Losing weight is challenging no matter what, but when you have a hectic schedule full of appointments, errands, and random time-sucking obligations, your New Year’s weight-loss resolution to slim down can feel straight-up impossible.
Here’s the good news, though: You don’t need to quit your job and go to boot camp to successfully lose weight. You can shed pounds — slowly but surely — while continuing to hustle and keep up with your commitments.
The key is learning to plan ahead and organize your day in a smart, efficient way. Before long, your weight-loss habits will become second-nature, not to mention totally worth the extra effort.
Read on for 11 easy tips for losing weight on a busy schedule!
1. Meal Prep Every Week
Meal prep doesn’t just save time and energy, it’s also key to ensuring you stay on track with your nutrition goals.
Every Sunday, block off a couple hours to make a weekly meal plan, go grocery shopping, and hunker down in the kitchen to chop, dice, grill, and plan your meals for the week.
If you don’t want to cook entire meals in advance, you can still cut down the steps by setting aside ingredients and chopping vegetables and fruit ahead of time. Pre-sliced veggies are ideal because you can snack on them raw and incorporate them in meals, says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, NJ.
You can also make things like soup, ground turkey stir-frys, and casseroles ahead of time to store in your freezer. “I like to make crustless muffin-size quiches and freeze the extra portions so I [always] have healthy meals on hand,” says Gorin.
Proper portion sizes are a key part of meal prepping for weight loss: Using portion-control containers is an easy way to make sure your meals are balanced, especially if you’re trying to lose weight for the first time.
Not sure where to start? Check out these healthy meal-prep ideas from the pros.
2. Store Healthy Snacks in Your Desk and Bag
The key to resisting that mid-morning muffin craving at work is to have satisfying, nutrient-rich snacks at the ready.
“Store snacks in your bag and at your desk,” says Gorin. “This way, you’re not relying on whatever’s available at the corner market or vending machine.” For protein-rich snacks, try hard-boiled eggs, beef jerky, or edamame. For snacks under 200 calories, bring in some pistachios, roasted chickpeas, or seaweed.
3. Drink More Water
Research suggests that drinking water before a meal can help you feel more full. An easy way to check that off your list is to carry a reusable water bottle with you at all times. Refill it regularly and aim to drink half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces each day.
If you’re notoriously bad at hydrating, here are 25 easy ways to drink more water.
4. Keep Fruit in Plain Sight
“When you’re at home, keep fruit on the countertop,” says Gorin. “Research shows you may be more likely to reach for it if it’s visible.” A Cornell University study found that women who had a fruit bowl out weighed 13 pounds less than women who had cereal or sodas sitting on their kitchen counter.
Same goes at work: Skip the candy bowl and get a basket and load it with your favorite fruits. Try apples for a hit of fiber, or bananas to sneak in some potassium, and pears for a sweet, low-calorie snack. And don’t forget about seasonal options like grapefruit, oranges, and kiwis.
5. Make Your Workouts Consistent
Although diet plays a major role in losing weight, pairing it with regular exercise is critical if you want to achieve weight-loss success.
But how do you squeeze in a sweat session when your day is jam-packed? “I recommend working out in the morning before people start making demands of you and life has a chance to get in the way,” says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Beachbody’s fitness and nutrition content manager.
If mornings are out of the question—maybe you have a long commute or an early drop-off time for your kids—identify another time of day that’s consistently free of commitments. For some people, that might be during lunch. For others, it might be after work. Whenever it is, reserve it for exercise.
Working out at home is a good way to make sure you get your workout in — and it’s harder to make excuses! With a streaming service like Beachbody On Demand, you’ll have hundreds of workouts with nutrition guides, calendars, and progress trackers at your fingertips.
6. Eat at a Table (*no phones allowed)
Instead of snacking as you scroll through emails or eating dinner while bingeing on Netflix, walk away from the screens and sit down at a table. (Novel concept, right?!)
You’re probably thinking, How exactly will sitting help me lose weight?! Well, pay attention to this fun fact: Research shows you’re more likely to consume greater amounts of food if you eat while you’re distracted.
While it might seem counterintuitive to carve out 30 minutes just to eat when you could multitask, a 2001 study suggests that multitasking may actually decrease your productivity by as much as 40 percent.
In addition, paying attention to your food — chewing slowly and savoring flavors — doesn’t just help you appreciate your meal, it also makes it easier to recognize the signals your body sends you about whether you’re full or not.
7. Swap Cardio for Strength Training
Strength training trumps traditional cardio (think: long slow distance) when it comes to losing the right kind of weight: fat.
“But the most effective method is to combine cardio and strength training by doing high-intensity circuits— sets of several exercises performed back-to-back with little or no rest in between,” says Thieme. “Not only will you burn tons of calories during your workout, but you’ll also raise your metabolism for more than 48 hours afterward.”
Here’s another advantage of such such workouts: They double down on the benefits of both aerobic and strength training in half the time of a typical cardio or weightlifting session. “If you’ve ever tried a program like P90X3, 22-Minute Hard Corps, or INSANITY MAX:30, you know that a half hour is all it takes to get in a killer total-body workout,” Thieme says.
8. Share Your Food
Whether you’re at an office birthday party, on a date, or out to dinner with friends, you’ll inevitably encounter temptations in the form of chocolate and/or salty, carb-heavy sides.
If you want to (and can!) avoid these foods altogether, great. If, on the other hand, you want to enjoy a bite or two every once in a while, go for it. The key to sticking with your nutrition goals is not to deprive yourself, but to be sensible about how much you indulge.
Split your desserts or sides with someone else to cut down on the calories. “You know what [the dessert] tastes like, and the first bite or two is always the best, anyway,” Gorin says.
9. Have “Emergency Food” on Hand
On particularly chaotic weeks, sometimes meal prepping just doesn’t happen. And even if you have plenty of healthy ingredients on hand, sometimes you don’t have the patience or energy to cook.
That’s why Gorin recommends stocking your pantry and desk drawers with quick and easy “emergency food,” like cans of low-sodium soup, canned tuna packed in water, canned low-sodium beans, and whole-grain crackers. There are healthy packaged food options out there; just make sure to check the ingredient list.
10. Move More
The most successful weight loss plans entail not just eating more healthfully and exercising more intensely, but also moving more throughout the day, says Thieme. Your goal: To keep your metabolism humming in a higher gear during more of the 23- and a half hours you aren’t working up a sweat.
For most people, that’s going to require thinking outside the box/gym. If you sit in an office all day, take a three to 10-minute break every hour to walk around the building or perform squats and arm rolls at your desk. Instead of sending emails to people down the hall (or even on different floors), pay them a visit. If you have a phone call with a client or an in-person meeting with co-workers, skip the conference room and talk as you walk.
And don’t limit this sort of creative thinking to your workplace. Do calf raises while brushing your teeth, stretch and foam roll while you watch TV, take your dog for a walk as you chat on the phone — do anything you can to spend more time on your feet and less time on your rump.
11. Rethink Your Beverages
A full day of commitments and responsibilities usually requires a boost (or two… or three) of caffeine to make it through. But the rich, sugary coffee beverages most people rely on (think pumpkin spice lattes) have no nutritional value.
Instead of sipping half your daily calories through a green plastic straw, Gorin suggests taking a walk to get a refill of water or hot tea. “That might reset your mood and your commitment to healthy eating.” If you do have a cup of coffee, says Gorin, swap the creamer for milk and sweeten it with a sprinkle of cinnamon instead of sugar.
Achieving your goal of losing weight doesn’t mean you have to make a bunch of huge, life-altering changes all at once. Sometimes all it takes is making smaller, smarter choices throughout your day to get you moving in the right direction.