For weeks, if not months, you’ve known you have that beach vacation with your girl, your friend’s wedding (with all the single bridesmaids), that video shoot at work. But suddenly, you’re looking at a calendar and the big day is just a week away. Unless you have superhuman confidence or single-digit body fat, you’re probably concerned everyone’s eyes will be less on your personality and more on the cheeseburgers and beers hanging around from the past few weeks.
Here’s the good news: “Assuming you’re already pretty healthy, hovering between 15 and 20 [percent body fat], you can realistically dump 1 to 3% in a week,” reassures personal trainer and strength coach Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., an instructor at Equinox in San Diego.
The bad news? You’re going to need to channel all your willpower into being on top of your game. After all, if it was easy to reach and maintain the next number, you’d have done it already.
How easy it is for you to lose weight is based partially on genetics. “I’ve seen guys lose 1% in a week, but also I’ve seen guys take a month to lose 1%,” says Jim White, R.D., owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach.
But it’s also heavily influenced by how you eat and sleep, so there are parts you can control.
The majority of the pounds you’ll be able to drop fast are not from fat, but instead water weight. “Carbohydrates hold onto about three times the amount of water, so if you want to dump weight quick, you cut down on your carbs and that eliminates water storage in the muscle tissues,” McCall explains.
This is 100% a short-term approach—as soon as you touch beer or bread, you’ll gain it back. But a carb-cutting strategy can reduce bloating, carving out your muscles more and helping you feign a lower percentage in the immediate future.
“If you’re already healthy and you need to be a little more cut, you can do it no problem—just stop doing what you don’t need to do, do what you do need to do, especially considering it’s a temporarily restricted lifestyle,” McCall adds. Scroll down to find out what that lifestyle entails, so you can cut a percentage point of body fat in a week.
And if you don’t find it that hard to trim the fat from your life in order to trim the fat from your body? Keep it up and plant roots in your new body fat category. Use these 6 tips to help you achieve your goals.
1. Eliminate booze
As for losing actual body fat fast, your first step is swearing off alcohol for the week (we’ll repeat: willpower of steel). Not only are most varieties full of water-retaining carbs, but weight loss is, to some extent, a calories game, White explains. And the 150 calories per beer is an easy way to nix a few from your daily total.
2. Eat often
While nutrition is probably the most important factor, the ideal strategy is really not that complicated: Shoot for five to six meals of real food a day—three full meals, two snacks—each ideally heavy on protein and fresh low-carb vegetables. “Eating like this helps your metabolism boost and blood sugar levels stabilize, which increases fat burn, as well as your energy levels rise, which will improve your workouts,” White adds.
3. …but not before a workout
Metabolize even more fat by working out in a fasted state in the morning, McCall says. If you are working out with fuel in your system, though, opt for high-intensity interval training to torch calories in a short period of time, suggests Christopher Jordan, CSCS, Director of Exercise Physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute and creator of the 7 Minute Workout.
4. Hit the weights
“Resistance training is essential to ensure your muscle mass is retained and not used as energy source to pay off some of the calorie deficit,” says Jordan.
5. Do some yoga
If you’re super stressed, consider calming down in the yoga studio (or try these yoga poses for men) instead of revving up in the gym, McCall advises. The key stress hormone, cortisol, increases the amount of fat your body stores, especially in the abdominals. “Your sympathetic nervous system—the fight or flight response—is already activated from stress, and doing HIIT can put it into overdrive,” McCall explains. Instead, activate your parasympathetic nervous system—the rest and digest. “By going to a gentle yoga class during a stressful time, while it might not normally be what you do, you’ll be surprised at how much calmer you’ll come out of it, and that you’ll actually lose weight from it.” Plus, it’ll help you sleep, he adds.
6. Go to bed earlier
“Getting an extra half hour or 45 minutes of sleep can really make a difference,” McCall says. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that missing your bedtime too often affects how your body responds to insulin, a hormone that regulates your appetite and metabolism. The cells of folks who slept only 4.5 hours a night were 30 percent less sensitive to insulin—comparable to the cells of someone who is obese or diabetic. Plus, too many late nights activates a sabotaging cycle: “Studies have shown that poor sleep can result into overeating, and overeating can result in poor sleep,” White says. What’s more, logging five hours or less is directly related to gaining abdominal fat, according to a study in SLEEPThe last thing you need is lower willpower or unnecessary fat gain, so shoot for 7 to 8 hours a night. Not only will this help stabilize your hormones to avoid the pounds piling on, but you’ll have more energy to slay your workouts, too. You know to skip caffeine after 2 or 3 p.m., but also try not to exercise too late because it raises your body temperature which can sometimes affect your sleep, White adds.