Losing weight is a goal of nearly everyone who exercises, and with good reason. Achieving a healthy weight helps prevent heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and some cancers, and helps control cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.
"Quick, visible improvement in the first two weeks of exercise is worthwhile as a source of motivation," says Dr. Massimo Testa, an exercise performance physician at the Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Murray, Utah, and the BMC cycling team physician. Testa warns that many diets are nutritionally unbalanced and achieve weight loss through dehydration or muscle loss, but he has found one that can provide immediate short-term success without risk.
"I've been using this diet for about 20 years to help my athletes lose weight without dehydration or muscle loss," says Testa. "Normally, I propose this diet to my patients for two weeks to give them a boost for weight loss. When that happens, and they lose five or six pounds, and start to feel their pants are a little loose at the waist, and they have to punch a new hole in their belt, they get very motivated. They can feel their stomach sucking in maybe for the first time in a while, and they feel good."
Testa's diet recommends 1,600-1,800 calories per day. He notes that it doesn't matter where you are in your fitness program when you start. "If you eat like this for two weeks, you will lose at least three or four pounds," he says.
Please note: This is a starter diet for healthy people (those who have checked with their doctor and have no medical problems). It is also intended for very short-term use only — no longer than two weeks.
Start your day with a half-liter of tea — the equivalent of two or three normal cups of tea, with one spoonful of honey and skim milk, if you like. Sip that for the first hour after you wake up.
Eat two servings of fruit. Testa recommends a banana paired with other different fruits each day: an apple, a pear, a handful of strawberries, a peach or a plum. Drink two glasses of water beforehand.
Eat another piece of fruit and a sandwich (turkey, ham and cheese, or plain tuna) on whole wheat bread with tomato and lettuce, but no mayonnaise or mustard. Drink another two glasses of water beforehand.
Mid-afternoon snack and/or before exercise
Eat a protein bar and drink two more glasses of water in the middle of the afternoon or a half-hour prior to your workout. Testa recommends a bar or another carbohydrate snack buffered with protein before exercise: "To get the full benefit of exercise, you don't want to get hungry and hit the wall during training."
For your evening meal, eat salad, a serving of fruit or vegetables, and a serving of fish or meat. No bread. And again, drink water.
"I have never known anyone who did this diet for two weeks and did not lose weight," says Testa. "This is by no means a diet that you should continue long-term, but for a short time it's not harmful."
( Eric Heiden, M.D., a five-time Olympic gold medalist speed skater, is now an orthopedic surgeon in Utah. He co-authored "Faster, Better, Stronger: Your Fitness Bible" (HarperCollins) with exercise performance physician Max Testa, M.D., and DeAnne Musolf. Visit www.fasterbetterstronger.com.)