Never Assume Nutrition

Very often when faced with that dreaded moment where you must choose what to eat that will be quick, tasty and healthy, we make assumptions that we know which option is better (i.e., more nutritionally healthy), and that assumption is usually based upon limited knowledge.

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For instance, the other day I was pressed for time for lunch (but as always wasn’t going to skip a meal or suffer inferior (fast) nutrition), so I hit my freezer and had two choices: a Trader Joe’s Chicken & Bean Burrito or an Amy’s Organic Mushroom Risotto. My brain riffled through my solid base of nutritional understandings and told me that the burrito was the way to go because it would have more protein, less carbs, and probably be lower in fat and calories as well. After all, Risotto is pasta-ish and rice-ish both of which are high in carbs and sugars, right?

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Well then the trainer in me took pause, and decided to read the labels and compare the stats. To my shock I found out that I was not only wrong in my assumption, but really way off on my perceptions. Here’s what I found:

THE RISOTTO:                                            THE BURRITO:
240 calories                                                     400 calories
8 grms fat                                                         12 grms fat
590 sodium                                                      950 sodium
35 grms carbs                                                  51 grms carbs
2 grms sugars                                                  1 grm sugars
7 grms protein                                                20 grms protein

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While clearly I was correct that the burrito had more protein (almost 3x as much), but it also had almost double the carbs and sodium, and 4 grams more fat! Who knew? To help you grasp this further, lets compare a typical Subway sandwich to one of McDonald’s supposedly “healthier” sandwich options than their typical Big Mac:

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SUBWAY 6″ COLD-CUT          McDONALD’S GRILLED CHICKEN SANDWHICH
350 calories                                                 350 calories
12 grms fat                                                   9 grms fat
1030 sodium                                                820 sodium
46 grms carbs                                             42 grms carbs
13 grms sugars                                            8 grms sugars
7 grms protein                                            28 grms protein

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While I vehemently oppose ever spending a dime in a McDonald’s, when push comes to shove, I have to admit while I (and many of you I suspect) would assume that a deli-style “cold-cut” sandwich from Subway would always out-health anything from McDonald’s, clearly the facts prove otherwise. In case you missed it, Subway’s sandwich while having the same calories, had far less protein, and more fat, carbs, sugars and sodium.

So the next time you make an assumption about what you’re about to eat, stop and get the real facts and then decide. Your body and fitness goals will thank you for it!

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Once Again, Why You Can’t Lose Weight

Three years ago I published the following article concerning the daily mantra of many of you — “why can’t I lose weight?”  Despite all my efforts, as well as an increase in National awareness and marketing about how to maintain a healthy body composition, I still hear this lament on a daily basis from prospective clients.  So I decided it was time to reiterate my answer. 

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The eternal question why can’t I lose weight is uttered hundreds of times a day – at least in my profession I hear it from almost every prospective new client. The answer is simple – you’re not doing what you need to do to achieve your goals. The power lies within you. So the real question is what’s wrong with your execution?

Successful weight loss (which is really successful fat loss) is achieved with the following 3-steps:

1.   Set an achievable goal for your body type and lifestyle.

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2.  Create and FOLLOW a nutrition plan that provides enough calories, protein and yes, even carbohydrates and fats to allow for burning of fat and building of lean muscle;

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3.  Exercise regularly – or more accurately – burn more calories on a daily basis than you consume!

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That’s it. If you follow those three steps you WILL succeed. Now you may be saying I do, I am, I have – but I guarantee, if you are still not losing weight (fat) you’re missing one or more nuances to one or more of these steps.

IMPORTANT NUANCES:

1. GOALS:  if you are over 40, in a sedentary job, have lots of stress, have injured body parts (back, legs, shoulders) or weakened joints – any or all of these issues – you MUST take those issues into consideration when setting your goals. With any of these issues you are likely to burn calories at a slower rate than others (age, lifestyle), if you are under stress you may in fact gain weight, and all of these issues greatly impact your ability to successfully follow step No. 2.

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2. NUTRITION PLAN: First off, you’ll never succeed if you follow a diet – which implies a temporary change in how you eat (one in which you will cease when you’ve reached your goals). Second, you need to cater your meal plans to your schedule, taste preferences, and budget. Trying to eat what worked for one person who has a different set of criteria is a sure fire way to not succeed.

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 3. EXERCISE: You’ll note I really addressed this issue as calorie burn. Whether high-impact or low, 10 minutes or 45, resistance training or group classes, your success at embracing and maintaining a consistent exercise (calorie burn) regiment hinges upon you enjoying what you’re doing. If you hate the gym, but love to hike – make it so. If you prefer DVD’s at home rather than working with a personal trainer then do that. The key to remember is BURN MORE CALORIES THAN YOU CONSUME.

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That being said, please heed this important note: eating less calories is NOT the answer. The more you burn calories – especially in a proactive way such as resistance training (the fastest way to lose fat) – the more you’ll actually need to eat. You’ll still be at a deficit, but beware of eating too little calories. Your body will hoard what you do eat and you’ll not see a change!

Last word: YOU MUST DO THE WORK!

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SHAMELESS PLUG: I would be remise in this page of advice if I did not take advantage of a place to make a shameless plug for my services. I have a website where you can purchase specifically customized workout routines and meal plans that will take into consideration all of the issues I’ve detailed herein and if followed will help you achieve your goals!

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Look At It This Way…

In my role as a life strategies coach I regularly utilize a few choice analogies to help my clients cope with and solve issues by seeing their situation from another perspective. Stepping back and changing your perspective on an issue or problem is the best way to remove emotional triggers and baggage which in turn allows you to find the best solution.

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Today’s blog, while it might seem rather heady, is designed to help those of you who are feeling the stress of the last quarter creep into your bodies. Many of my friends and clients suffer from stress induced headaches, illnesses, and depression this time of year because they panic that goals set in January have still not been met, and/or the kids and their schooling require more attention, and/or the expensive holidays are around the bend, etc.

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Here are my three favorite and most used analogies to help you gain perspective on a goal not met; relationships stuck in detrimental cycles; and the ever-present pressure of time ticking away from your life.  So look at it this way:

Swim upstream, find exhaustion; float on the current, and find dry land.

Often we get so emotionally focused on achieving a goal even when things aren’t working, or an expectation or what we felt we deserved, and what is just, that we plow through muddy waters swimming against the current and downpour of debris just to make our point (risking drowning in the process). But imagine if you simply stopped fighting and floated along with the current. You would undoubtedly eventually be lead (or easily steer yourself), towards the safety of the shore, and to your further benefit, often what was upstream finds its way downstream as well. In other words the issue could resolve on its own or be revisited another time when there are less impedances or emotions are calmer.

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You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.

Having spent years riding horses, this analogy is a favorite of mine because it’s simple and true. Imagine leading a horse to water…then what? You cannot force their heads to the trough. If they aren’t thirsty they’re simply not going to drink. If you have a spouse, child, family member or friend that repeatedly requests your advice or repeatedly makes the same unfortunate choices and then anguishes over them – you can advise, negotiate, dictate, plead and bargain, but even if that person agrees completely with the right course of action – if they do not feel full conviction in taking that path, they simply won’t. Save your breath, save your strength, show them where the water (salvation) is, but then let the rest be up to their fate.

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This moment is but a speck on the road.

The road of life is long, and for all of us there are ups and downs, some are high or lower than others, but we all walk the same concept: born – walk – live – walk – grow – walk – age – walk – end. My point is that what seems crucial, urgent or important at this very moment in time, with a little distance (more time) becomes a barely recognizable speck on your road. Granted, there are issues we face that cannot be trivialized (like unemployment, divorce, cancer, or death), but almost everything else that upsets us on a daily basis is trivial, and if you can just remember that it’s ONLY a speck on the road, your anger, frustration or sadness will lessen almost instantly, and most certainly in a day, week, or month, you’ll look back and think what was I so upset about?

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I hope one or two of these will pop into your consciousness the next time there is a circumstance befitting the use of these life-strategy analogies, and please feel free to share any analogies that you have come to rely upon when a coping tool is needed.

Fast Results For Fall

Okay, so the kids are back in school and everyone’s weekly routine is quickly settling in for the Fall season. What that means in the fitness industry is a large segment of clients drop off because the “summer-skin-showing” motivation has waned, while another segment of clients ramp up as they frantically seek to work off the extra fat calories gained during vacations and time off with the kids. It is those of you whom I am targeting in this week’s blog (and if some of you summer-bums are seeking renewed motivation this will work for you as well).

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Rather than go back to the same old routine you’ve been following all summer (or dare I say all year) – try changing things up and shocking your body into a fast burn of calories with the REPS TO EXHAUSTION method. This type of resistance training is highly efficient at burning fat calories (especially 24-48 hours after) thereby toning muscles rapidly (i.e., you’ll see fast results).

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Here’s the gist: for each muscle group choose any exercise (with either free weights or machines) and find the weight amount that is light enough for you to perform 10 reps, but too heavy for 20-25 reps. Then perform that exercise, doing your best to isolate the targeted muscle(s), and continue lifting (or pushing/pulling) the weight until you absolutely positively cannot possibly lift/push/pull any more (ideally somewhere around the 17-22 rep mark). Then rest for 1 full minute and repeat. You should perform 3-5 sets for each exercise.

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If you want to keep your workouts to 30-minutes, you can choose just one or two muscle groups per day (like biceps & triceps or quads & hams). In case you need a body-breakdown reminder, here are your targeted areas, all of which you should perform at least 2 different exercises per muscle group, hitting each muscle group 2x per week:

  • Biceps (front of arm)
  • Triceps (back of arm)
  • Deltoids (shoulders)
  • Traps & Lats (upper and lower back)
  • Quads (front of thighs)
  • Hamstrings (back of thighs)
  • Calves

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As always, abs are best hit without weights involved. But here too you can choose to perform all exercises (whether crunches, leg lifts or v-sits) until your ab muscles are crying! Don’t forget to always through in several prone-iso-abs (planks) which will strengthen your core from bellybutton to back – and if you’ve been holding them for 30-seconds (the average) – now push yourself to hold until exhaustion.

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Keep in mind that this method of lifting requires you to ignore your brain screaming “stop, you’re exhausted and listen instead to your muscles. When you simply cannot lift/push/pull anymore because your muscle is truly fatigued – that’s when you rest!

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Try this method for the next several weeks, and then switch it up again. If you’re not sure what to do at that point, you know who to contact. Now go get exhausted!

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The Cost of Health

As a fitness professional who focuses daily on healthy-nutritional choices (for myself and my clients) I am saddened to see healthy food choices are still costing so much more than junk food. I understand that junk food is called “junk” because that it is made up of man-processed and highly-altered basic ingredients like refined sugar, sodium, high fructose corn syrup, etc. and that those ingredients are in abundance and therefore inexpensive to produce. I also understand that “fads” are great vehicles for capitalism to charge higher amounts for these newly in-demand items. But what worries me most is that very few people are factoring in the health costs that arise from eating the cheap stuff for years and years.

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Recently I took my daughter and some friends to a water-park for a day of refreshing fun. The park very clearly stated on their website and at their gate that NO outside food was allowed in the park, so off we went with fingers crossed that there would be something decent to eat. When lunch time rolled around, the choices were black and white: fried, salty, sugary cheaply produced crap at a very affordable price, or one (and I do mean singular) option that was healthy but cost twice as much.

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So my daughter had a slice of greasy cheese pizza and a large (only one size) lemonade (better than soda?) for $5.95. I had a small dollop of hummus in a plastic box containing 10 carrot and celery sticks, five triangles of bland pita bread, and a bottle of water for $12.00! So clearly sugary-water, and bread with a slathering of tomato paste and some generic cheese is cheaper to produce than a small scoop of garbanzo bean paste (humus) and some generic veggie slices?!

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I perused the rest of the menu and found the most financially enticing options were for “families” – a whole pizza, 4 large sodas, and 4 churros (fried Mexican doughnut sticks) was only $19.00 = $4.75 per person for a family to ingest overly-processed and nutritionally void carbs, fats, sugars and salts. But hey, food is food, right?

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This up-charging of “healthy” food choices happens everywhere from McDonald’s (sodas are cheaper than bottled water) to cafes and bistros (adding cheese to a sandwich is often free but adding avocado or brown rice costs $1.00 more). I remember the last time I went to Disneyland the snack items that were sugary and salty (popcorn, ice cream, etc.) were one price level, and the “healthy options” like fresh fruit, granola bars, and trail mix were a higher price. Just yesterday at a gas station we stopped at returning from a vacation, I bought two bananas – the cost $2.75 – but a bag of fruit flavored candies on display beside the fresh fruit was only 99¢.

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What really frustrates me is that I do not believe that healthy food is more expensive to create or purchase by retailers. Granted, organic foods can cost more due to small production sizes, etc., but I know that this game of cost is all tied to the need of Americans to eat as much food as they can for as little money as possible. The majority of consumers don’t care about the quality of the food as long as it tastes good and is in abundance.

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As I stated at the top of this rant, the “down the road” health ramifications, and costs incurred therein are very real, though most prefer to stay blissfully ignorant of the future. But you cannot escape the truth that consistently eating saturated fats, volumes of refined sugar and sodium will cause havoc on your insides and eventually result in the need for medical help and prescription drugs – all of which cost way more than that pizza you just ate!

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Unfortunately, I do not see an improvement in this imbalance to the cost and availability of healthy food compared to junk until the masses demand a more balanced choice and price for their “on the go” meals.

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Work Your Strengths.

The most valuable tool in your fitness arsenal is motivation. One of the best ways to stay motivated is to see and feel results. The fastest way to see and feel results is through resistance training (weight lifting). I’ve already discussed in my blog that women need to lift weights more often and heavier than most do – that you won’t look like a muscle-bound German swim team member, and that you’ll burn more fat calories than cardio. So the beneficial reasons are clearly well stated and proven – now you just might need a little more help getting and staying motivated to keep pushing and pulling those heavy weights.

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Therefore, my advice today is to work your strengths. Everyone, every body type, has one or two muscle groups that are their strongest muscles and/or the ones they like to work the best. For me it’s my biceps and triceps. For you it might be your quads (thigh muscles), pecs (chest), or deltoids (shoulders). Regardless of which muscles they are, playing to your strengths will deliver quick results which in turn garner huge increases in your motivation to work harder.

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Despite having long thin arm muscles, I am unusually strong in my biceps and triceps and can lift way more than others my size. Therefore, my ego gets a huge boost which drives me to lift more, and I see quick growth (tone and definition) in my arms which makes me very driven to see more results.

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Back when my best friend and I were workout partners, she, who is five inches shorter than me, had huge arms (shorter muscles get larger quicker), but couldn’t curl as much as I. Conversely her chest was her strongest muscle group, and she could bench press twice as much as I could. Consequently she loved chest and back days, while I preferred arm days. But together we kept each other motivated. (Hint: there’s another tip if you missed it … workout out with a spouse or friend and keep each other accountable and motivated.)

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I guarantee each of you have one workout day or one body part is that is your favorite and that you can willingly (and enthusiastically) push yourself to do more with. I challenge you to do so, while not forgetting to push a little harder on your other muscle groups until all your workouts are challenging and enjoyable.

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Now go lift!

Here Comes Wall-E

Remember the movie Wall-E, about a robotic trash compactor who was left alone on earth while the rest of us fled into space because our massive quantities of waste and laziness had left our planet uninhabitable?

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The human race was depicted as a bunch of bulbous muscle-atrophied blimps that couldn’t even walk anymore. Well the other day when I heard a report on NPR about Amazon testing out drones that could deliver shopping orders within one hour, I immediately pictured us heading towards Wall-E-life.

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These days so much more of our life is automated and customized to allow us to never have to leave our house, or more importantly get off our butts! Even the fact that my profession has evolved into a focus of 30-minutes or less being all that’s required of you to get or stay in shape, is indicative of our slide towards inactivity and lethargy.  If you don’t use it you lose it, as the saying goes, and I’m talking about your muscles, including your brain, the biggest muscle of them all. While electronics give us the freedom to do more while sitting sedentary, cars are also quickly taking over our need to even think – self-parking, many with wi-fi and gps, and soon self-driving.

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I myself haven’t walked a Mall for Christmas shopping in over eight years – I do it all on-line. Well with one-hour delivery from Amazon looming on the horizon, and the increase in grocery and food staples delivery options (like Thrive Market or Blue Apron) pretty soon we won’t have to leave the house for anything other than work or entertainment.

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This worries me, not only as a personal trainer, but as a person dedicated to keeping my body healthy and moving for decades to come. While I have no direct solution for the impending onslaught of these supposed technological enhancements, I will say that we must all make a commitment to keep moving and thinking and doing for ourselves despite the appeal and ease of these technology-based shortcuts.

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Let us not become inert puffy beings who have more litter than the planet can house, and keep our brains sharp and our muscles strong. I for one, will enjoy what our future has in store for us with electronics and computers, but I will always strive to move more and stay active despite them.

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Fitness on Vacation

As we hit the midway mark of the summer I, like many of you, am readying to take a long vacation with my family. I am likewise concerned, as you may be, about how to get my workouts done while on vacation. While I am always full of well-intentioned commitments to exercise while on holiday, it may surprise you to know that I too experience a significant drop in my motivation to exercise while enjoying my time off.

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So what can we do to maintain our fitness goals while on vacation? My first suggestion is to be okay with not working out. That’s right, I said it’s okay to skip a week. In fact I frame my workouts (my own and for my clients) in 6-week intervals with a mandatory week off before a new routine starts. This allows for complete recovery and rest and readies the muscles for new abuses. I thus, try to time my vacations with that week off, or shift things around to allow for it.

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However, it is worth noting that a large percentage of people find they do not gain more body fat while on vacation as they are moving more than they do during a usual work week. Between swimming, walking, hiking, or even dodging through crowds at theme parks, you will likely burn more calories than you do during your average sedentary job. Now of course there’s the extra high-caloric intake that also comes along with vacations – more cocktails, sweets, and fried or exotic foods are common – but again if you’re moving more than usual, you might at least break even.

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Depending upon your destination, try to schedule at least one thing per week that is physically different than your norm: i.e., a snorkel trip, a day-long hike or river raft trip, a walking exploration of pyramids or volcanos, or just a family game of beach volleyball.  One “excursion” like this can utilize muscles in a way your body isn’t accustomed too, and the caloric burn of that will benefit you greatly.

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Another suggestion is for you to reserve 30-minutes every day for focused movement or exercise. If you’re walking/hiking more than usual, take a half hour before bed to stretch your muscles (improvise some yoga or pull up something on YouTube). If your vacation days are more sedentary (just sitting by the pool), then commit to a 30-minute visit to a gym or a class (offered at many resorts or on cruise ships), follow along with a YouTube exercise video on your phone, tablet or laptop, or bring your own resistance bands and attack your muscles in the comfort of your hotel room.

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My last piece of advice I can share with my fellow vacationers is this: RELAX. Life for most of us is hectic and stressful and relaxation is a huge component in your body’s ability to stop holding onto excess body fat as well as maintaining a good immune system. So let your brain unwind, don’t eat complete crap, and if possible throw in a few workouts and your vacation will be successful and your fitness goals don’t have to suffer any setbacks.

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Now go enjoy that holiday/vacation!

Your Car = Your Body?

This may sound odd, but the condition you maintain your car reflects a lot about the condition you keep your body. Even more importantly, there’s often a direct correlation between those of you who do not keep your car clean and free of clutter and your inability achieve your fitness goals. Sounds debatable? Well here are my reasons behind this week’s blog:

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Raise your hand if your car’s interior is cluttered with litter and things because in your hectic daily life you and/or your kids eat in the car, get changed or apply make up, and/or have all the seats and door pockets stuffed to gills with “stuff” you or the kids “need.” Now raise your hand if your weekly workouts take a “back seat” to the rest of your “priorities.” I bet 95% of you who acknowledged the first hand raising, also raised your hand for the second.

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If you don’t keep a vigilant check on your car’s oil levels, tire pressure, wiper fluid, etc., then you likely don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying over your water intake or if you’ve ingested enough protein today. The bottom line is that if you only see your vehicle as a device that aids in you getting things done, but you have little respect or care for it’s internal condition, the same is probably true for your body.

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Now you might say I could use the same analogy for messy or chaotic homes, but I specifically focus on the car example because a car filled with loose change, straw wrappers, receipts, papers, odd random devices, toys, shoes and clothes is indicative of a person who is always running a touch late, racing from commitment to commitment, and therefore is probably going to leave exercise and nutrition off their “must do list.”

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As you know if you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, exercise and nutrition MUST be on top of your “must do list” (not your “to do list”) if you want to achieve a healthy body (and mind) that will support the rest of your hectic life for years to come.

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So the next time you hop in your vehicle, notice the state of your interior, and think about how that reflects upon your life. If it’s a mess and you’re lamenting that you’re not eating right or exercising enough … perhaps the place to start making a change is in how you treat your car. A clean car = a life calm enough to not have to do non-car chores outside of the car – including proper nutrition and getting in those workouts.

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Food Prep 101

Successful fat loss goals are achieved 70% in the kitchen, 20% by how well and often you move your body, and 10% from your mental state. Today I want to focus on the kitchen end of things.

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Food prep is where so many well-intentioned fat loss seekers (people who want to “lose weight”) drop the ball. For you to succeed at your fitness goals excuses like I have no time to cook or I didn’t know what to eat and was hungry so I just grabbed something must be removed from your lexicon!

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Now I’m not going to give you a meal plan to follow (although [shameless plug here] you can order a customized meal plan from my website www.workouts247.com and I’m not going to reiterate what I’ve stated numerous times herein about eating 6 small meals/snacks a day, and avoiding overly processed, sugary and salty foods. What I am going to address is food prep because that is the most time intensive aspect of nutrition and the area that usually intimidates people the most.

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As you embark on the journey to change your nutrition there are four (4) important steps you need to understand. The first step is to have a meal plan in place complete with recipes or “meal concepts” for each day of the week. The second step is to prepare a comprehensive list and then shop for the requisite ingredients. The third step (which I am focusing on today) is to prepare as much of the food in advance so that step four – the eating at regular intervals step – can be easily achieved.

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I always advise my clients to set aside one day for grocery shopping (which, if your list is in hand, should only take one hour at most), and a chunk of time for the food prep (can be the same day as shopping or a day or two later).

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Food prep can take anywhere from 1-4 hours depending upon how many meals and/or snacks you are preparing. The essential key here is to lock in the time required as a firm appointment you keep with yourself. Using cookbooks, Pinterest pins, or just your imagination, you can create several recipes ahead of time that will last for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. Meals needed for the later in your week can still be made ahead of time and frozen until needed.

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The most important aspect to all of your food prep is to enjoy the process (do not see it as drudgery). As you become more comfortable with the planning and preparation process, you can expand your variety and pretty soon you’ll enjoy entire weeks of healthy, lean, flavorful meals and the “I have no time” excuse will be a thing of the past. Also, cooking together as a couple or family is a great way to spend quality time (without any electronics in front of your faces).

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Here are a few timesaving tricks to follow, and of course, if you desire more specific advice, direction or a meal plan, contact me directly:

Veggies can be cleaned and sliced and placed in a ziplock bag or food storage container for use later in the week.

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Pre-cooked snacks (like my quinoa, black bean, and spinach egg muffins for example), fresh fruit and veggies, nuts, and dried meats (like turkey jerky) can all be individually wrapped in bags or containers that you can “grab ‘n go.”

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Breakfast items can be made the night before and simply reheated in the morning when there is less time to cook (i.e., breakfast burrito, overnight oats, etc.).

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Crockpot (slow cooker) meals are a great way to easily create enough food to serve several lunches or dinners, and the prep work can be done the night before, then plunk everything into the pot, set it and forget it until you get home for dinner.

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Always have a few fast-but-healthy items on hand (fridge, freezer, pantry) such as turkey burgers, salad veggies, cans of tuna or salmon as all of these can be turned into quick meals.

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More time intensive items like brown rice, quinoa, or gluten-free pasta can be pre-cooked ahead of time and stored in the fridge for up to four days. Then on any given night simply oven-roast or sauté your pre-sliced veggies and protein, sprinkle them with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and any of your favorite herbs and spices, then toss them all in one large pan and roast or sauté until done. Add in the already prepared side (rice, quinoa, etc.) and you’ve a dish that can serve for two family-sized meals (with correct quantity planning).

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