While the prospect of shifting extra weight can seem overwhelming, fitness experts say it doesn't have to be all sacrifice and guilt; nor be a mammoth brow-sweating effort. Carly Gibbs reports.
With just more than a month until summer, you might be starting to think about whether all those summer clothes you bought online in lockdown are actually going to fit.
While the prospect of shifting extra weight through a stringent diet and exercise plan can seem overwhelming, fitness experts say it doesn't have to be all sacrifice and guilt over what you can and can't eat or drink; nor be a mammoth brow-sweating effort.
In fact, one tip requires you to stay in bed.
Simple baby steps of change are enough to significantly improve your health and help you feel more confident in your own skin.
If done regularly, and properly, they're also a sustainable way to manage weight, especially as we head into the silly season.
Here's how to do it.
Move three times a week, but don't overdo it
Three times a week do some exercise that requires you to use your muscles and get your heart rate up.
On the other four days, move for at least 30 minutes - it can be a walk or even gardening.
To achieve maximum results in minimum time, make each of your three weekly workouts progressively more intense than the last, but take a softly-softly approach initially, advises Steve Gardiner, fitness coach and owner of Rotorua's Gold's Health and Fitness.
"In the beginning, your fitness plan should not be overly aggressive," he says.
"One of the biggest problems most people encounter when starting a fitness programme, is rapidly depleted motivation after only a few weeks due to an overly ambitious fitness plan.
"As you become acclimated to the lifestyle shift, you can add more days and more resistance, reps or sets to what you did last time, and get improved results. But beware: if you try to do too much too fast, you may end up quitting altogether."
Susan Duncan, holistic health coach, personal trainer and owner of Mind Body Liberation in Mount Maunganui, says exercise is the first step in losing weight, because once you start moving, you naturally have an inclination to take care of other areas of your life.
The pair say exercise done with your body weight (think lunges or push-ups) or added weights, should be done in a slow and controlled manner that matches your skill and level of ability.
If you don't know what you're doing, consider employing a personal trainer or seek group fitness classes where a coach can help you learn the ropes.
Top tip: "More is not better, better is better," says Gardiner. And don't forget to warm up and cool down before and after workouts.
Eat real food, not fast food
Where possible, try to eat whole foods. It doesn't mean you can't have treats, but if it comes from a packet, it's unlikely to be doing your waistline any favours.
Try to consume as many veges, fruits, meat, nuts and seeds as you can.
If you want to eat takeaways, opt for Pita Pit or salad and sushi bars over fast food, and moderate how many times a week you eat out.
What's more, aim to have at least three main meals a day - breakfast being the most important (try raw oatmeal with honey, banana and a protein drink; or scrambled egg whites); and at least one or two healthy snacks a day.
A source of protein at each meal will help keep you full.
What's protein? Lean beef, chicken, dairy products, beans, pork, seafood and nuts. The palm of your hand is a good size guide as to how much protein you should be eating per sitting.
Protein is the building block for muscle, and the more muscle we have, the more energy we burn every day.
Most of us - especially women - under eat protein by about 70 per cent, says behaviour change and nutrition coach Jane Ross-Davie.
When it comes to carbs, pick complex carbs over refined ones, and you'll sustain energy, and minimise cravings for foods that you don't need.
Refined carbs are wheat, whole grain cereals and breads and brown rice.
Likewise, you can still eat fat, but pick the right kind.
"Deep-fried food has no nutritional value," Gardiner says. "Almost every food, whether it's steak, chocolate or red wine, has some nutrients to contribute, but one thing is absolute: fried foods are garbage. If you're trying to lose weight, eliminate fried foods completely from your diet. Yikes, that stuff is scary."
Top tip: Prioritise protein and having veges in at least two out of three main meals.
Give your liver some love
Don't underestimate the power of green vegetables.
"The more bitter the better," says Susan Duncan, explaining they'll help flush your liver of toxins.
What's more, she advises drinking two-plus litres of water a day (if your urine is dark yellow and has a strong odour, you're not drinking enough); and moderate alcohol consumption.
Wine and beer are not only bad for you, but once you've had a drink or two, you snack away when you're not actually hungry.
However, the experts say you don't necessarily need to cut out booze completely to slim down, because doing so can also set you up to fail.
"As soon as you add restrictions, you're going to break," Ross-Davie says.
She advises picking events over the silly season that you'll drink at, and ones that you'll do less or no drinking at.
"Have a plan of how many drinks you are going to have rather than 'I'll just see what happens' because next thing, it's 3am, and the shots come out.
"I know it's really nice to go 'I'm not going to drink for eight weeks', but how does that help you for the rest of your life? We need to still enjoy our life, but 10 drinks is very different to two drinks with a couple of friends over for a barbecue."
Top tip: You can still drink and lose weight, just be smart about how much and how often.
Regardless of what your stress is - rushing in traffic or trying to get the kids out the door to school - our body is having a stress response like we're being chased by a tiger, Duncan says.
"If people can wrap their heads around that, they can start to tell themselves 'calm down, my body doesn't need to be having this experience, over something so minor'."
Stress hormones cause us to burn sugar, and store fat.
"In order for your exercise and nutrition to pay off, you've got to be aware of what your stress hormones are doing," Duncan says, and stress management is key to weight loss.
But you don't need to block out a precious hour in your diary for a massage to unwind.
You can lower your stress levels simply by having daily connection with loved ones; going outside for a 10-minute walk in the sun (vitamin D reduces cortisol, your stress hormone); or setting your phone alarm and sitting at your desk for one minute of deep breathing, twice a day.
Top tip: Try box breathing while sitting at your desk. Breathe in counting to four slowly, hold for four counts, then take a long exhale. Repeat steps one to three until you feel recentred. The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the less stressed you are overall.
Sleep your way to better health
You should be aiming for seven to nine hours of sleep a night, and between 10pm and 2am is when "most of the magic happens" in our body for restoration and repair.
"When you're tired, your satiety hormone is down, and tiredness drives your hunger hormones up," Duncan says.
What's more, if people go crazy with exercise while they're sleeping less and eating more, it'll likely end in burnout.
Ross-Davie advises looking at your evening routine and making changes if needed.
Even going to bed 15 minutes earlier and waking 15 minutes later will help manage stress levels, which in turn helps body composition and weight loss.
"Sleep is the magic weight loss pill we all have access to yet no one uses enough."
Gardiner says if you don't allow your body to rest, it can't properly recover from the workouts you subject it to. That means you won't see the results you're after as rapidly.
Top tip: Sleep lowers cortisol meaning we're less likely to overeat, and better use and metabolise fuel from our food.
Practice NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis)
Doing everyday tasks or "incidental exercise" like vacuuming or playing with your kids can have a bigger impact on your overall energy output for the day than the gym, yet it's often under-estimated.
If you're stuck at your desk for most of the day, nip outside for a 10-minute walk at lunchtime.
Even better, sneak in a 10-minute walk before work, at lunchtime, and after work.
"It helps to reduce stress if you can go for a walk, because walking is low stress on our body and it's getting us moving, so, there's a double bonus there. It's totally doable, and you'll see huge changes," Ross-Davie says.
"I would say to most people who are stressed out of their brain, and under-slept, they should be walking versus going to the gym, because the gym is causing stress if (it's) too high intensity all the time. If weight loss is the goal, walking and strength training is going to have a better impact."
Top tip: As long as you are moving consistently, a little bit every day, including walking, you're doing enough. "Don't underestimate how good walks are," says Ross-Davie. "That has more of an impact on your overall body composition."