Want to give ordinary walking extra power to melt fat? Then try this simple strategy: Aim for at least 10,000 steps a day and grab a protein shake in the morning for breakfast and whenever else you need a quick-and-healthy meal. “It’s easy, convenient, affordable, and it’s been proven to work!” reveals LSU’s Donna Ryan, M.D., who helped conduct a 10-year study on thousands of folks aiming to walk more and eat better.
During the study, half of the participants were encouraged to get 10,000 steps a day and try a new way of healthy eating by reaching for protein shakes as an alternative to fast food. Dr. Ryan says it quickly became clear that “the more shakes a person opted for, the more weight he or she lost.” Results showed that those who chose the most shakes walked off 700 percent more weight than those who chose the fewest. And when we asked around, we quickly found women who’ve used a walking-plus-shakes approach to drop up to 100 pounds in six months. “Women who adhere to this type of plan can expect impressive results,” says Dr. Ryan. How much will you lose? Here’s how to find out.
Set a Step Goal to Get Started
Counting steps is easy and don’t worry, you don’t have to be a fitness buff for this plan to work for you. Buy an inexpensive pedometer like this one from Letsfit ($29.96, Amazon) or use the step counter that’s built into your smartphone, as most now have a pedometer feature. iPhone users, for example, tap the “Health” icon, select “Activity”, then select “Steps.”
Figure out how many steps you normally take by either wearing your pedometer on an ordinary day or accessing the step records on your phone (iPhone users go to “Steps,” then “Show all data”.) Dr. Ryan recommends gradually building up your steps in 2,000-step increments. So let’s say you already take about 4,000 steps a day. Try for 6,000 per day until you feel stronger, then 8,000, then 10,000. Once you get to 10,000 steps per day, make that number your daily goal.
Tip: While it’s not necessary to wear any special clothes as you become more active, wearing proper walking excercise shoes with good support should help protect your back and joints, preventing aches and pains.
What You Eat
To get off to a fuss-free and fast start, aim for about 1,400 calories a day, with shakes as two of your daily meals. Most shakes contain about 200 calories each, which leaves you 1,000 calories for healthy snacks and a sensible dinner. To stay under your limit, use a free food log like the one at MyFitnessPal.com or just read food labels and keep track using pen and paper. You can also skip diet math altogether by using our menu planner below.
Why It Works
“To lose weight, the key is burning off more calories than you take in. Walking helps you burn more calories, and shakes are an easy way to reduce your food intake,” notes Dr. Ryan. “Shakes also have a lot of the nutrients you need to enhance your results.” Protein — which helps us build metabolism-boosting muscle — is key. And most shakes also contain a range of other ingredients that enhance weight loss, including fat-burning vitamin C and thyroid-boosting selenium. Another crucial bonus: Many popular shake varieties — including SlimFast, Designer Whey, and IdealShake — are great sources of amino acids, natural compounds that trigger slimming chemical reactions in our muscles. Per University of Arkansas research, amino-acid-rich shakes literally double the speed at which a dieter’s muscles burn fat.
Walking for Weight Loss Success Stories
We first heard about using shakes to walk off more weight from Shannon Fleming, 34, whose doctors recommended the approach to slim her down before gastric sleeve surgery. Too nervous to go ahead with the procedure, “I started aiming for 5,000 steps and one or two shakes a day, gradually working my way up to 10,000 steps or more,” recalls the Las Vegas mom, who whisked off 20 pounds in eight weeks, 125 pounds in all. “I got a lot of my steps by doing laps around Target.”
Fellow Las Vegas mom Diana Ramlagan, 30, happened on Shannon’s Instagram page and got inspired. “After I bought my SlimFast and started getting 10,000 steps a day, I had so much energy, I started doing 15,000 steps with no problem,” says Diana. “I dropped 30 pounds in four months. The weight just rolled off.”
Then there’s Jenna Leach. The North Carolina mom, 33, vowed to shape up while her Marine husband was deployed overseas. Tips on the Internet led her to walk 10,000 steps a day and eventually increase to 15,000 steps a day (while pushing her kids in a double stroller) and replacing one or two daily meals with protein shakes. “I’d lost weight before, but never so quickly and never while I actually felt full,” marvels Jenna. Down 76 pounds in nine months, when her husband saw her transformation, “his jaw dropped.”
Fun Shake Flavors to Try
Whether you’re trying to slim down or just looking for a healthy meal-on-the-go, protein-shake lovers suggest fun flavors for you to try.
- Shannon’s pick: Premier Protein Bananas & Cream ($16.83 for a four-pack, Amazon)
“So tasty, you won’t realize you’re drinking something good for you!”
- Jenna’s pick: IdealShake Chocolate Peanut Butter ($49.99 for 30 servings, Amazon)
“It’s delicious and always curbs my sweet tooth!”
- Diana’s pick: SlimFast Chocolate Royale ($24.50 for 34 shakes, Amazon)
“It tastes just like the chocolate milk you used to drink as a kid!”
The Protein Shake Diet Plan
Inspired by success stories like Shannon, Diana, and Jenna, our nutrition team created this no-fuss protein shake diet plan for you to try. Our menus serve up about 1,400 calories a day. While using this plan, be sure to drink plenty of water. Add other ultra-low-cal extras (spices, vinegar, zero-cal sweetener) as desired. Always get a doctor’s okay to try a new plan.
Breakfast & Lunch
(Enjoy One at Each Sitting)
Option 1: 1 protein shake, up to 200 calories; 1 serving fruit
Options 2: Not in a shake mood? Choose any protein-rich option with up to 250 calories, such as a meal replacement bar or a small frozen dinner, along with a piece of fruit. You can also try 2 hard-boiled eggs with 3 cups of salad and 2 Tbsp. vinaigrette.
(Choose One Daily)
Option 1: 6 oz. grilled chicken breast; 1 tsp. olive oil, Italian seasoning to taste; 1 cup steamed or boiled baby potatoes, 1 tsp. olive oil, herbs to taste; Unlimited broccoli and garlic sautéed in 1 tsp. olive oil
Option 2: Shrimp Kebobs: Thread 20 medium shrimp onto skewers with unlimited red onion, mushrooms, and bell pepper; brush with 2 tsp. olive oil and grill or broil until shrimp turns pink, about 5 to 7 minutes; 1 ear or 1/2 cup cooked corn, 1 tsp. olive oil and seasoning to taste; Unlimited tossed salad, 1 Tbsp. vinaigrette
Option 3: Chicken-Veggie Pasta Toss: Cut unlimited asparagus in bite-sized pieces and roast with 1 tsp. olive oil plus lemon juice and seasoning to taste; toss with 6 oz. cooked chicken, 1 cup cooked whole-wheat penne or ziti pasta, 2 additional tsp. olive oil, garlic salt, and pepper; top with 1 Tbsp. Parmesan
Option 4: One-Pan Tenderloin: In a large baking pan, mix unlimited sliced onion and green beans plus 4 cups cubed sweet potato with 3 Tbsp. olive oil. Rub 1 1/2 lbs. pork tenderloin with 1 Tbsp. olive oil, salt, and pepper, and place on veggies. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until pork is 150 degrees to 160 degrees internally, about 30 minutes. Serves 4.
(Choose One Daily)
Option 1: Any 100-calorie pack nuts or popcorn
Option 2: 2 slices deli turkey; 1 slice whole-grain toast; mustard to taste
Option 3: 2 hard-boiled eggs
Option 4: 1 packet low-sugar oatmeal, any variety, prepared with water
Make Your Own Menus
Allow yourself about 1,400 calories a day and opt for a protein shake at least once a day. Our plan breaks down to about 250 calories apiece for breakfast and lunch, 250 calories for snacks and a 650-calorie dinner. That said, you can simply read nutrition labels and divvy your calories up in any way you like!
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.