Like so many people, I bet you have a vacation, reunion or wedding to slim up for. And just like every other year, you will map out a diet and exercise plan complete with visualizations of the many jealous onlookers noticing your toned physique as you jog down the beach in a Baywatch montage, or dance at a party as fat, lonely wall flowers gaze in envy. You will engage this plan with a verve and dedication never before seen by man. This is your year!! This is the summer!! You will reach your goal – starting tomorrow of course. The good news is there is plenty of time to drop some of that extra padding you reluctantly took on in order to survive hibernation through the brutal northern winter. But if you really want to make your efforts more productive than previous years, you may want to try a different approach than the typical crash diet.

In order to address those extra pounds, there is one overlooked, but very critical component to the success of your fitness regimen. When you are executing a diet that begins to fall off track, it’s usually not your soft, doughy belly or your jello-like upper thighs that get in the way – it’s your brain. Preparing your mind for the arduous task at hand is just as important as the regimen itself and perhaps more so. If you really want to achieve results and maintain them throughout the summer, a good work plan and mental management strategy is necessary. Below is a great 4 step process to start your fitness regimen and bring your brain along for the ride instead of working in spite of it. And if you do this work now and you don’t stay with your regimen completely, the information you gathered and the program you created are completely customized to your brain, body and lifestyle. So it is a plan that is easier to implement and re-start when you get off track.


Think of transforming your body as a project, much like restoring a car or renovating your kitchen. You wouldn’t engage any of these projects without a solid, realistic and effective work plan. Also consider that it’s not just about the superficial rewards on the outside; you need to go for the entire package. No one cares about a restored car that has no engine or a gorgeous kitchen that doesn’t function. You want your body to be healthy and well fueled on the inside so it shows on the outside. Sacrificing your health for quick weight loss is not healthy and it doesn’t stick. So make this process a commitment to healthy, not skinny.

Remember your scale is not your friend. He is a cold, honest broker in this process and should be consulted accordingly. Don’t look to him when you need encouragement, he will rarely help. Simply ask him once a week about your progress. But remember, he’s a narrow-minded numbers guy who cares not for the histrionic details. He doesn’t know that muscle weighs more than fat or water weight loss is not real weight loss. He can manipulate you and stifle your progress if you let him. So when he emotionally accosts you like he’s your mother-in-law, consult your clothes and their fit. They are often much more supportive and considerate of the real details.


Start with a notebook and consider diets and workouts you have tried in the past. Remember, everyone’s body is completely unique and responds to food and exercise differently. Instead of reading one more “lose 30 pounds by tomorrow” book or embarking on another ridiculous diet of lemon juice and apply curry, consider what has really worked for you. Think about which approaches made you feel good, got results and were realistic to maintain. Remember which foods you gave up easily and which were deal-breakers. Think about when you typically exercise most often and most effectively. When you’re done, chances are you’ll recall no more than one or two approaches that were truly right for you – if any at all.

If you are one of those people who really have never found something that is effective for you, then it’s time to figure it out. Start by writing out your current diet and exercise regimen for one week. Yes, include that McDonald’s value meal you eat twice a week and all the calories it entails. Although you would like to block it out, your thighs always remember it. Don’t forget to include snacks, drinks and even condiments. After you have recorded the week, calculate your mean calorie intake. Take your healthiest day (Kcal H), your unhealthiest day (Kcal U) and the one that seems smack dab in the middle (Kcal M). Calculate the calorie intake for each day, add them together and divide by 3. This gives you your average daily calorie intake.

Use the current week’s regimen as the starting point for your diet. Make one or two changes in your diet per week and one or two changes in your exercise regimen per week. Exchange a junk food snack for some almonds, carrots or protein shake. Exchange a soda for water or decaf tea sweetened with honey or stevia. The key is to start with what you are already comfortable with, and make slow steady changes each week. Most people find it difficult to completely take on a new nutrition regimen all at once. This is not because they don’t want to do it. That type of change takes more effort than just what you put on your fork. Often it is where and when you eat, how and where you grocery shop and where and when you prepare your food. It’s a lot more to think about than the typical weight loss guide addresses in 83 pages. Journaling is also a good way to review what is working for you and what is not. If you aren’t losing a pound a week, simply cut 200 calories per day or add more exercise. Remember, you need to burn 3500 calories to lose one pound. The more you put in, the more you need to burn in order to lose.


Once you have determined a workout and diet plan that is effective for you, write out your current diet and fitness regimen for one week. This is a great exercise to do in real-time because it shows you all the extra calories that we tend to consume without realizing it (i.e. the office candy dish, those continental breakfasts at staff meetings and daily soda breaks). Once you have a good idea of what you are eating currently, write out your ideal eating plan. Remember the basic rules-in-use for a healthy diet:

1. Fruits, veggies, veggies and more veggies. Green, leafy, fresh and organic ones are the absolute best. If fresh is not an option, go for frozen. If organic isn’t available, try local.

2. Lean proteins are the best. If you are picking a meat, two legs are better than four. Four legged animals tend to have a higher fat content than two legged ones like chicken and turkey. (However bison, which is not an endangered species, is giving those feathered fellas a race in the lean department.)

3. The fewer chemicals you eat, the better you will feel. Processed diet products are often loaded with chemicals that can be toxic and make you feel horrible. Worse yet, they can cause your gut to enter a state of malabsorbtion in an effort to reduce your body’s toxic load. This results in less vitamins, minerals and antioxidants being absorbed from your food. It then can cause a starvation type reaction, creating cravings for high energy, low nutrient foods like sugars, salt and fats. Doesn’t that sound like a fun way to diet? Besides, no one wants to stay on a diet that makes you mean, moody and in a chronic state of “the munchies”. A good rule of thumb – if you can’t pronounce it, don’t put it in your mouth.

4. Keep sugar to a minimum. Sugar in light moderation is not your worst enemy, but it can definitely wreak havoc on a weight loss strategy when you eat too much. Sugar promotes insulin release, which causes you to store glucose. And where does the body so generously store glucose? You guessed it—your ass. When you can, use natural no calorie sweeteners like stevia instead of processed and chemical sweeteners like Splenda and aspartame. Raw sugar and honey are also better alternatives than chemical sweeteners. In short, when it comes to sugars think minimal and natural.


Once you have your current and ideal plans mapped out, start to swap current habits and foods with ones in the healthier version. Keep in mind you may never completely reach the ideal plan, but getting as close as you can gradually is the goal. Doing this process over a period of time allows for a few benefits that make it easier to maintain your healthier regimen in the long-term.

1. Gradual changes do not seem as abrupt and disruptive to your lifestyle. If you have been eating pizza once a week for the last four months, it may be too psychologically overwhelming to completely remove it from your diet. Feeling overwhelmed or generally deprived by the restrictions of your diet is the quickest road to failure.

2. Psychologists often say it takes about three good weeks for a behavior change to stick. So statistically, if you can keep up with moderate changes over three weeks, you can stay with them longer and reap more benefits.

3. Doing it slowly allows you to pick and choose what aspects of your diet are deal breakers. For instance, that glass of wine and fried veggie plate with friends after work on Friday may not be up for grabs. Therefore, as you make your exchanges from current to healthy, deal breakers won’t be lost. The point is you can retain some of your comfort foods and favorites. These aspects help keep your brain focused and not feeling deprived or obsessed with all the goodies you’re missing.

Also, a cheat day to eat what you want can be a great way to maintain your sanity—just try to be sensible. Eating an entire tray of tiramisu in one sitting is not cheating on your diet, it’s tantamount to running away with its arch nemesis (and perhaps selling its dog into slavery before you leave town). You can also divide your cheat day into meals and break it up throughout the week into a naughty breakfast, lunch and dinner of your choice. This allows you those comfort foods when you really need them so the state of your mind doesn’t throw in the towel at the expense of your rear end.

Author's Bio: 

Erin McClelland has over 15 years of experience in the Health and Wellness field. She is a classically trained ballerina and has worked a certified personal trainer a counselor, program director, researcher, process improvement specialist and entrepreneur in the fields of health and wellness and addiction. She started her career researching alcohol and smoking addiction at the University of Pittsburgh and substance abuse wrap around services at St. Francis Medical Center. Her clinical career includes addressing addiction in methadone maintenance programs, outpatient drug-free programs and specialized services such as women, family and prevention program development.

In 2002, Mrs. McClelland began a private practice in which she developed a community based prevention program designed to reach parents and educators through school and community seminars and home sessions. She also began developing a more holistic treatment approach that included diet and exercise evaluation when treating addiction and mental health patients. As a certified personal trainer and certified lifestyle and weight management consultant, she believes diet and exercise are paramount to attaining a true, maintainable recovery.

In 2003, she was hired as the Practice Improvement Collaborative Manager at the Institute of Research Education and Training in Addiction (IRETA). In her time at IRETA, she was trained by the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative (PRHI) to implement the Toyota Production System in healthcare settings in order to reduce waste and errors and improve performance. This training consisted of the case method training approach of Harvard Business School (HBS) and TPS case studies created by HBS professor Steven Spear, who wrote the first article interpreting the TPS for implementation in the US.

In 2006, she conceived and developed Arche Wellness, the first licensed orthomolecular addiction treatment program in Pennsylvania. Together with Dr. Ralph A. Miranda, they have created an intense biochemical recovery approach that begins with the body’s fuel system, the gastrointestinal tract. By starting repair in the GI tract, they are able to quickly and efficiently help their patient’s overcome the severe physical damage caused by years of addiction. The GI concentration in the Arche Wellness model is now one of the most advanced and intensive addiction treatment processes in the world. Her health and wellness experience and unique education in process improvement strategies have helped to make Arche Wellness a state-of-the art learning organization dedicated to achieving perfect patient care.