Losing—and Rethinking—Those Last 10 Pounds

Photo Credit: Nicolas Smith and iStockPhoto
It's summer, and the beach beckons. But you want to go out there looking your best, and that extra weight just doesn't want to come off. So how can you drop that last 10 pounds in a hurry, and get yourself out there to turn some heads?

Seeking advice on this most urgent subject, turned to a couple of weight-loss gurus—a seasoned nutritionist and an expert trainer—and got back some great eating advice, changes to your workout regimen, plus some tough new exercises to push you past this hurdle. But we also got a big fat warning: Who says you need to drop 10 pounds, anyway?

Step Away From the Scale: Your Weight Is Just a Number
Emily Bender, a certified nutrition consultant, author, and member of the faculty of the Hawthorn Health and Nutrition Institute, warns that when trying to lose weight, people tend to pick an arbitrary number, and make it their ideal weight, rather than aiming for a weight that's healthy and sustainable. And exercise expert Ami Student, an ACSM- and NASM-certified personal trainer with Diakadi Body in San Francisco, concurred with Bender, saying that far too many people set not just unrealistic but frankly unhealthy weight goals. One such weight goal he hears far too often: "I want to be the weight I was in high school."

That kind of weight goal is meaningless, says Student. First, your body and its composition are significantly different at 16 than it will be at 30, 45, or 60. More important, as you work out and lose fat, you put on muscle, which weighs twice as much as fat.

All of this adds up to the fact that how much you weigh has little to do with how healthy or fit you are. Instead of focusing on pounds, Student says you should focus on body composition and overall health and fitness. If you want to look your best, keep an eye on how your clothes fit, and how many sizes you go down in your pants, rather than how many pounds you lose.

You also should be aware that losing that last 10 pounds presents both a physical and a psychological challenge. At the point that you're on a losing curve, and you're down to the last little bit, it's going to come off slowly, no matter what. Your metabolism slows down as you lose weight; your impatience increases; and, unlike those first pounds you worked off, where even doing a push-up was a challenge, your body has probably become very efficient in using energy.

In other words, your body will begin to resist your efforts to lose. And that's exactly what it should do, from an evolutionary point of view. So you're going to need patience. Student suggests thinking of the last 10 pounds as your living weight; it's the range you'll be in from now on. "In some sense," he says, "the last 10 pounds is about the wellness goal of your life, not just hitting a pound goal. You want to go in small stages, slowly, because that's when people really make a lifestyle change. That last 10 pounds is really representative of the lifestyle choice you've made, by choosing health and exercise—it will be incremental, and slow, and require a habit change that has to be part of your life."

Rethinking Your Eating Choices: Focus on Whole Foods, Balanced Meals
Part of that lifestyle change involves your eating habits, of course. When we asked Emily Bender for some food advice, she told us to think not in terms of calorie restriction and quick fixes as the diet industry wants you to, but in terms of healthy, well-balanced eating. If you just restrict your calories without thinking about what you put in your mouth, she warns, you'll slow your metabolism down and end up gaining weight right back.

Instead, you have to find a dietary mix that leaves you at optimal metabolic performance. How? "There are two cardinal rules of nutrition," she says. "One, everyone is different, and two, everyone should be eating whole foods." If you eat whole foods and eat them in a balanced way, you won't get hungry again so soon, and thus won't have to fight to resist the temptation to eat garbage foods as often.

"If you have a piece of toast for breakfast, you will be hungry again in an hour," says Bender, "because those kinds of simple carbohydrates make you feel satiated for about half an hour, and then you're starving again." So eat your carbohydrates with some fat and some protein, rather than alone. On their own, carbs spike your blood sugar quickly, and then leave you feeling hungry when that high passes. Accompanied by fat and protein, however, your blood sugar will stay balanced, and you won't be heading out for a candy bar. By balancing everything you eat—even snacks—and including fat, carbohydrates and protein, you can avoid the unnecessary calories you're pushed to consume by blood sugar imbalances.

For some examples of well-balanced meals and whole foods, see these related resources:
  1. The Breakfast Dilemma
  2. Superfoods for Superior Fitness
  3. Great Foods to Fuel Your Workouts
Side Tip on Curbing Cravings: Sip Some Coconut Oil
Still finding that you crave that double chocolate ice cream at 4pm? Bender has another tip to curb your sugar bingeing, one you're certainly not expecting: coconut oil. That's right, coconut oil. "Coconut oil is great," says Bender. "It's made of medium chain triglycerides, saturated fatty acids readily used by the body; so it's energy without sugar, and there's evidence that it helps to boost your metabolism. It also helps stop the sugar cravings." To eat it, melt the coconut oil in a cup of tea. Start with 1/2 teaspoon of the oil (it will make you feel queasy if you start with large amounts) and slowly work up to one to two tablespoons in a cup of tea. It's healthy, and may help both your metabolism and your snack cravings.

Intensify Cardio and Strength Training
So let's assume you're eating right (and drinking your coconut oil tea). What about exercise? Ami Student looks for three things when putting together a program to take off the last few pounds for his clients:
  1. increasing the time spent doing cardio;
  2. increasing cardiovascular intensity during that cardio;
  3. increasing the heard rate throughout workouts, including during strength training routines.
Increase Your Cardio Time
Student says that the best approach, assuming that you are already doing cardio activity at least four days a week and weight training at least three times per week, is to add extra minutes to your existing program rather than extra days in the gym. "The key," he says, "is to find a routine that people can actually do. And most people just can't keep up an extra day in the gym. So it's better to add 15 minutes a day to your cardio on the days you are in the gym."

If you can't stay any longer at the gym than you already are, Student suggests you buy a jump rope and do 15 to 20 minutes with it at home at night, or in the office at lunch. "You can [jump rope] anywhere," Student says, "or try jumping jacks, or running up and down stairs. It really doesn't matter exactly what, as long as it's a large-muscle-group exercise that gets your heart rate up in a sustained way. If you can't get into the gym for longer, you can for sure jump rope at home, and if you do that in addition to the rest of your exercise regimen, it will make a difference."

Do Cardio Blasts Between Sets
To further increase both your cardio time and intensity, you can also add calorie-burning work into your weight sets, by using the transition between exercises as cardio blasts. Student often has clients do their weight sets next to a treadmill or other cardio machine, and has them hop on the machine for a minute or two between exercises. You can, of course, hop on a bike and peddle like mad, but you can be more creative as well. Student suggests putting a treadmill on a steep hill setting, and doing sidesteps on the treadmill while doing bicep curls. You would then go directly from that set to another weight set, followed perhaps by two fast minutes of jump rope, jumping jacks, or high-knee soccer sprints.

Increase the Difficulty of Your Strength Training
Finally, Student suggests you add some new exercises to your strength training regiment to push your muscles harder and elevate your heart rate. In general, if you're trying to squeak a bit more intensity out of your workouts, go for multi-plane, multi-muscle exercises, including exercises that add a balance or turning component to challenge your whole body.

On the following four pages you'll find descriptions and photos of four different multi-pane, multi-muscle exercises that target one muscle group but push your entire body and add intensity to your workout routine. These exercises will not only improve your overall muscle strength, they'll also encourage weight loss by increasing muscle growth, which in turns leads to a faster metabolism and more fat burned as energy. Remember, these are just examples of these types of exercises. You can find dozens of such exercises in the Strength Training section:

Triceps: Kickbacks on Stability Ball
Biceps: Cable Squat Curls with Press
Chest: Cross-Over Push-ups
Back: Forward Lunge with Row

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