No time to take up training for a Tough Mudder or follow an elaborate eating plan? Instead, try this.
Woman on table
Credit: Ericka McConnell

So you've peeled off your long sleeves and layers but not those extra pounds you've been meaning to lose ever since your last pregnancy? You're not alone.

Follow these five simple tips, and you can expect to drop 1 to 2 pounds per week. That's no overnight-miracle promise, but it's a strategy that works. Slow and steady wins the race, after all. Just think: You could be a size or even two smaller by the end of the summer! "Adopt a positive mind-set that you're making better choices you can stick with, so you can feel good about yourself at the end of this month and in the long-term," says Parents advisor Elisa Zied, R.D.N., author of Younger Next Week. The best part? You won't need a gym membership or a babysitter.

1. Exercise ten minutes at a time

Of course, one of the biggest hurdles to working out is making time for it. But even if you don't have a gym with child care, you work all day and commute, or fill-in-the-obstacle-here, nearly anyone can find ten minutes to move. In fact, exercising in a few short bursts a day counts just as much as finding one long window to work out. "Being active for 30 minutes a day, even in three increments, three to five times a week combined with watching what you eat is going to get you to that 5-pound goal," says Kathy Robb, a personal trainer and owner of BootCampWF, in Westfield, New Jersey. Her suggestions for brief workouts: Push your little one in her stroller around the neighborhood; walk with a coworker for a mid-afternoon break; take the stairs at work; or, if you're at the playground with a mom friend, trade turns with her speed-walking laps around the park.

Start putting "exercise" on your calendar when you know you'll have coverage for the kids, and commit to it. "If someone asks you to do something else at the time you plan to do a workout, you can tell them truthfully that you have a prior commitment," says Robb. Also, keep a training log. Seeing how many minutes you devoted to exercise will help you track your progress and make needed adjustments. In just a few weeks, you'll be inspired when you look back and see how far you've come.

2. Track what you eat, and make it easy

Besides being more active whenever you can, eating right will be the other pillar of your plan. So aim to consume 1,500 to 1,800 calories daily, 330 to 400 more per day if you're breastfeeding.

To stick to that goal, record absolutely everything that goes into your mouth. (You'll see how quickly those leftover chicken fingers from your preschooler?s plate add up!) "The key to success is to be accountable and honest with yourself," says Zied.

Fortunately, there are many smartphone apps that take the tedium out of tracking. For example, Calorie Counter & My Diet Tracker, by My Fitness Pal (free for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Android), has a bar-code scanner and can look up nutrition-label information straight from food packaging. You can log exercise and add friends (as well as encourage one another's progress). Calorie Counter Pro, by MyNetDiary ($4 for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Android) also lets you track calories and exercise, in addition to comparing food choices side by side. Bonus: The app gives helpful pointers based on how you've been eating that day.

3. Eat more in the morning, less at night

You've heard it's important to have breakfast, but research supports that eating a healthful morning meal may be one of your best weapons in losing weight. A study last year in the journal Obesity suggests that women who had a big breakfast followed by a more modest lunch and an even smaller dinner lost more weight overall (including in their waist) than those who did the reverse and ate a small breakfast, a bigger lunch, and an even larger dinner. "You'll feel fuller longer by eating a healthy mix of lean proteins, multigrains, and fruit and vegetables," says Andrea Giancoli, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Yogurt with fresh berries, whole-grain cereal with nonfat milk and nuts, or whole-grain crackers topped with cheese or natural peanut butter and a side of fruit are all good fiber- and protein-packed choices to keep you satisfied so you're not starving by late morning or lunchtime.

Use your smaller plates at meals to control portion size; studies show this helps people eat 30 percent less. Fill the bulk of your plate with fruits and vegetables, and stick with modest portions of lean proteins like chicken and fish (about the size of a deck of cards). If you're hungry for snacks as the day goes on, pick munchies that satisfy without packing calories: air-popped popcorn, whole-grain crackers, or fruit. When you want a more decadent treat, go for it; just be mindful of how much you eat. For instance, if you must have ice cream, order a child-size serving -- usually all you need to satisfy a craving anyway.

4. Avoid drinking your calories

An easy way to drop 150 calories per day is to pass up that end-of-day glass of wine or cocktail. Try club soda with a berry or a slice of lime instead. (In fact, skip 15 drinks this month, and you'll drop 1 pound of flab.) "Drinking could also make you lose your resolve and eat more than you normally would," says Zied. She suggests using smaller glasses for alcoholic beverages and thinking of them as an occasional indulgence, as you would dessert.

Find other ways to trim calories in what you're drinking: Use nonfat milk instead of whole milk or creamer in your coffee or tea; drink water instead of soda; and stay hydrated simply by eating more juicy low-cal summer produce, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, plums, and watermelon.

5. Plan ahead for dining, parties, and vacations

Take control of your impulses when you anticipate foodcentric social situations. Prior to dining out, Google the menu to suss out the healthiest food options available. Before a party, have a light, healthy snack so you don't arrive famished. Holding a glass of seltzer with fruit garnish is another good way to minimize the urge to graze.

Vacation is rife with temptations, but it's okay to indulge a little as long as you're tracking calories and making healthy choices overall. So have a goodie from your favorite destination bakery, then order an appetizer instead of a heavy entrée at dinner. You'll be satisfied -- and slimmer for summer.

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Parents magazine.

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