Whether you're headed for a big wedding or school reunion or you just want to look smashing in your swimsuit, a month is long enough to make a difference -- just don't expect miracles. In four weeks, you'll could potentially drop 4 to 8 pounds with a smart eating plan and exercise routine. Plus, your muscles will gain definition for a sleeker, more toned look. Just say to no to fad diets that promise faster results, because these typically involve severe calorie restriction, which leads to water and muscle loss, not to mention malnutrition.
It may be the hardest part of your plan, but cutting calories has a greater affect on weight loss than anything else you do. For women who do not weigh more than 250 pounds, eating 1,200 calories a day will promote fat loss, according to MayoClinic.com. That amount will allow you to burn more calories than you take in, but is still enough for proper nutrient intake. A deficit of 500 calories a day will lead to a safe weight loss of one pound per week. It is best to create this deficit by combining exercise with dietary calorie restriction.
Sure, you could melt the fat by eating 1,200 calories worth of donuts each day, but that's hardly good for your health. Plus, sugary foods cause a spike and subsequent crash in blood sugar, leaving you hungrier than you would have otherwise felt after eating more nutritious foods. Reach for fiber-rich fruits and veggies, which your body digests more slowly so you feel fuller longer. The same goes for whole grains such as wild rice, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread. Protein also keeps you full and provides nutrition, but steer clear of fat-laden meats. Egg whites, low-fat cheeses, seafood and tofu are excellent choices.
Cardio burns calories and also benefits your heart and lungs while toning muscles. For the best weight loss results, aim for 300 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, or at least 150 minutes of vigorous activity. Walking quickly, playing doubles tennis and cycling at a casual pace qualify as moderate; jogging, heavy cycling and playing singles tennis are considered vigorous exercises.
Resistance training picks up where cardio leaves off, building lean muscle mass with targeted exercises. Muscles not only tone your bod, but they also help keep the weight off for good. That's because your body burns calories to maintain this lean, active tissue, thus elevating your resting metabolic rate. Perform resistance exercises 20 minutes a day, three days a week. Work all major muscle groups: arms, chest, back, stomach, legs and hips. Options include lifting weights, taking a yoga class, using resistance bands or performing push-ups, crunches, lunges, squats and other body-weight moves.
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.