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How you can shape up in just six weeks

Never mind 'beach-body ready' - it's time to get beach-body healthy. And if you look good in a swimsuit? That's a bonus… here's how to get there in a month and a half

By Maria Lally

Summer diets. Often they come with promises to 'shed a stone' or get your 'best-ever bikini body', all in as little as a week or two. Most of us, however, want to forgo the fads and simply lose a little weight to have more energy and feel confident in our clothes.

"Six weeks is a good amount of time to make a difference to your body shape," says personal trainer Matt Roberts, who has worked with Samantha Cameron, wife of former prime minister David. "If you try something new every few days, you'll develop small habits that will add up to big changes."

With that in mind, here's your smarter shape-up guide …

Week 1

Identify your weak spot

Do you have a 4pm KitKat every day? Are your portions too big, or are you a late-night snacker (or all-day grazer)? Or do you drink wine every night after dinner? Matt says most of us have a weakness we know is bad for us and that's the thing we should give up for the next six weeks.

"If you take away just one obvious thing, the difference in pounds lost and extra energy will be amazing," he says.

"I tell clients that they can pretty much cope with any change if it's only for six weeks.

"And, interestingly, studies show it takes two weeks to break a habit, so after 14 days you'll have fewer cravings anyway - and if that happens, give up something else."

Week 2

Break up with sugar

Amelia Freer, nutritional therapist and author of new book Nourish & Glow: The 10 Day Plan, says sugar is often one of the hardest habits to break and advises how to do it.

Apart from the obvious sugar baddies like biscuits and sweets, Amelia says to look for hidden sugar in your food and drink - in particular alcohol, juices, white carbs and foods marketed as diet or low-fat which may contain hidden sugar or sweeteners.

Make all your meals 'complete' with a little bit of carbohydrate, vegetables, protein and good fat so you're less likely to crave sugar between meals.

While Amelia says everybody's supplement needs are different, she says that a chromium supplement can be helpful to wean yourself off sugar.

Don't give up on day one. Amelia says giving up sugar is a process and for the first few days you may feel tired and groggy.

Week 3

Sleep more

Trainer Lee Mullins, who works with supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, says a health kick should always be combined with better sleeping habits.

"It doesn't matter if you get your diet and exercise right, if your sleep isn't good enough you'll never look or feel your best," says Lee.

"Good sleep helps you lose excess weight, get fitter and feel happier and more energised."

Firstly, Lee says a lack of sleep plays havoc with weight gain hormones and can increase your appetite and slow down your metabolism.

"This is why a bad night's sleep will often leave you craving sugary, carb-heavy or fatty foods (and your slower metabolism provides a double whammy when it comes to weight gain)," he says.

"Secondly, sleep helps your body repair more efficiently after working out and reduces the risk of injury, which is especially helpful if you haven't exercised in a while. Plus studies show it boosts your willpower."

Lee says the biggest sleep thieves are coffee after lunchtime, stress and blue light from our laptop or phones - but only if we browse on them in the evening, when it disrupts the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

"Either put your gadgets in another room after dinner until the morning or download f.lux, which is an app that syncs to the sun's rising and setting and then determines how much blue light comes from your phone or laptop," he adds.

Week 4

Rethink breakfast

Until recently, the well-worn saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day has never been questioned. However, recently Professor Terence Kealey, an Oxford-educated biochemist, did just that with his book, Breakfast is a Dangerous Meal. In it, he questioned what he calls the 'glorification of breakfast' and now, it seems, many others are in agreement.

Personal trainer Max Lowery, creator of the 2-Meal Day plan (www.2mealday.com), hasn't eaten breakfast in more than four years. "I tell new clients to push back breakfast, until eventually they just have a large lunch and dinner with one snack, which extends the fast they've had overnight," says Max, who points to the science behind intermittent fasting (several studies link it to weight loss and improved heart health). Research has found that people with diabetes do better when they skip breakfast and eat a larger lunch and dinner.

And researchers at Cornell University in New York found that breakfast-eaters eat the same later on as breakfast skippers (which challenges the notion that breakfast keeps your appetite in check for the rest of the day).

"The other issue with breakfast is the type we usually go for," says Max. "If you rush out the door to work or the school run, you're hardly likely to poach an egg before you go. You'll grab something quick, usually made up of carbohydrates and sugar like toast or cereal, which are just about the worst things to eat because we're more insulin-resistant in the mornings, which means our muscle and fat cells are unable to use insulin effectively to lower blood glucose levels."

However, the experts we spoke to said that skipping breakfast -or having a late breakfast - isn't right for everybody and, as ever, it's best to listen to your body. "If you eat breakfast, make sure it includes some protein and fat," s ays Amelia Freer. "Add nuts and seeds to porridge or have poached egg with spinach and avocado."

Week 5

Exercise first thing

On the subject of a later breakfast, Matt Roberts says early morning 'fasting cardio' is one of the best ways to burn fat.

"This is where you do around 30 minutes of light to moderate cardio before you eat. I recommend doing it three mornings a week and it can be anything from a morning swim, to walking your children to school or power walking some of the way to work. Basically it's anything that gets your heart rate going and it quickly hits your fat reserves."

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that exercising before breakfast burns 20% more calories than after.

As for the rest of the time, Matt suggests doing something that gets you a little sweaty (like a bike ride or a hilly walk) and some weights four or five times a week.

"If you can't make the gym, just do a weights circuit routine with some light hand-held weights at home for the upper and lower body. So work the lower body with things like squats and lunges and the upper body with press-ups and shoulder presses."

Matt says you can pick and choose the moves you'd like to do as long as doing the whole routine takes around 20 minutes.

Week 6

Get off your bottom

Personal trainer and Instagram star Shona Vertue says most of us spend too much time sitting down, which can give us a flatter bottom.

"If you spend a lot of your day sitting down the gluteus maximus, a crucial muscle, loses definition," she says. She suggests introducing this bottom-lifting-and-firming move into your fitness routine.

Breathing bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent, heels on the floor (toes lifted) and your feet hip-distance apart.

Position your arms out straight towards your ankles, palms facing up.

Take a deep breath so you feel your ribs rise and fall.

On your next breath out, pull your ribs in and raise your hips just off the floor by tucking in your tailbone. Then slowly lift and roll each vertebra off the floor one at a time.

Squeeze your glutes at the top. Inhale to lower, one vertebra at a time. Repeat 10 times.

How some well-known faces keep fit ...

Jazz musician and Radio Ulster broadcaster Linley Hamilton, (52) is married and lives in Belfast.

He says: This summer I’m going to New York to see Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden and I will be doing some gigs while I’m there.

I have a field of donkeys up on the mountain. You could be walking up and down to the top of the mountain there twice a day, feeding them scones and lemon drizzle cake — so I’ll be getting fit and they’ll be getting fat.

Because I live in Belfast and work in Derry, I practically live in my car. This summer, though, I plan to walk more. I’ll be working for most of the summer in Belfast, so I will go for walks along the Stranmillis towpath. My other favourite places to go for a stroll are the Blackhead path in Whitehead and Portmuck.”

Belfast-born singer Rachel Tucker, now lives in London with her husband Guy Retallack and they have one son, Ben, (4). She says:

I am just coming to the end of my UK tour at the minute so I’m living out of a suitcase. It’s a bit tricky eating. I’m trying to find good foods on the road, so I grab salads and nuts and snacks when I can, but it’s very hard.

I love going to the gym, running and a bit of cross training, sit-ups and push-ups. I’m trying to do that for four days a week.”

Rita Fitzgerald, (46), lives in Belfast with architect husband, John, (52) and their daughter Ellie, (6).

She says: At this time of the year I enjoy outdoor swimming. So whenever I get the opportunity to take a dip in the sea I take it.

However, I’m not very good at keeping up an exercise regime or work out program. A few years ago I joined a gym with my sister but when we realised we were spending more time in the coffee shop we called time on that.”

BBC NI weatherman Barra Best, (35), lives in north Belfast.

He says: My gym attitude has changed recently as I decided to bite the bullet and get a personal trainer. Although I’m not going on holiday until November I’ve started getting into shape now. I had given up on the gym for several years because of a recurring neck injury, but now I have expert help to ensure I’m training correctly. I’ve been back at the gym for three months and feel much better for it. I’m doing a bit of everything; upper body one day, lower body the next and a few cardio sessions. And I’m sticking to a new diet plan too. I was sceptical at first but it’s definitely working.”

Londonderry-born Apprentice star Dr Leah Totton, (29), now lives in London and is in a relationship.

She says: My schedule to replenish and detox in preparation for the summer has already started. Now my diet includes a rainbow of colourful and nutritious fruit and vegetables to help improve my skin’s radiance.

These antioxidant-rich foods are important for skin cell development, and can also help replenish the skin for a ‘peachy’ complexion. I also drink plenty of water. I’ve just launched my Bare Faced By Summer treatment plan which blends in-clinic procedures with a regime of home care prescription-strength products. Once summer is here, it’s important to protect our skin from the sun.”

Interviews by Linda Stewart

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