Keep everything consistent! These new behaviors should feel more habitual by this point. (Bigstock)

We just bid a long, cold winter a welcome farewell. But while you’re peeling off the layers, remember that swimsuit season is just around the corner.

Are you ready? If not, we have a few ideas on how to lose weight and tone muscle by Memorial Day Weekend.

Not enough time to make a difference?

“It’s actually a lot of time,” says Danielle Omar, a registered dietitian in Fairfax. “You could lose up to 15 to 16 pounds in that time, depending on the changes you make.” She suggests starting by looking at everyday eating and exercise habits.

“Just bring your lunch to work and stop those daily Starbucks runs and you could lose more than a pound a week with just that,” she says.

Heather Calcote, a D.C. dietitian and endurance athlete, agrees and says before setting up a plan and specific weight-loss goal, you have to figure out your current state of fitness and nutrition.

“If you are just starting out, it’s really important to set realistic goals or you will risk injury and mental burnout,” she says.

In other words, don’t have an all-or-nothing approach to fitness and then feel defeated if you don’t go to the gym two hours a day, six times a week and cut everything you love from your daily diet.

“Set yourself up for success, not failure,” Calcote says. That means incremental changes.


Maybe you start by making one daily exercise change and two daily nutrition changes, Calcote suggests.

For example: Add up to 30 minutes of walking at least three times a week for your exercise change and — as Omar suggested — start bringing your lunch to work and eliminate the high-caloric coffee drinks for your two nutrition changes.

Every few weeks you might add a few other changes. Those can include, Omar suggests, using the plate method (½ of the plate is veggies, ¼ starchy vegetable or whole grain, ¼ lean protein), replacing soda with water, cutting (or at least cutting down on) wine (which can contain about 125 calories per glass) and, finally, saying no to free office food.

“The free office food is usually poor-quality, high-carb, high-fat food,” Omar says. “There is little protein or other nutritional value there. Just say no.”


Although you might achieve your weight goal with just nutrition changes, Omar encourages exercise for several reasons.

“I find that exercise keeps your head in the game,” Omar says. “You also get stress relief, alone time and that endorphin rush. And on top of that you burn calories.”

Ingrid Nelson, a personal trainer in the District, suggests adding strength training to the mix — even if you are a beginner.

“You are going to see big changes in the body if you incorporate some strength training,” she says. “And if you are looking for weight loss, weight training supports that really well.” The more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn.

Plus, “once the fat melts off, then what are you going to see?” Toned muscle is the goal.

Nelson, who trains a lot of brides, says there are a few “tricks of the trade” to get that swimsuit/wedding dress look (you know: the thin waist and cut shoulders).

If you do shoulder and back work — in other words, add a little bulk and tone to your top — your waist will look smaller.

“Another big one is just standing up tall,” Nelson says. “Good posture makes you look leaner and taller.”

Standing or sitting up straight comes from body awareness and strength training, primarily of the back, Nelson says.

The strength training can be done with free weights or machines, but Nelson says she is a big fan of TRX suspension training and yoga for strength and posture.


If you are already active, Nelson says, consider switching up your routine. If you are running long distance three to four times a week, add some track work or interval training and strength training to the mix and see where it takes you in the next few weeks.

“Try something new and see how the body responds,” Nelson says.

Although the Memorial Day beacon is a short-term goal, she suggests it can be a catalyst for self-discovery and long-term change.

“This is the only body you will ever have,” Nelson says. “Maybe take some time to get to know it better.”

You could start identifying how to best prepare your body for exercise, including hydration, sleep and nutrition — going as far as figuring out how and when to eat.

“Try to front-load the day nutrition-wise to better prepare the body,” Nelson says. “Eat for energy.”


Sound overwhelming?

If so, look at the sidebar and pick two daily nutrition changes and one daily exercise change.

Other practical solutions include getting a pedometer to see how much activity you are getting daily — especially if you don’t have time for big blocks of exercise, Omar says. “It makes you aware of how much you actually move. Sometimes our perceptions are way off.”

The same thing goes for a food log, Omar says. It shows you exactly how many calories you are taking in daily and how that relates to your resting metabolic rate, or your daily caloric need at rest.

“It can be an eye-opener to see how few calories you actually need in a day,” Omar says. “It’s a reality check.”

How to do it:

Beginner (eight-week goal: Lose 10 pounds, tone up for summer): This is your program if you feel ready and excited to take on an eight-week challenge, and really just want quick results by starting a new workout and diet. You’re starting at little-to-no physical activity throughout the week, and with little-to-no awareness of how your eating habits stack up.

Weeks 1-3 goals:

■ Practice the plate method with lunch and dinner. Half of the plate should be vegetables, one quarter lean protein, one quarter starchy vegetables or whole grains (brown rice, whole-wheat bread, etc.)

■ Exercise at least 30 minutes three times a week. Try two cardio days at medium intensity (walk, walk/jog, spin, bike, hike, elliptical, etc.) and one “strength” day of free weights, group fitness class, Pilates, yoga or at-home exercises.

■ Reduce added sugars by at least one serving per day. Think about where there are “extra” sugars in your day (both substitutes and the real stuff). Flavored yogurt? Soda? Sweetened coffee? Afternoon treats? Dessert after dinner? Alcohol? Eliminate at least one of these.

Weeks 4-7 goals:

■ Eat at least five servings of fruits or vegetables each day. Continue the plate method and use this to help you keep your fruit and vegetable intake high.

■ Increase exercise by one day per week. Add in a cardio-strength mixed workout — this would be something like a group fitness class, Pilates or doing 15-20 minutes of cardio and then adding
10-15 minutes of strength exercises (about 30-45 minutes of total exercise). Be consistent.

■ Increase water intake. Drink at least 10 cups of water each day, and substitute water for sweetened drinks, alcohol and/or coffee.

Week 8 goal:

Keep everything consistent! These new behaviors should feel more habitual by this point.

Moderate (eight-week goal: Lose five pounds, get a toned look): If you already exercise somewhat regularly (90-120 minutes per week) and have some awareness of healthful eating, this program is for you. You may feel your eating habits are “pretty healthy” but you have a few weaknesses (think: sweets, a glass of wine at night, etc.).

Weeks 1-3 goals:

■ Reduce added sugars/alcohol by two servings per day. If your alcohol intake isn’t regular, then aim for only two to three drinks per week total.

■ Add in one extra day of physical activity per week to focus on strength training and toning muscles. Try a new group fitness class, an at-home video, the seven-minute workout, etc. If you’re already working out five or six days per week, then add 10-15 minutes of strength training to your current routine at least once a week.

■ Reduce carbohydrate intake at night; aim for high vegetable/protein meals at dinner. If there is a carb in the meal, aim for starchy vegetables rather than processed carbs such as bread or pasta.

Weeks 4-7 goals:

■ Add in healthful fats to one meal/snack per day. Aim for unsaturated fats such as fish, oils, nuts, seeds or avocado. If you already eat these, try a different source, something new.

■ Devote at least one day per week to high-intensity cardio exercise (Effort 8 on a scale of 10) for at least 25-30 minutes.

Week 8 goal:

Keep everything consistent! These new behaviors should feel more habitual by this point.

Boston is a fitness trainer and freelance writer. She can be found at