We admit it: The phrase “bikini body” is a little groan-inducing (and we’re just not talking about all the sit-ups you might feel compelled to do to get a swimsuit-ready figure). Cheesy terminology aside, the fact is that a lot of people are trying to slim down for summer right now, both to look better in their two-pieces or trunks and to have more stamina for activities like swimming.
So to help those looking to trim a few pounds without giving up good food, we got tips and recipes from the authors of two diet and lifestyle books: “The Skinny: How to Fit Into Your Little Black Dress Forever” and “Bikini Bootcamp: Two Weeks to Your Ultimate Beach Body.” The former was co-authored by journalist Robin Aronson and food writer Melissa Clark (who has written numerous books with and about chefs, and whose articles and recipes have appeared in many publications, including The New York Times and on Epicurious). The latter was written by Erica Gragg and Melissa Perlman, owners and founders of Amansala spa in Tulum on the Mexican Riviera — the book is based on the spa's popular body-makeover program and has a fitness plan, plus 80 Asian- and Mexican-inspired recipes.
Read on for 12 slim-down tips, plus low-cal recipes from both books and Epicurious.
- Cut calories: Eat what you want: Think about what you really want to eat and then eat and enjoy it, say the authors of “The Skinny.” Just eat less of it if you want to lose or maintain your weight. It's all about portion size and balancing heavy meals with lighter ones, they explain, whether you're at home, the office, or a restaurant. When you want foods that pack a lot of calories — chips or cake, for example — have a small serving. "Want some fries? Stanch your hunger first with salad. Eat more of the salad than the fries."
- Use visual cues to keep portion sizes small: If you're craving a snack, try to eat something about the size of your fist, suggests Gragg. Of course, this shouldn't be, say, four chocolate truffles. The authors' snack suggestions include the usual diet suspects, like fruit, yogurt, veggies, and air-popped popcorn, as well as creative offerings such as jicama sticks dusted with chili powder and finished with a squeeze of lime. If spas served bar snacks, that one would certainly be on the menu.
- Eat when you're hungry: Don't deprive yourself of food when your stomach is growling, say “The Skinny” authors (that'll just lead to overeating later), but stop eating when you're satisfied. And be honest with yourself about when that is: Learn what your body feels like when it's "full enough," not stuffed, they add.
- Eat fresh, real food instead of processed junk: Both books stress the importance of including plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit (yes, even bananas, for you carbophobes!) in the diet. Cook using fresh foods as often as you can, say “The Skinny” authors, while the “Bikini Bootcamp” way includes buying organic when possible, choosing foods that are only one step removed from their natural state, and mixing in whole grains and good fats (nuts, avocados, olive oil) judiciously.
- Eat mindfully: Raise your hand if dinner often means chowing down while zoning out to "Idol" (or whatever happens to be on your TiVo backlog). “The Skinny” authors say to sit down at your dinner table as often as you can, then eat slowly and enjoy your meal. ("No guilt!") To encourage readers to focus on their food and how it tastes, the authors of “Bikini Bootcamp” agree about setting a pretty table (even if you're dining alone), turning off the television and iPod, and even ditching those books and magazines. "Being mindful of not only why you are eating but also what you are eating means not only will you only eat when you are truly hungry, but you will begin to value and enjoy your meals so much more," says Gragg.
- Low-far, not nonfat: "The human body needs some fat to properly absorb vitamins and minerals," says Gragg. "Remember, it's about portion and balance." Many of the recipes in “Bikini Bootcamp” call for a teaspoon or two of healthy mix-ins such as flax seeds, sesame seeds, and slivered almonds, all of which add fiber, protein, and good fat to keep you satisfied until the next meal.
- Focus on fiber: When purchasing cereal or bread, the authors of “Bikini Bootcamp” suggest choosing products that have four grams of fiber or more per serving. "Fiber is very filling, which means that you will eat less, yet feel fuller," explains Gragg. "Beyond that, fiber aids in digestion, flushing through your body very quickly, and soluble fiber binds to cholesterol and helps the body eliminate it."
- Start with soup to suppress appetite: Having soup before dinner fills you up, and it's an easy way to sneak in a few extra servings of vegetables. In the heat of summer, try a cold soup such as gazpacho. Just make sure to choose vegetable-based soups, not varieties with lots of cream.
- Spice things up: "Too much salt leads to water retention and an energy slump," warns Gragg. Fortunately you need less of the white stuff when you use plenty of herbs and spices, which add flavor without sodium, fat, or a lot of calories. Experiment with cinnamon, curry powder, ginger, hot peppers, and fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, and cilantro.
- Remember your next and last meal: Think about the food you're about to eat in relation to the food you've had or will have during the day, suggest the authors of “The Skinny.” That doesn't mean starve yourself if you're planning a caloric dinner — just don't also eat a Grand Slam for breakfast.
- Reduce calories by keeping track of drinks: Drinks with calories are like food, the authors of “The Skinny” remind us. Don't let them slip down your throat without noticing.
- Burn calories with exercise: So, about those sit-ups...there are no fad-diet false promises in “Bikini Bootcamp” and “The Skinny”: The authors know that you have to burn off more calories than you consume if you want to lose weight.
Recipes from ‘Bikini Bootcamp’
Recipes from ‘The Skinny’
- Whole Grain French Toast with Fresh Papaya
- Chicken Salad with Roasted Red Peppers
- Roasted Tofu with Shiitake, Soy, and Ginger Over Baby Spinach
- Roasted Pears with Chestnut Honey
Low-Cal Summer Recipes from Epicurious