I am fairly certain that there are very few adults who have never heard the name Mickey Mantle. Mickey Mantle was one of the most compelling athletic heroes in American history (at least according to my husband!). In 1995, at the young age of 63, he died from liver cancer. I bring this to your attention because shortly before he died, he was quoted as saying, "If I knew I would have lived this long, I would have taken better care of myself." How tragic is THAT? (Read this Newsweek article about fighting disease. If you won't take better care of your body because I ask you to, how about for a fatter wallet?)

Please start taking better care of yourself - NOW. If you get cancer when you are 70, it probably started when you were 40. Almost every disease we get in our old age starts long before we get old. This is not limited to cancer. I'm talking about heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, Alzheimer's, arthritis, brittle bones and so on.

This article is the first in a 3 part series about taking care of your body. I believe that regular exercise combined with a nutrition-dense diet will have a profound and positive impact on your health, well-being, energy levels and life span. The added benefit is that you start to feel great about yourself. You will not only feel better and feel great about yourself - you will look great too! And who doesn't like to feel great about the way they look?

Part 1 of this 3 part series will address the way that you eat. Please note that I am not a nutritionist. But, I do regular research on the subject, I have done special studies in nutrition and the guidelines I use for myself, my family and my clients are safe and effective. Part 2 will discuss why women need to weight train and Part 3 will cover cardio workouts and why you need them to round out your fitness regime.

One of the keys to better health is learning that FOOD IS NOT THE ENEMY! You just need to learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy nutrients. And you need to change the way you view eating. As I revealed to you on my Meet the Trainer page on The Fitness Connection website, my fondness for eating is second only to my family. I love good food! I love sauces and spicy food and chocolate. And I eat them. I just don't eat them daily. So before I explain to you how I believe you should eat in order to get and stay healthy and in order to start feeling great about yourself, I want you to know that it is OK to love food and eat the foods you love. Allow yourself a cheat day once a week. Why bother eating out if you have to eat broiled fish, a vegetable and no dessert? More about cheat days later on in this article.

That said, again, FOOD IS NOT THE ENEMY. Food is your solution not your problem. If you perceive food to be the reason you are overweight, or you believe you have to starve and eat hardly any food to lose fat or if you think you have to eat bland, tasteless, "rabbit food" to lose fat, you need to learn the amazing power of food to transform your body and your health.

Food is fuel and it boosts your energy levels. Food is for building muscles and for burning fat. It is a metabolic stimulator. Last but not least, food is for creating optimal health because it provides essential nutrients. These are the beliefs you must adopt in order to change your view on food.

Before I go on, I want you to think about your body. You are given one life on Earth and you only get one body. In order for a body to function at it's highest capacity, it requires care. If you've ever been pregnant, didn't you respect your growing baby by nourishing yourself with nutrient filled food, get plenty of rest and drink tons of water? Do you still treat yourself that way? Would you feed a tiny newborn baby pureed potato chips or pureed white bread? No - you would feed a new baby only what it's body requires to grow and flourish. So why do so many people feed themselves junk on a regular daily basis? If there is no nutrient value in a food why put it in your body regularly. I refer to sugar filled cereals and baked goods, white bread, processed meats, white rice and anything made with white flour - to name a few items. I know - it tastes good. But does it really? And if so, then yes, cheat once a week. But please don't make a daily menu of this kind of food. There are absolutely NO nutrients and they are just empty calories making you fat!

There's a practice that women are mentally addicted to and it drives me nuts. They think they should eat like a bird. How many of you are self conscious about eating in front of your co-workers - especially when it's NOT lunchtime? It all ties into the same thing. We are programmed to eat this way. We think that food is the ENEMY. We think that we are fat because we eat too much. This practice of "dieting" is making us FATTER! You must eat enough food to allow your body to utilize the nutrients. If you're eating teeny tiny portions at each meal, your body is not getting what it needs to function at peak capacity. It's a natural progression to illness and disease. And it leads to binging. Obesity is a disease. It's basis lies in inactivity and poor eating habits. You must eat and you must eat well.

Assuming you want to become slimmer, which really means you want to lose fat, the first thing to do is figure out how many calories you should consume each day to attain your goals. Start by calculating what your body needs to sustain itself. This is called Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) or Resting Metabolic Rates (RMR). How many calories do you need to make your heart beat, to breath, to digest food, to run your cardiovascular system, etc? Once you have that number, figure out what your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is - which is the total of your BMR and how many calories you use above your BMR to get through the day - to maintain what you weigh at that moment. To lose weight, you would need to either eat fewer calories or be more active. A combination of the two is much more desirable. Here is a Calorie Calculator that will help you figure the number of calories, protein, carbs and fat, you should consume in order to lose weight/fat. Please note that your body fat percentage is required in the Calorie Calculator formula. Give me a call at 860-663-0326 and I will set up a time to measure your body fat completely for FREE. You will have no other obligation to me and it only takes a few minutes. It will be well worth your time.

Once you know the number of calories you should consume each day, you should divide it by 5 meals. YES! I said FIVE meals. It is common knowledge among the fitness-savvy, that eating small, frequent meals increases metabolic rate, increases fat loss and increases lean body mass more than larger, infrequent meals. YES! If you eat more often, you can lose more fat. You also create the optimal physiological environment to grow and repair lean muscle tissue.

When you consider that most people will have breakfast (if they even HAVE breakfast) between 6 and 8am, lunch somewhere in the area of noon to 1:30 and dinner between 6 and 8pm, there can be a gap of up to 8 hours between some meals. These gaps create multiple problems including suppression of metabolism, low energy and fatigue, extreme hunger and a greater likelihood that you will make poor nutritional choices between and at meals. If you eat dinner at 7pm and haven't had anything to eat since noon, you are likely to overload on anything to satisfy that hunger as quickly as possible. This can lead to either eating the wrong types of food or too much of the right types of food. Did you ever arrive at the dinner table starving and quickly down 2 or 3 pieces of nice bread with butter because you are so hungry?

If you spread your total calorie intake across 5 meals, you benefit from the following:

Elevated Metabolism - whenever you consume food, your metabolism activates to process what you've just eaten. The quickest way to speed up your metabolism is to eat more frequently. The more you rev up your metabolism, the more food you can consume and still get or maintain quality muscle mass without body fat.

Energy - The two food groups that act as fuel for the body are carbohydrates and fats. Some carbs will provide energy for an hour or so and some will give you a more sustained boost. Either way, weight training and/or cardiovascular training will deplete your energy stores. Rather than blasting your body every 5-6 hours with carbs and/or fats, it makes a lot more sense to introduce these fuel sources in moderate amounts every 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours.

Moderated Insulin Levels - In the presence of elevated insulin levels, it is impossible for your body to metabolize and burn fat. If you take in too many high glycemic carbs, a dramatic elevation of insulin will be released into your bloodstream. Moderate amounts across 5 meals gives your body a greater opportunity to burn fat.

Curbing Hunger - When you experience hunger pains, typically, you reach for the easiest and first thing you can get into your body. This spells junk food. Eating 5 times a day reduces the opportunity to impulsively reach for the junk food or gorge yourself once you get to the dinner table.

Eating 5 meals a day is not as difficult as it sounds. You can divide the calories evenly across 5 meals or a better way to do it is to eat a large breakfast ( DO NOT SKIP BREAKFAST. It is the most important meal you can eat.) and divide the other 4 meals evenly or portion smaller meals between breakfast, lunch and dinner. For example, at 10:30 each morning, for my second meal, I often have a ½ to ¾ cup of 1% cottage cheese with a cut up mango. It's not actually a "meal" but it contains the basic food groups that should make up each meal - carbohydrates, protein and fats.

Yes - you can and should make fat a part of every meal. I am referring to healthy fats better know as unsaturated fats. Good sources include extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, ground flax seed, nuts and god forbid - the dreaded avocado that has gotten a bad rap over the years. You don't need to gorge yourself. A handful of nuts a day or ½ an avocado over salad dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and cracked pepper is a great way to get good fats into you. Just stay away from large quantities of saturated fats found in butter, margarine, whole dairy products and certain cuts of beef. These fats contribute to heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, hypertension and obesity. I would make healthy fats about 20% of your total calorie intake. Your body needs fat!

Your body also needs protein and carbohydrates. I am not a fan of the low carbohydrate fad diets. Balance! That is the ticket. Just don't overload on the carbs. Choose them wisely. And guess what?! You can have bread! Just make sure it is whole grain bread. There's a brand of bread called Ezekiel in the freezer section of the health food area of most super markets that is a great source of carbohydrates. It makes a good sandwich and the company also puts out raisin bread that you can use in the morning at breakfast. Just make sure the bread you choose says "whole" either wheat or grain. You can eat pasta! Barilla Plus (in the yellow packaging) is wonderful! It's made with all kinds of whole grains and packs a mean amount of protein as an added benefit. Healthy carbs are high in fiber. Other sources include oatmeal, brown rice, broccoli, squash, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, beans and whole fruit. I recommend you make 40-50% of your food intake in the form of healthy carbohydrates. Sugar is not a healthy carbohydrate. White flour and white rice are also not nutrient dense carbohydrates. Stay away from the "whites"! And buy organic whenever you can. But watch for the worms in organic broccoli! (I won't go near THAT!)

So 40-50% of what you eat should be in the form of healthy carbs and 20% should be in the form of healthy fats. The balance should be protein. Healthy protein is so important as it provides the body with the amino acids required to build and repair lean mass (muscles, skin, hair and nails). Healthy protein is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and chemicals. Good sources include chicken, lean cuts of beef and pork, egg whites, fish, beans, legumes, soy products, seeds (pumpkin, sunflower), nuts, low fat dairy products and peanut butter. Don't forget about Barilla Plus pasta that has all that protein you can't find in regular or whole-wheat pasta. (Honest - I don't work for the company!) It's a great balanced meal with a fresh tomato and garlic sauce.

Unhealthy proteins like high fat beef, bacon, sausage, etc., give the body the needed amino acids but are loaded with saturated fat & cholesterol that clogs arteries and compromises your immune system. Look for chicken, eggs and meats that don't contain hormones and antibiotics. Most supermarkets carry these products.

So now you know the percentage of each food group that should make up each meal or snack (40-40-20 or 50-30-20). The Calorie Calculator also gives you the breakdown (in both calories and grams) of Carbs, Proteins and Fats you should consume each day if you are trying to lose weight/fat. Now, HOW do you feed your body 5 times a day? You're probably saying, "Is she crazy? I can't eat that often. I work. I'm busy. I have kids. I have an elderly parent to care for. I can't prepare 5 meals a day!" If you don't take a little time to plan, then no, you won't be able to eat 5 meals a day. But if you set aside a little time each evening, it truly will only take a few minutes.

Figure out where you will be tomorrow. Keep your schedule in mind when you are grocery shopping. Fix a bit more for dinner and package leftovers into Tupperware for the next day's consumption. Yes, you may have to take the leftover meatloaf and cut a piece off the main loaf and wrap it separately but you won't have to think about it in the morning. Cook 3 extra chicken breasts, cut each in half and store in sandwich bags (I freeze them in the sandwich bags) and you have the protein portion of 6 meals. Make extra brown rice and vegetables and package them up into meal size portions to grab with the chicken or tuna pouches as you run out the door to work.

And in a pinch, take advantage of protein bars and shakes. I am not a big fan of processed food. I feel strongly that the body operates so much more efficiently when you consume whole fruits, vegetables and freshly prepared meats and fish. But, it sure is easy to consume a protein bar when you didn't have time to fix anything but lunch. If you work and can do this, stash food like whole grain crackers, peanut butter, tuna in pouches (the perfect protein), rice cakes, Laughing Cow Light cheese, 1% cottage cheese, fruit...the list goes on and on. The refrigerator in the kitchen at my office contains all of the above and more. It is rare that I can't find a balanced meal amongst my stash. It just takes planning.

I have one last thing to offer you that I briefly mentioned above. Most people enjoy sweets, a glass of wine or two, a cocktail, great appetizers, deliciously fattening entrees and like I said, that's ok. Just not every day. I believe that balance is the key in life. An excess of anything (with the exception of love) isn't always good and this type of food and drink is no exception. I tell all my clients 2 things - eat MORE and build a cheat meal or even a cheat day into their weekly schedule. Looking forward to cheat day can sustain me all week. Eating as I describe can be very difficult at first. Having that cheat day to look forward to changes everything. One word of caution - don't over cheat. One high calorie meal with cocktails and dessert could total 1000-1500 calories and blow your whole week. Use discretion but use a cheat day.

So there you have it - The Fitness Connection guidance on nutrition. Trust me. It works. Envision yourself as fit and healthy. Your body will thank you in the form of good health. Your eyes will enjoy the sight of your body as it transforms when you combine good eating with regular exercise and you will feel so great about yourself. After all, what is more important than doing everything possible to extend your life? Who wants to wake up old and feeble when you can stay strong and healthy throughout your life? Put it in perspective. Don't have regrets like Mickey Mantle did. Start taking better care of yourself today. How can anyone argue with that vision?

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