"Summer's right around the corner; time to start getting in shape."|
"There's no way I can wear a bathing suit looking like this."
"I've got to lose 20 pounds before our beach vacation no matter what it takes."
If these types of sentiments sound familiar, you're not alone. For people who are at their ideal weight, sunny skies and warmer temperatures mean tank tops and swimsuits, worn confidently and comfortably. But for those who have some amount of weight to lose, the summer months often come with some degree of anxiety. After a long winter spent hiding in cozy, camouflaging sweaters, increasingly hot temperatures make those extra layers uncomfortable to say the least. And if the idea of wearing a bathing suit in public qualifies as worst nightmare material, it can taint what's meant to be a fun-filled part of the year.
This type of trepidation often leads people to spend the spring season trying one crash diet after another, desperate to shed pounds as the temperature rises. But these types of frantic weight-loss attempts usually do more harm to your goals than good. As you prepare for swimsuit season, remember that every body can be a bathing suit body with the right mindset. Avoiding these eight common mistakes can keep you from experiencing frustration, sadness or dangerous dieting.
8 Pre-Summer Weight Loss Mistakes
1. Crash Dieting
When the beach beckons and you're not happy with the body in the mirror, it can be tempting to try a crash diet. Also known as fad diets, these promise super-fast results in a short amount of time—sometimes in as little as a few days—often relying on restrictive eating plans paired with strenuous exercise. If they sound too good to be true, it's because they are. Crash diets may seem to keep their promises at first, but they'll ultimately cause you to crash and burn.
"You can read about every quick-fix diet there is under the sun, and maybe they will help you lose a huge amount of weight at first," says Dr. Patricia Salber, founder of HealthTechHatch.com and host of "The Doctor Weighs In." "But the quick dieting fix truly doesn’t exist. Not only do they lead to more weight gain and metabolic imbalances, setting you up for more difficulty in the future, but they almost always leave people feeling miserable and, thus, less confident. True weight loss, like any worthy goal, takes consistent effort and hard work."
2. Suddenly Jumping into an Intense Workout Program
Realizing you've got three weeks until your beach vacation, you quickly pack your schedule full of grueling, back-to-back workouts. But while this may seem like the best way to burn calories and build a strong body, overdoing the strenuous exercise is actually a surefire recipe for burnout and injury—especially if you're coming off a relatively inactive winter.
"Your body needs time to adapt, so take it slow," fitness trainer Rui Li recommends. "Begin with one or two workouts a week and after about six weeks, depending on how your body is healing, start upping to three or four workouts a week."
3. Not Taking Rest Days
When you're focused on achieving fast results in a short amount of time, it might seem counterintuitive to take a day off. The occasional rest day achieves a lot more than its name implies, though.
"Exercise, strength training especially, creates microscopic tears in your muscle tissue. Rest days give that tissue time to repair and rebuild," explains Coach Jen. "Tissue becomes stronger during this rebuilding process, which is how you see gains in strength. Without rest, muscle tissue continues to break down and does not rebuild as effectively."
That doesn't mean you have to spend your rest day on the couch. Active recovery—such as an easy walk, a stretching session, a yoga class or a non-strenuous bike ride—will maintain your momentum while giving your body the healing time it needs to get stronger (and slimmer) as summer approaches.
4. Relying Solely on Cardio
The allure of cardiovascular exercise is clear: It gets your heart rate up, works up a sweat and makes it easy to quantify all that hard work with stats for distance and pace available through apps and smartwatches. But for all of cardio's benefits, Burn 60 master trainer Julie Diamond says that strength training is an essential piece of the summer fitness puzzle. "When doing an intense workout with weights, your body continues to burn calories hours later, which doesn’t happen with cardio," she notes.
Fitness trainer Ashley Pitt suggests lifting weights three times a week in addition to cardio exercise to build a strong, healthy body. To get started, try these 10 strength training exercises for beginners from Coach Jen.
5. Approaching Weight Loss as a Short-Term Endeavor
Scrambling to get in shape every spring isn't exactly a fun way to head into the season. To avoid these frantic efforts each year, Li says it's important to ditch the mindset of short-term goals. Instead of approaching it with the idea of "I've got to get healthy for summer," instead think "I've got to get healthy—and stay that way." After all, summer comes every year, so there's no need to shock your system every time it rolls around.
As Diamond points out, the cold, hard truth is that getting in shape takes time and patience. "That saying, 'summer bodies are made in the winter,' really is true," she says. "You can’t expect to be in top summer shape if you are just starting your fitness routine in May."
The key is to make the necessary corrections and give your body the care and treatment it needs—not just through the warmer months, but all year round.
6. Not Sleeping Enough
When you're trying to squeeze in extra workouts leading up to summer, you might be tempted to sacrifice sleep—after all, you can snooze at the pool or beach once you've reached your goal, right? Dr. Salber says this is one of the most harmful mistakes you can make.
"When we don’t get enough sleep, we increase our levels of cortisol and also ghrelin, a hormone that increases the sensation of hunger," she warns. "So not only are we tired and making poor food choices, we’re biologically setting ourselves up for failure. Poor sleep also decreases motivation to exercise and to resist overeating."
7. Relying on Packaged Weight-Loss Foods
Fad diets, and any sort of convenience plan, usually involve some sort of energy bar, shake or cleanse, notes Dr. Salber. While it might seem like you’re getting everything you need with relatively low calories, you’re actually skimping on the real nutrition your body needs to function at an optimal level.
In addition, Dr. Salber warns that when we rely too much on packaged, canned or overly processed foods, we set ourselves up for consuming an overload of obesogens, which disrupt the function of our hormones and alter our gut biome, causing an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. "The imbalance can lead to confused hunger cues, a sleepy metabolism and an increase in fat cells and fat storage—all of which can lead to weight gain," she says. "Worse, these obesogens have also been shown to increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol."
8. Isolating Yourself
If you're not careful, your summer diet could end up wreaking havoc on your social life. As Dr. Salber points out, warmer weather tends to bring more invitations to go out and indulge in not-so-healthy happy hours and calorie-laden dinners. Rather than canceling altogether, perhaps you could suggest a different restaurant that offers healthier options, or suggest a fun workout meetup, like a spinning class with a smoothie stop afterward, instead of going to the bar. "Either way, explaining why you’re not as keen to hang out around unhealthy food as you used to be is a good first step," Dr. Salber says.
6 Realistic Tips for Summer Confidence
Now for the million-dollar question: How do we get the best of both worlds? How can we quickly look and feel our best for summer without unrealistic or unhealthy methods?
1. Focus on improving rather than shrinking.
As fitness trainer Dani Singer points out, we're tempted to measure how "in shape" we are by the number on the scale or our pants, but your attractiveness isn't tied to being small. Instead of trying to shrink the body you have, focus on building the strong, healthy body you want.
How? Singer swears by strength training as the most effective approach. "The good news is that you're likely to see a much quicker transformation from strength training than you would from diet and cardio, especially if you're a beginner," he says. "The other good news is that, if you're anything like the hundreds of women I've coached, you might be pleasantly surprised with how much you enjoy it."
2. Be patient.
As Li points out, your body is highly adaptable. If you're patient with it, allow it to comfortably adapt to a higher level of physical activity over time, and fuel it with nutrient-dense foods, you'll be much more likely to enter summer feeling stronger and more confident.
"When you've gone for a period of eating well, getting enough sleep and working out intelligently, you will automatically start to feel good about yourself," she says. "Unless there are very deep, underlying health problems, you will likely begin to see changes in your body within the first two weeks of consistently doing the right thing."
3. Set specific exercise and fitness goals.
Instead of striving for a vague and daunting goal, such as working out for two hours every single day, Pitt suggests creating specific and actionable goals, such as trying a new workout every other week, attending a new group fitness class or trying a new streaming workout at home. Setting these types of goals will challenge you to make some fitness improvements, which just may translate to aesthetic improvements as well.
4. Eat real foods.
A nutritious meal plan that includes plenty of veggies, fruits, high-quality proteins, whole grains and healthy fats is the best way to ensure that you're getting enough macronutrients, are reaping the full benefit of your workouts and are moving steadily toward your summer goals.
5. Practice proper posture.
"When you want to look your best in a swimsuit, remember that posture goes a long way," Pitt notes. "Stretch and do some yoga to remind you to roll your shoulders back and stand proud in your swimsuit."
6. Give your skin some TLC.
Summer confidence doesn't always have to be tied to the number on the scale or how your swimsuit fits. Fitness trainer Elizabeth Haselkorn suggests treating yourself to a cleansing and hydrating facial (at home or at a spa) and a body scrub. "Get rid of dry winter skin and hydrate your whole body with a rich moisturizer. Smooth, soft skin will help you look and feel refreshed," she says.
Finally, if your summer weight-loss goal is driven solely by looking "good" in a bikini, Dr. Salber suggests that perhaps it's time to switch up your motivation and focus on the bigger picture. While it’s always nice to look and feel your best at the pool and beach, there’s also a bevy of other, more important benefits of getting healthy, like having more energy, reducing your risk of disease and even living longer. Those are all perks that you’ll enjoy long after you’ve hung up your swimsuit for the year.