Confuse Your Enemy
Instead of sticking with one type of exercise, Nicholson tried as many different activities as possible -- from swimming and running to aerobics classes and calisthenics -- in order to lose the weight. "Some days I would do jumping jacks, sit-ups and push-ups, while other days, I would run, do crunches and climb hills," she says.
Why it works: Nicholson's approach worked because she was constantly surprising her muscles with new forms of resistance. "Changing things around not only boosts the intensity of your workout, but it makes your body use a different combination of muscle groups throughout the week, which causes it to burn through even more calories for energy," says Dillinger.
Courtesy of Chisty Nicholson, pictured right at her highest weight of 269 pounds.
Clean Up Your Own Mess Hall
To lose body fat fast, Nicholson said goodbye to many of the unhealthy foods she grew up with, which included mostly fried meals, sugary foods and high-carb fare. "I'm a Southerner, so many of the things I needed to avoid were foods that were very near and dear to me," she says. Some other types of food that went by the wayside: soda, sports drinks and large amounts of red and/or fatty meats.
Why it works: "Limiting your intake of fried and fatty foods is an obvious important step, since both are rich in fat, cholesterol and calories," says Heather Dillinger, a certification specialist for the Aerobic and Fitness Association of America. "But avoiding sugar and processed carbohydrates in your diet is equally key for losing weight, especially since both raise your insulin levels, triggering your body's desire to store any excess calories you're getting from those types of foods as unwanted body fat."
Courtesy of Christy Nicholson, pictured right.
Draft a New Diet
Replacing all of the unhealthy foods that once filled Nicholson's plate was her next challenge. In addition to adding more salads, fresh fruits and veggies to her diet, Nicholson practiced strict portion control to cut her meals down in size. "Anytime I went out to eat, I would immediately ask for a box to put half of what I ordered in to take home," she says.
Why it works: "Dividing your daily caloric intake into smaller portions throughout the day helps curb binges by keeping you feeling fuller all day long," says Dillinger. It also helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day so your body doesn't release insulin into your bloodstream. "The body's response to an insulin increase is to accumulate as much excess body fat as possible," says Dillinger. That means the bigger your meals are, the more likely your body will convert the bulk of what you eat into fat.
Courtesy of Christy Nicholson, pictured right.
Drop and Give Yourself (at least) Five
Prior to losing the weight, the most exercise Nicholson did on a regular basis was swim once a week. "I really didn't work out much beyond that," she admits. But once she was determined to lose the weight, she leapt into a minimum of exercising five days a week. Eventually, she was doing some form of cardio -- from running and swimming to water aerobics -- every day for at least an hour. "A few times, I even ran around shopping center parking lots, just to get some type of cardio in," she says. "I pretty much went from barely working out to working out all the time with lots of different people, which made it easier."
Why it works: Most people think that exercising just 20 minutes a day, three times a week is the best way to stay fit. "That's a great place to begin, but as you become fitter, it's important to elevate your workouts by spending more time sweating it out," says Dillinger. The truth is, every minute you can spend exercising beyond 20 minutes means you'll lose more weight. "After 20 minutes of exercise, your body runs out of glycogen, the stored carbohydrates your body uses for energy for short periods of exercise," says Dillinger. "Once that source is tapped, your body has no choice but to use more of its body fat for energy as you work out."
Courtesy of Christy Nicholson, pictured left.
Be All You Can Be
Staying motivated every single day was a challenge for Nicholson, but what got her through many of her toughest workouts was clearing out her mind and paying attention to her body instead. "A lot of times, your mind is your biggest enemy," says Nicholson, who figured out that sometimes, it's your "brain" that tells you you're too tired to work out -- and not necessarily your body. "Once I conquered my mind, I was able to push my body to go that extra lap around the track, or take a brisk walk in the afternoon when I would rather be sleeping."
Why it works: Nicholson utilized a version of what many trainers call the "hardest day" rule, where you push yourself to make it through the most difficult day of the week to exercise. To do it, "try planning a workout on your busiest day, then don't miss that workout no matter what," says Dillinger "What this does is give you proof that you can exercise through any obstacle, leaving you more confident and inspired to easily exercise the rest of the week."
Courtesy of Christy Nicholson, who weighed 211 pounds here.
Enlist at Least Eight a Day
To keep herself from drinking any extra calories, Nicholson made it a point to stay hydrated all day long. "I drank a lot of water instead of the usual sugary drinks I used to turn to," she says, a tactic that helped shave plenty of calories from her diet.
Why it works: "Staying hydrated can leave you feeling fuller, lessening your appetite for your next meal," says Dillinger. But drinking a minimum of eight, eight-ounce glasses of 'calorie-free' water a day helps get you get healthy in other ways. "Drinking plenty of water also keeps your digestive system working efficiently," says Dillinger, "This allows your body to absorb more nutrients and process food faster, so you get the most nutritional value from every meal."
Courtesy of Christy Nicholson, on right and down to 204 pounds.
Do Some Covert Exercise
To shave off a few extra pounds, Nicholson thought of ways to turn moments of inactivity into exercise opportunities. "Whenever I'd watch TV, I would always do some sort of exercise in between every commercial break," says Nicholson, who would do a mix of different exercises -- from crunches to sit-ups --between each two to three minute break. "It's something I still find myself doing even when I'm at home or on leave," she admits.
Why it works: Dividing your workout up into smaller chunks can give you a bigger calorie-burning boost. "After you work out, your metabolism stays revved, causing your body to burn more calories than usual for a short period afterwards," says Dillinger, "By splitting your routine in half or into thirds, you'll temporarily rev up your metabolism several times during the day instead of once, so your body burns even more calories during the day from the same workout."
Courtesy of Christy Nicholson, at her enlistment weight of 196 pounds.