Spring Break is around the corner, and whether you're a single heading for Barbados or a family going to Disney World, one fact is certain: We'll be seeing more of you.
With at least a month to go before the next school break, there is ample time to safely trim and tone for your swimsuit, provided you set realistic goals and follow a daily plan. But before you get on the treadmill, lift a hand weight or load up on complex carbs, remember: You're not a supermodel.
"If we strive to be something that is impossible, then we're never going to be happy," said Jennifer Baran, licensed master social worker. "We don't have to hold ourselves up to standards that are really unattainable and imaginary. Come to terms with yourself. Be happy with who you are, and do what you can to improve your health."
Winter weight gain happens, thanks in part to comfort foods laden with fat and consumed while watching television when sitting by a fireplace. With our metabolisms moving slower than traffic on the Skyway, pounds were bound to multiply and lodge themselves in those familiar places.
"If you're not comfortable with your body [to the extent your physical abilities allow], make a decision to use it," said Baran, who counsels clients at Healthy Living Support Network in Williamsville. "Walk, dance, run, swim, bike, wiggle! Do what you can. Start slowly and build up your strength and stamina. Learn about good nutrition. Get healthy. Get active."
>Don't call it a diet
"When I talk to my patients, I really don't use words like diet," said Dr. Michael Calabrese. "I talk to them about a lifestyle change. A diet may last six months, and what happens after that?"
Be realistic with your weight-loss goals. Five pounds in two weeks is doable, but losing 10 pounds in the same amount of time is downright dangerous.
"Unless you're taking diuretics. Unless you stop eating totally. Unless you exercise constantly, that will not happen, nor is it good for your system," said Calabrese, of Medical Care of Western New York at Buffalo.
A healthy weight-loss goal, on the other hand, would trim 2 to 2 1/2 pounds a week by keeping daily calories below 1,500, eating four to five small meals a day and exercising in moderation.
What and when you eat are as critical to healthy weight loss as your weekly weigh-in. Two problem areas for people who want to drop some pounds are late-night eating and skipping breakfast.
"They don't get their metabolism going in the morning," said Calabrese, "so the body slows the metabolism down, so everything you're trying to lose you can't because the fat storages are locked up.
"Then around noon you get hungry and start piling food on, confusing the body and making it work twice as hard to digest the food because your metabolism is slowed and fat storages are locked. Late-night eating is the same problem."
Serious weight losers shun alcohol for its empty calories (added calories with no nutritional value) and sugar, seeking out food high in complex carbohydrates that will boost energy and keep you feeling fuller longer. Brown pasta and whole wheat bread and cereal power your day, allowing you to exercise harder longer.
"To lose weight, the brain must be on board," said Calabrese. "A lot of this is between your ears. It's mind over matter."
>Where to start?
It's difficult to break old habits -- like not exercising -- and learn new ones, but those looking for a lifestyle change find the buddy system works.
Lori Pilato joined Healthy Living Support Network in November of last year. There, Pilato receives weight-loss counseling while she works out. What's more, Baran -- her counselor -- is exercising right along with her. Pilato has lost 21 pounds with this innovative weight-loss strategy.
"[Baran] talks about issues that might be blocking me, like emotional eating and how to combat it, or how to identify and avoid food pushers," Pilato said. "It must have something to do with the oxygen going through your body that what she says seems to make more sense while I'm exercising."
"Make a conscious decision to find people who are active," said Baran, who recently obtained a professional certificate in personal training. "Find healthy ways to reward your accomplishments. If you walk two miles today, buy yourself an exercise iTune, or a book. Don't change everything at once. Little changes add up."
Just because you don't look like a supermodel in a bathing suit doesn't mean you can't be comfortable wearing one.
"It amazes me that people who are five pounds overweight are not happy with themselves," said Baran. "People who see themselves as overweight face a constant pressure that they are not good enough, that society has already made the judgment. They deal with years of negativity.
"Diet has way more to do with weight loss than exercise," Baran added, "but exercise has so many benefits."
>Training with weights
Cardio exercise builds stamina and burns calories, but the real key to shedding extra pounds while developing definition is weight training. Weight training, the use of hand weights -- kettle bells included -- goes a long way in reshaping your body, according to Life Fitness Fit Tips (http://us.corporate.lifefitness.com/content.cfm/weeklyfittips).
Muscle tissue burns 25 percent more calories than fat tissue, and weight training increases muscle tissue and raises the rate at which calories are burned. Not only that, weight training helps fight osteoporosis by increasing bone density. Research shows weight training can increase spinal bone density by 13 percent in six months.
Start out slow -- three-to-five pound hand weights to begin. Work your biceps, triceps and deltoids with curls and presses. Normally you should exercise three times a week, but in this vacation sprint, aim for five. Go to the gym, consult your trainer how, or visit www.womensheart.org.
To shake up your workout, drop the weights and try the following exercises that target your thighs, buns and abs:
* Wall squat: Your thighs, hips and butt will thank you. It only takes a minute, but first you must find a wall, stand against it and slowly slide down. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat until you feel the burn. Then do two more.
* Glute raise: Saggy buns make for poor beach outings, and perhaps the best way to combat them is with glute raises. On an exercise mat, lie flat with knees bent and feet close to your body. Shoot your hips into the air, tighten your butt and hold. Try 20 and if you get bored lift one leg off the mat.
* Crunch: For a flat, toned tummy, lie on your mat with knees bent and feet close. With hands behind your head, lift your back off the mat, tightening your abs while squeezing your knees together. Keep elbows wide and a space under your chin. Try for 20.
"One message that I want to get out to moms is to work on body image issues for both you and your child," Baran said. "If a daughter sees her mom unhappy with her appearance, it will become more difficult to accept her own body. Have discussions about society's mixed messages and get active together. Making healthy lifestyle changes with the goal of improving your health will improve self-esteem, too."
-- Jane Kwiatkowski
>For Buffalo supermodel, it's a piece of cake
Not everyone can be a supermodel, but when you wear a swimsuit to work, the world believes you wrote the book on diet and fitness.
"I'm on a see-food diet," said supermodel Jessica White, 24, of Buffalo. "Whatever I see I eat. I had two pieces of vanilla cake for breakfast. I'm tall and skinny, and I just don't gain weight. Actually, I'm trying to put on 10 pounds to be more curvy."
White has appeared in Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue for six years, including the most recent edition released earlier this month. White, at 5 feet, 11 inches, travels the world to model, but on this snowy afternoon, she was in Buffalo with her sisters.
The tendency not to gain weight no matter how much one eats or how little one exercises can be particularly infuriating to most of us who work at weight control. In fact, we wonder how can it be possible.
"Her metabolism may be a very fast one," said Dr. Michael Calabrese, "where anything that goes into her system gets absorbed and immediately broken down. And even though she eats cake and everything else, the metabolism of a 25-year-old is fast.
"A man or woman who is active with a fast metabolism can eat anything they want -- including sugar, a major culprit when it comes to weight gain," Calabrese said.
White does not exercise at all. In fact she hates to exercise, admitting that walking up the steps to her bedroom is probably the most exercise she gets during a typical day in Buffalo.
"If I'm in Buffalo, I'm not doing much," White said. "I get up around 9, eat breakfast, watch TV, read books and chill with family and friends."
White loves the city, and surprisingly does not care for the beach. Too bad, considering that in days she would leave for the beaches of Mexico to shoot swimwear for a German client. Still, how does she fuel her day? Protein bars? Energy drinks?
"No," a polite White said. "I bring a bag of chips with me and I eat chocolate. I have a natural athletic body. I'm a rare case. I like organic food, but as soon as I get off the phone, I'm going to Applebee's for a hamburger."
Water is White's drink of choice. In fact, she only keeps water and lemonade in her Buffalo home, and drinks four "big bottles of water a day."
White's age is working for her, said Calabrese, who described the aging process as a major factor in slowing metabolism and therefore changing body composition. And for her part, White realized the ease with which she maintains her beach body will not last forever.
"I'm sure it will change after I have my first baby, but now I am enjoying the process of trying to put on weight."