it’s worth noting that the more intense a cardio session is, the more impact it will have on your body fat. Low intensity cardio only burns calories while you’re doing it. High intensity cardio, like resistance training, will continue to have an impact for hours after you’re done. If you can do something with high intensity, go for it, but if not, do some low intensity cardio rather than none at all.
Here are some types of cardio you can try:
- Running or jogging
- Incline walking on the treadmill (great if you’ve got joints that won’t allow running)
- Other gym cardio machines (steppers, ellipticals, etc.)
- Studio2Barre – this is the cardio companion to Pilates that we offer here at the Studio. It’s a great way to supplement a Pilates training program
- Group classes at the gym (e.g. Zumba)
- Dance classes
Doing some of these types of cardio once or twice per week on the days you’re not doing resistance training will ensure you are staying very healthy while also burning fat as quickly as your body can.
3) General activity: 1-2 times per week
The unfortunate reality is that many of us spend much of our time sitting at a desk these days. This isn’t what our bodies were designed to do. While going to the gym or the Pilates Studio a few times a week is great, our bodies really crave more activity than just that.
While it’s last on the priority list, I’d strongly suggest that you incorporate some general activity into your life other than your resistance and cardio training. This should be something you love that gets your heart rate up just a little while helping you to speed up your fat loss even more.
This activity can be anything but here are some suggestions:
- Go for a long walk
- Play outside with your kids
- Go for a hike or climb a mountain
- Do some rock-climbing
- Play a sport you enjoy
There are lots of things you can incorporate into your week that are helpful – the important thing is to get moving!
Get in shape for summer – Lifestyle
While lifestyle is the last of the 3 key tools to help you get in shape for summer, and is often forgotten, it is definitely worth considering. The reality is that certain factors in your life, other than your diet and your activity levels, could be impeding your efforts to get in shape for summer. Here are a few to keep in mind:
- StressThe unfortunate reality is that stress can make you fat and have a number of other bad effects on your health. This is mainly because stress raises the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which has a number of other knock-on effects. Everyone has to deal with some stress but if your levels are very high, make sure you’re doing something about it. Some of the activities we mentioned above may help!
- SleepThe unfortunate reality is that most of us don’t get enough sleep. Yes, each person needs a different amount of sleep but are you sleeping less because you don’t need it or because you’re not giving yourself enough time? Ideally, everyone should shoot for 8 hours if they can. If not, you may be impeding your weight loss efforts. Sleep reduces the stress hormone cortisol and lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain in many different ways.
- DrinkingAn occasional drink can actually be a very healthy thing but too much alcohol can impede your weight loss efforts in a couple of ways. Alcohol is actually quite calorically dense and often is accompanied by lots of carbs. Equally, alcohol can disrupt your motivation to eat healthily and do the exercise you need to do. If for no other reason than to make sure you’re making good choices all the time, try to limit your drinking to small amounts and only a couple of days per week.
- SmokingThere are so many health-related reasons to quit smoking but the reality is that doing so is probably more difficult than anything else we’ve described in this post. However, you should know that smoking can impede your fat loss efforts. While cigarettes suppress appetite, they also compromise your ability to do the exercise we mentioned above effectively.
How to get in shape for summer
As you can see, getting in shape for summer isn’t about just doing one thing. It’s also not about doing anything too extreme. You can achieve great results by taking a coordinated and reasonable approach to the 3 areas we’ve discussed:
- Optimise your diet for fat loss
- Cut sugar out of your diet
- Limit your intake of carbohydrates
- Take a break once per week (optional)
- Exercise to speed your metabolism and results
- Resistance training: 2-3 times per week
- Cardio: 1-2 times per week
- General activity: 1-2 times per week
- Address lifestyle issues
- Manage stress
- Get enough sleep
- Quit smoking (for a lot of reasons)
- Moderate your drinking
If you can do all these things for 6-8 weeks, you will definitely see really significant results. Good luck getting those bodies ready for the beach!