Don't let your packed schedule get in the way of your goals.
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Even if you’re insanely busy with work, friends, and family obligations 24/7, that doesn’t mean your weight-loss goals have to be put on hold. Shedding pounds with a packed to-do list may take a little extra effort, but it’s completely possible with smart planning and steadfast dedication.“Let’s face it: Life can feel like a fast train with many demands most days, and often our health falls last on the list,” says Jenny Beth Kroplin, R.D., L.D.N., C.L.C. It doesn’t have to, though: Here’s the advice that she and other nutrition pros give to their clients with schedules that just won’t quit.
1. Don’t skip grocery shopping.
Dan Dalton, Getty ImagesTo eat healthy, you have to buy healthy. “Grocery shop every week,” says Abby Langer, R.D. “If you’re not well-stocked with perishables like salads, fruit, and yogurt, for example, you don’t have the tools to be prepared to eat well. If you come home from a busy day and there’s nothing in the kitchen, that’s a situation that frequently leads to ordering in—which is not good for weight loss.” Do your future self a favor and take the time to buy healthy food, even if you are busy.
2. Batch cook your meals once or twice a week…Step two? Actually cook those healthy groceries. Since busy people rarely have time to cook a nutritious meal every night (if only), cook just once or twice a week and divvy up your results for several days of delish, homemade meals. “Lots of my clients cite being too busy as an excuse for not cooking themselves dinner or lunch, but if you prepare ahead, there’s no excuse,” says Langer. Adds Kroplin, “Pre-planning meals over the weekend can help you stay focused on eating healthy. I usually recommend pre-planning meals for at least half the week so it doesn’t feel overwhelming, then re-assessing what you have or may need mid-week to finish out the week and weekend.” She also suggests batch-cooking some healthy grains (like quinoa or brown rice) and lean meats (like chicken or flank steak), boiling eggs and storing them in fridge, and chopping fruits and vegetables before the busy workweek starts.
3. …And slice, dice, and package your snacks for the week so they’re ready to go.Speaking of chopping up fruits and veggies, this is a great way to make sure you have produce to munch on when you’re hungry. “You can pre-package grapes and veggie sticks for easy snacks,” suggests Tanya Zuckerbrot, M.S., R.D., author of The F-Factor Diet and founder of F-Factor Nutrition. If they’re already waiting for you right inside your fridge, it’s easy to choose carrots or strawberries over chips or cookies.
4. Re-think your carbs to keep hunger in check.
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To keep hunger under control so you can focus on your crazy-long to-do list, make sure you’re eating the right kinds of carbohydrates. Refined carbs (like white bread and pasta) can wreak havoc on your blood sugar, leaving you hungry sooner than you should be. Instead, choose whole grains and other high-fiber carbs to offset this mid-day crash. “I tell my clients to re-think their carbohydrates and focus more on lentils, sweet potatoes and bean-based pastas as opposed to bread, and always pair them with protein [to help keep you full],” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D.
5. Keep non-perishable munchies on-hand…“Leaving non-perishable foods in your purse or at work is great so you have something to reach for, even if you’re too busy for a proper meal,” says Zuckerbrot. “The goal is to never skip a meal, so you can avoid being very hungry at the next meal—which can result in choosing high-calorie, low-nutrition foods.” It’s also important to feed those hunger twinges between meals, says Langer. “Have a snack at what I call the ‘critical juncture’—4 P.M,” she says. “This will help by keeping hunger at bay until you’re ready to eat dinner.”
6. …And keep fresh snacks cold with ice packs.“When you’re on-the-go, having a small cooler with a few icepacks with you will keep foods cold, like fruit, yogurt, light cheese, vegetables, salad, meat, or any food that needs to stay chilled,” Kroplin says. “This broadens the variety you can carry with you and provides more options to carry fresh, whole foods along with you each day.”
7. Prep your breakfast the night before.
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If you’re hungry in the morning but still don’t have time to eat at home, try prepping your breakfast the night before. “Mornings are the most hectic time of day for my clients,” says Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., R.Y.T., author of Nourish Your Namaste (out May 2016) and The Foodie Dietitian Blog. “Many of my clients leave the house on an empty stomach, and skipping breakfast can lead to overeating later in the day. [At night] when there is some quiet downtime, I have them try make-ahead breakfasts like overnight oats, smoothies, and yogurt parfaits, which are ready to grab-and-go in the morning.”
8. You can DIY your own freezer meals, too.Toss that freezer-burnt personal pizza and make room for healthier, homemade freezer meals. “Making pre-portioned meals ahead and freezing them will really save time and calories, because it’s easy to pop a meal out, de-thaw it, and heat it up,” says Kroplin. Even when you’re totally exhausted, this is just as convenient as less-healthy options. “Being able to grab frozen homemade chili out of the freezer on a weeknight prevents you from grabbing take-out or ordering pizza,” adds Lydon.
9. Focus on zero-effort diet swaps if you’re extra short on time.
Even though most weight-loss solutions do take some extra time and effort, there are some simple changes that won’t cost you a second. “When working with busy clients, I typically recommend tackling one or two passive weight loss strategies first—that is, things that don’t require any extra time or effort,” says Elle Penner, M.P.H., R.D., senior registered dietitian at MyFitnessPal and lifestyle blogger at According to Elle. “Making simple food or ingredient swaps is a really easy one, like trading soda for water at mealtimes or asking for half the amount of sweetener in your morning latte. Modestly reducing portion sizes is another easy one that can lead to big results.”
10. Schedule your workouts…
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If you’re crazy-busy, chances are your workout plans often fall by the wayside. Fix this habit by scheduling them like meetings or appointments. “Write or type your workouts into your monthly calendar every week, making these exercise appointments top-priority,” Kroplin says. “Then, work your schedule around the exercise. This will keep exercise at the top of the priority list, not allowing other obligations or plans to derail your exercise routine.”
11. …Or break them up into 10-minute intervals.
If you can’t commit to an hour-long workout all at once, split your burn into several blocks during the day. “If blocking off a chunk of time is just not an option for exercise, I always like to recommend the 10 x 10 x 10 exercise rule,” Kroplin says. “Basically, you exercise in three 10-minute increments a day. [Try it] anywhere you can fit in 10 minutes, like taking the stairs or walking around the office building, so you total 30 minutes of exercise at the end of the day.”
12. Don’t have an all-or-nothing attitude.Staying flexible is key when you’re super-busy. “Don’t have an all-or-nothing attitude,” says Langer. “Busy people sometimes have to eat out, or their meal schedule gets messed up, or they miss a workout. Who cares? Just move forward and don’t let these things derail you.”