How many times have you started a diet, but felt so sluggish and cranky after a few days that you threw in the towel? You’re not alone. Dieting can deplete energy because you are cutting back on calories, your body’s source of fuel. But it is possible to lose weight and still feel good. Here’s what I tell my clients about the healthy way to diet:
Eat More Meals, Not Fewer
When you don’t eat breakfast, you overeat at lunch. And while that may add up to the same number of calories (no breakfast + big lunch = breakfast + smaller lunch), larger meals zap more of your energy because they put greater stress on your digestive system. The reason? Approximately 10 percent of your daily energy supply is used in the digestive process. When you overeat, that process goes into overdrive, demanding, even more, energy to break down the food and leaving your body drained. (Think of how sleepy you feel after a Thanksgiving feast.) Smaller meals several times a day can help you conserve energy.
Carry Water Everywhere
Yes, there are studies that now say people may not need as much water as previously thought. But that’s not true for dieters. In order to lose weight without feeling sluggish, you need your H2O. Here’s why: Water regulates your body temperature, removes waste, transports nutrients to cells, cushions joints, and protects organs. Without enough H2O in your body, it becomes increasingly difficult for your system to operate — leaving you tired and even light-headed. Another point: It’s easy to mistake the midafternoon munchies for hunger, when dehydration could be the culprit. Don’t believe me? Next time the 3:00 snack attack occurs, pour yourself a tall glass of water instead of reaching for chips. Even if you still want the food, I’ll bet you eat less after drinking a glass of water.
Exercise is a key part of any diet plan, not only because it burns calories, but because it keeps your energy up even when you’re not working out. Anything that elevates your heart rate — walking, biking, playing Frisbee — circulates more oxygen to your lungs. The better your circulation is, the more energy you’ll have.
In fact, not exercising does more damage to a weight-loss plan than many women realize. After age 20, women lose 0.5 to 0.7 pounds of muscle each year. That’s five to seven pounds lost each decade! What replaces the muscle? Fat. So you’re not shedding weight — just developing a weaker, less fit body. Everything becomes more difficult: carrying groceries, holding a child, taking out the trash. Exercise — especially strength training — helps ensure that you don’t just get slim, you also get strong.
Monitor Sleep and Stress Levels
Sleep is a critical element of successful weight loss, since it’s your body’s chance to recharge. Too little sleep doesn’t just make you sluggish, it can also cloud your thinking, leaving you more susceptible to temptation when you pass the donut shop on the way to work.
Controlling stress is also important (it can wreak havoc on a diet in more ways than chocolate). Did you know that stress can actually induce a physiological change that makes losing weight harder? It causes your body to release a hormone called cortisol, which may encourage fat cells to build up in your abdomen as part of the stress response. So take a deep breath, get some sleep, and relax.
Commit to One Week of Dieting
Bottom line: Weight loss is the long-term key to feeling more energetic. If you’re overweight, your organs and muscles have to support a larger mass than nature planned, meaning they must work harder to perform everyday activities. So even if you’re a veteran of many failed diets, try again. This time, just commit for one week. The first few days will be tough — but after seven days, you’ll start to see a difference. You’ll also feel stronger and more energized — and you may even be ready to commit to week two.
Next: Your 7-Day Smart Diet Plan
Smart Diet Plan: Day 1
Breakfast: 1 packet instant oatmeal with 1/2 cup 2% milk, 2 tablespoons wheat germ; 1/2 cantaloupe; coffee or tea
Lunch: 1 can white tuna in water, rinsed and drained; 1 cup lettuce, 2 artichoke hearts, 1/2 cup tomatoes, 1 teaspoon capers, 1/2 cup cucumber, 1/2 red bell pepper, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing; 1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese
Dinner: 4 ounces grilled chicken; 1 cup mixed greens, 2 artichoke hearts, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing; 1 small baked potato, 1 teaspoon margarine; 1 pear
Smart Diet Plan: Day 2
Breakfast: 2 frozen waffles, 1 tablespoon all-fruit spread; 8 ounces low-fat yogurt (any flavor); 1 medium apple; coffee or tea
Lunch: Chopped salad: 1 cup lettuce, 1/3 cup chopped red cabbage, 1/2 cup chopped spinach, 1/2 cup diced cucumber, 1/2 red onion, sliced, 1/3 cup broccoli, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing; top with 1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese
Dinner: 4 ounces grilled salmon; 8 steamed asparagus spears; 1 small baked sweet potato, 1 teaspoon margarine or grated cheese
Smart Diet Plan: Day 3
Breakfast: French toast: 2 slices of bread coated in 1/4 cup Egg Beaters, cooked in Pam cooking spray; 1/4 cup light syrup; coffee or tea
Lunch: 4 ounces grilled chicken; 1 cup lettuce, 2 artichoke hearts, sliced, 1/2 cup chopped tomato, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing; 8 ounces low-fat yogurt, 1 tablespoon wheat germ
Dinner: 5 ounces grilled halibut; 1/2 cup steamed broccoli, 1 tablespoon margarine; 1 cup mixed greens topped with 1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese; 1 nectarine or medium apple
Smart Diet Plan: Day 4
Breakfast: Fruit “cobbler”: Mix 1 packet instant oatmeal, 1/2 cup 2% milk, 3/4 cup frozen blueberries, 2 tablespoons wheat germ; microwave 90 seconds. Coffee or tea
Lunch: Turkey sandwich: 3 ounces sliced turkey, 1/2 cup chopped lettuce, 1/2 tomato, sliced, 1 large pita pocket, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard; 1 nectarine
Dinner: Veggie burrito: 1 tortilla, 1/2 cup spinach, 1/2 cup lettuce, 1/3 cup each diced tomato and red onion, 2 tablespoons salsa, 1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat cheese; 1 orange
Smart Diet Plan: Day 5
Breakfast: Omelet: Mix 1 egg plus 3 egg whites, 1/2 cup chopped tomato, 1/2 cup chopped spinach; cook in Pam cooking spray. 1 English muffin, 1 teaspoon margarine, 1 tablespoon all-fruit spread
Lunch: 1 baked potato topped with 2 tablespoons 2% cottage cheese and 4 tablespoons salsa; 1 cup mixed greens, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing
Dinner: 2 Boca burgers on 1 toasted English muffin, garnished with sliced tomato, lettuce and red onion; 1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese; 1 apple
Smart Diet Plan: Day 6
Breakfast: 2 slices bread, toasted; 1 teaspoon all-fruit spread; 1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese; 1/2 cantaloupe; coffee or tea
Lunch: 1 can Healthy Choice low-fat soup; 1 large tortilla topped with 1/2 cup lettuce, 1/2 cup diced tomato, 1/2 cup chopped cucumber, 2 tablespoons chickpeas, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing
Dinner: 4 ounces grilled beef tenderloin; 6 steamed asparagus spears, tossed with 1 teaspoon olive oil; 1 cup mixed salad greens; 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing
Smart Diet Plan: Day 7
Breakfast: 2 hard-boiled eggs; 3/4 cup fresh blueberries; 8 ounces low-fat yogurt (any flavor); coffee or tea
Lunch: Chef salad: 3 ounces sliced turkey, 1 cup lettuce, 1/2 cup chopped red cabbage, 1/2 cup spinach, 1/2 cup chopped red onion, 1/2 cup sliced tomato, 2 tablespoons low-cal dressing; pita bread
Dinner: Chicken taco: 4 ounces grilled chicken, 1/2 cup shredded red cabbage, 1 tortilla, 1/2 cup chopped red onion, 2 tablespoons salsa, 1/4 cup shredded reduced-fat cheese; 1 nectarine