Take 24 hours to make a commitment to lifelong health

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When you're busy raising kids and performing well at your job, some things – like diet and exercise – take a backseat. When you wake up one day and realize you've gained more than a few pounds, you want to lose it now!

No matter what you do, there's no safe or effective way to lose weight in a day. You can drink a lot of water, spend a little time in a sauna or steam room and eat lightly to lose a few ounces of extra water weight, but you're not going to drop any noticeable fat in 24 hours. After all, you didn't put on the pounds in such a short period of time, so you can't expect them to disappear magically either.

However, focusing on one day at a time serves as a jumping-off point for healthy eating and an exercise commitment that will bring you closer to your goal weight. Even if you're a busy mom with family, job and social commitments, you can make changes today that affect your weight and health down the road.

How Weight Loss Works

Weight loss is a complex process, but it can be boiled down to the simple equation of calories in versus calories out. Consume fewer calories than you use daily, and you lose weight. One pound of fat is equal to about 3,500 calories. To achieve this level of deficit, it usually takes several days of trimming calories and exercise – it's not something that can happen in 24 hours.

The average daily caloric intake for an adult woman to maintain her weight is usually between 1,600 and 2,600, depending on age, size and activity level. Exercise burns calories, but even the most intense running or cycling sessions, which have you covering 10 miles in an hour on foot or 20 miles (or more) on wheel, burn slightly more than 1,000 calories per hour. Unless you're an elite athlete, you can't really keep up that intensity for more than a few minutes. Chasing your kids doesn't count.

This means that even if you did not eat and exercised yourself into a frenzy, you'd have a tough time losing even 1 pound of fat in one day.

A Realistic Plan

More realistically, aim for a 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit daily to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week. This means you'll cut 250 to 500 calories from what you eat daily, which allows you to still get the minimal 1,200 calories necessary to meet all your nutrient needs. Too much of a restriction will leave you without the energy necessary to support your job and family. Plus, you'll slow your metabolism and likely become crabby, and you need all the positive energy you can get to manage a happy home life.

Exercise daily to burn another 250 to 500 calories. A brisk walk, fitness class or swim for 45 minutes to an hour should do the trick. Fit this in early in the morning, while the rest of the family is still sleeping, or have them join you after dinner.

You'll want to strength-train your muscles, too, and just 20 minutes, two times per week, helps build lean muscle which boosts your metabolism, so it's easier to lose weight and keep it off. If getting to the gym doesn't fit in your schedule, invest in a set of dumbbells or a resistance band and fit it in during evening television time, or between homework help sessions.

Eating Adjustments

Use your one day of dedication to take dietary steps that you can keep up for the days to come. These include:

  • Eat whole foods. Go for lean proteins, such as chicken breast and white fish, whole grains, fresh, leafy greens, berries, low-fat dairy and healthy fats – avocados, olive oil or nuts – at most meals. This eating plan will benefit your whole family.
  • Modify portion sizes. Make protein servings about the size of your palm and whole grains just 1/2 to 1 cup in size. Fill up on the lower-calorie options of lightly dressed greens, steamed veggies and fresh fruit. Stick to your own plate; avoid eating the last of your kids' meals, too.
  • Curb your sugar intake. Sweets, including soda and fancy coffee drinks, wreak havoc on your waistline. You don't have to go cold turkey, but minimize added sugars. Choose cut-up vegetables, whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese for snacks, or buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit for a healthy sweet treat.