If you can't afford a personal trainer, the next best thing is to design your own diet and fitness plan. If you don't have a background in fitness and nutrition, this can seem intimidating, but don't let it be. You can start with small changes to the way you eat and your activity levels, and slowly introduce variations to help you reach your goal.
Start with a clear, well-defined goal. Your ideal workout and diet plan will vary depending on what you want to achieve. Are you looking to lose weight or to gain muscle mass? If you want to make slow changes, your program will be different than if you're ready to work hard and be very strict with your diet.
Check your starting weight and then make a goal weight. Keep in mind that experts such as the Mayo Clinic recommend that you don't lose more than 2 pounds of body weight per week -- although it's possible to lose more during the initial two weeks of dieting. Calculate how many weeks you will need to reach your goal weight, so you can better plan for the program.
Cut down your calorie intake. In order to lose 1 pound a week, you need to eliminate 500 calories from your daily diet, since one pound equals 3,500 calories. If you're eating lots of junk food, eliminating 500 calories should be easy. For example, a can of soda contains about 140 calories. If you drink several a day, switching to diet should save you plenty of calories. Try steaming, baking or barbecuing your food instead of sauteing or frying. A single tablespoon of oil contains 120 calories.
Choose which days you will work out and set those down on your calendar, so they're not optional. According to the CDC, you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity plus two days of weight training per week. If you engage in vigorous activity (contact sports, running), just 75 minutes of aerobic exercise a week is enough. This is the base guideline for general health and well-being, but you should aim for more if you're trying to achieve a specific goal, such as losing weight or gaining muscle. Split those 150 -- or more -- minutes any way you want, as long as you meet your goal by the end of the week.
Choose activities you enjoy. It's a lot easier to meet your weekly activity goal if you love tennis and choose to take two 90-minute lessons per week than if you try to get 150 minutes walking on the treadmill when you find it terribly boring. Aim to work at your target heart rate. You can use the Mayo Clinic calculator to figure out at what level you should be working to make the most of each workout session.
- While counting calories is an effective way to lose weight, it might be too time consuming and complicated for some people. If that's the case, using a specific diet program can help you stay on track, since somebody else has done all the work and you can just follow the rules. If you plan on following a specific diet, choose one that's not too restrictive and that you can maintain. According to US News, Weight Watchers, the Biggest Loser Diet and Jenny Craig are healthy and effective for weight loss.
Tammy Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including Woman's Day, Marie Claire, Adirondack Life and Self. She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.