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, Va. "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 Washington 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 Washington, 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."
If so, 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."