Diet or Exercise?

Moderation, a great word in the lexicon of health.  A word that I find creates the best possible chances for success in your search for a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Too many, my clients included, try to find ways to lose weight that require so much sacrifice that once they're off of that fad trend, the weight comes back in a hurry! Don’t get me wrong, with nearly every diet book out there, if you were to follow it to the letter, you would lose weight. But how happy would you be for the remainder of your life, and I do hope it’s a long life, if you never ate carbohydrates again? Or refused to have a burger at a neighborhood cookout? Or only drank your food in juice form? Or only drank shakes forever? Could you really never have gluten again–bye-bye pizza, pasta, beer, cereal? There are foods out there that do cause more weight gain and inflammation than others (starchy carbs and red meat, I’m talking to you), but that doesn’t mean you need to eliminate them from your diet.

Take for example a friend of mine who has given up red meat. She’s come to this naturally by slowly reducing her intake and paying attention to her body and how it feels after these meals. Starting with no-meat Mondays, she eventually moved to eating meat only one day a week, and finally to not eating animal protein based solely on how sore her knees felt when she did. It was a slow, natural, moderate progression into a lifestyle that she loves and is completely comfortable living with. Keep in mind, every long once in a while she does eat meat, with no guilt associated whatsoever.

Moderation is key. I will always tell my clients to cut back, not cut out. To change their mindset about alternative options like cauliflower mashed potatoes. To not deprive themselves but strive to be better and to enjoy life along the way. No starchy carbohydrates in the evening, I tell my clients. That leaves, literally, half the day eating healthy, whole grains. There’s nothing wrong with oatmeal in the morning and a small portion of whole wheat pasta or tortilla for lunch. Cut back on your alcohol, I tell nearly every one of my clients. This does not mean you should never enter a bar again! Find a simple, non-sugary drink and have less! Have one glass of wine, not the whole bottle. Cut back on your total sugar intake, I tell my clients. However, when that perfect summer afternoon comes along and you have the opportunity to have a slice of dessert with your besties, by all means, enjoy your life.

A healthy lifestyle, instead of a quick fix, is what I hope you truly find. A way to make your body feel good and your mind be completely cool with it as well. There will always be the “next big thing” in weight loss. Just make sure to take the central idea and try incorporating it into your life. Moderation is key–you work too hard to ruin it now!

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foam rolling
(Oprea Personal Fitness)

At the end of every workout session I always recommend stretching. Loosening up your tight muscle tissue is essential for keeping soreness at bay and creates a great way to come down off your workout high. I let my mind and body know that it is done for the time being and allow it to relax before heading on with my day. Traditional stretches, even the ones you learned in high school, can be perfect for this. Reaching for your toes and pulling your heel to your bum can get your legs nice and stretched, but have you ever tried rolling your body on a foam cylinder?

Foam rolling is an absolutely great tool for releasing tight muscles. It’s easy, it doesn’t require much time, and the cylinders are really cheap to buy. A cylinder is an all around must-have. But just like your very useful blender in the kitchen, for it to work, you actually have to pull it out and use it!

One area of my body that specifically bothers me, that I foam roll every day, is my IT band. All my enjoyable hours of playing soccer leave me pretty tight, so foam rolling has become part of my regular routine to keep me up and rockin’ the next day. Here’s how to do it:

1. Lay the weight of your body on your hip.2. Supporting yourself with just a hand and foot, roll all the way down to your knee, searching for the most tender area.

3. Once that tender area is found, hold your weight on that spot. This is key to the whole process.

4. Slowly go up and down the side of your leg, hitting each tender area and holding at those target spots.

If you don’t pause on the sensitive areas, you’re wasting the benefits of the roller. These trigger points are slightly different in each person and can be quite sensitive. For that reason there are different densities of rollers. I recommend the softer variety for those who find themselves particularly tight. However, the denser the foam, the better the results.

Foam rolling can be done a couple times of day, and unlike the static stretching that you used to do in school (which you should only do after at least some movement), foam rolling can be done at any time. I’m showing how to roll the IT band because it bothers me and many of my clients. But the roller can be used from your calves to your neck to help you relax!

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need a reason to exercise

I recommend to all my clients that they train with weights at least three days a week, whether they are with me or not. I also tell them to incorporate at least two other days of cardio. This really brings a great mix into your workouts, keeping them fresh and getting your body to a healthy, stable level. Every once in a while, after I issue the cardio recommendation, I will get the reply–usually instantly and with great emphasis–”I hate running and I just can’t do it!”  I just smile, because there are a great many ways to get your cardio in,  and I’m going to lay out bunch of them in nice, neat bullet points just for you. You lucky soul!

  • -Run: The classic and very nearly the best. No crazy equipment and despite current beliefs, rain will not melt you.
  • -Elliptical: Many have knee problems, plain and simple. Go for this for a smoother ride or just to mix it up.
  • -Stairs: If you have them in your home, try your best not to be efficient when doing chores so you have to go up and down even more!
  • -Stair machine: The evil equivalent of the above. What a treat.
  • -Swim: Smoother than even the elliptical, this is a wonderful option. Great if you’re dealing with lower-body injuries.
  • -Any leg workout: Want to mix cardio into your workout? Add legs into everything to increase the heart rate.
  • -Run backwards: One of my favorites. Gets the fronts of your legs and your calves. Even better uphill–trust me!
  • -Jumping jacks: Old-school calisthenics, anyone?
  • -Jump rope: My ultimate, most transportable tool.
  • -Play soccer/basketball/tennis: These are awesome! Go chase a ball, have fun and make friends. Honestly this should be number one.  By the way, golf and softball do not count.
  • -Sprints: Pick a mailbox far out in front of you as you jog and get there as fast as you can. If you’re on a treadmill, pump that sucker up for 30 seconds. Mix these in and really make a run count. Plus it makes the time fly by!
  • -Mountain climbers: Again, a classic workout move. Mix these in to keep you breathing hard.
  • -Plank jacks: Kind of like jumping jacks but you’re in the plank position and your arms don’t move. Still don’t understand? Here’s a vid
  • -Hills: Start messing with the incline on the treadmill and pretend you’re hiking up a mountain or just heading to school… that’s uphill both ways.
  • -Mow the yard: Add some resistance by bagging it and keep your pace up.
  • -Snow-shoeing: There’s snow somewhere, I know it.
  • -Surfing: This is so much fun–I absolutely loved it! Barbados, I’m in love with you.
  • -Boxing: This just happens to be my biggest stress reliever.
  • -Insert your favorite here!
  • Excuses are easy to come up with, but nobody has great stories centered around staying in. Go out and make your own!

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So, I had a checkup with my doctor because cancer is scary as all get out and I (along with everyone else) have people around me that are very sick with it. This drove me to get some peace of mind with my primary care physician. To my surprise I found out that I am extremely deficient in iron. So let me list what iron does for you and how it can affect you. It may just be worth getting your own physical over!


  • - Iron carries oxygen to your cells and carbon dioxide away from them. Low iron can lead to lower energy levels!
  • - Lower oxygen being brought to the cells in your brain will cause irritability and lack of concentration.
  • - Iron is needed to maintain a healthy immune system. Are you feeling consistently ill?
  • - Those who eat less or no red meat have a higher chance of this. Iron can be found in other food sources but our bodies get a higher percentage of the iron in red meat than in those alternatives.
  • - The more you train, the more iron your body needs. The more you train, the more you use up the iron you have.
  • - Iron can be lost due to injury, sweat, menstruation and even from heavy hitting of the heel. All you runners out there beware!
  • - Low iron levels can cause so many small nuisances but they all add up to one very annoyed ME: irritability, lack of motivation, fatigue, loss of interest, poor appetite. This is not cool and I refuse to accept this!
Not even knowing about the possibility of being iron deficient is kind of scary. I take all precautions to ensure that I eat a well balanced diet and that I get all the nutrients that I should need. All it took was a simple blood test during a simple physical and quite a few problems have become clear. All of my clients rely on my judgment when it comes to illness and injury and the second thing I tell them is that they should talk to a doctor! The first being that they are always correct in talking about it and not just sweeping irritations under the rug. (The good news is, I don’t have cancer. Sometimes even I need just a little reassurance.)

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The key to my success in the kitchen and in my workouts is summed up in that one word: Substitution.  There are endless ways to cook meals and there are a bewildering number of exercises to be performed to create a good workout.  My kids make fun of the way I use technology because when they’re looking up “fail” videos, soccer games and new ways to play their video games, I only use it for looking up recipes and exercises. Honestly, other than buying workout clothes, what else is the internet truly for? Here is the catch though: not everything works for how I want to live my life, so I take the good ideas and tweak, bend, add and substitute until I’m happy with the results. This is how we all become the individuals we are and how we all should look at experimenting in the kitchen and in the workout room.

Let’s start in the kitchen, where everyone should start if they want to lose a little weight, by-the-way. I take classic recipes like tacos and find ways to make them just a little bit healthier and still have my kids find them tasty. Did you know there is reduced sodium taco seasoning, or that extra lean meat can be just fine? If you are used to sodium-filled seasonings and fat filled meats this will be a shift but it is perception! You will find that once you commit, the flavor is still there. Especially considering all the extra flavors that get added in later, you certainly won’t miss the salt and fat. My other substitution is kale in my salads. It is a tough and bitter green and most have a very difficult time enjoying a salad made out of it. But a quick pulse in a blender or a short trip in the microwave (20-30 seconds) will soften this great food. Mixing in some crisp romaine so that you have a balance of flavors will make for a wonderful salad base. These substitutions can be found everywhere, especially in desserts. Do you really need a full cup of sugar to make that recipe delicious? No, no, no. I find it fun to see how much cutting out of butter, sugar, oils and starches I can do and still make a meal that will pass my panel of judges – my teenage boys. To my surprise, you can get away with quite a bit!


The only thing that has been consistent in all the years of doing this is that whenever I find something new, I immediately start adjusting it until I’m okay with how it turns out. My workouts are no different. A great and simple move like a lunge as an array of ways to make it harder or burn a different area. Enter the curtsy lunge, squat-into-lunge, lateral, walking, jumping. These aren’t breakthrough moves and very well might not have been created by me, but they all create a fun and productive workout. Sometimes my knee hurts or toes burn, and by tweaking the placement of my feet in those same lunges I can make the pain go away. Most times I find people who have great workouts and I think, “How can that be harder?” A little nuts but that is how I have become successful and how my body stays fit.

By staying creative and willing to adjust good things to make them fit my lifestyle, I create a life that pleases me greatly. Substitute what you find to be “almost you” and make it part of what you love!


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I travel home to home for my training business, bringing the gym in the back of my car.  Wherever you want to meet, we go there and no extra equipment is needed.  Now, I have a pretty big trunk, and there’s plenty of junk in there, but not enough space to include all the weights a gym would have.  And you know what? To get a good workout, you don’t necessarily need it all!  This is not to say anything bad about gyms! Only that to get a great workout without access to a lot of expensive equipment is completely possible if you pay attention to how you perform each maneuver.  When you do this, fewer weights are needed as the exercise gets focused on the muscles you want to target.

I want to take a close look at just one exercise to make a point.  When people perform a bicep curl, they often arch their back to get the weights up or use momentum to get the weights started in the right direction.  In my professional opinion, this is not the best way to curl weights.  Next time you grab dumb bells, start by standing with great posture, shoulders square and pulled back with your abs engaged.  Now start with your arms hanging at your sides, elbows pinned to your ribs.  This is the stance you will hold for the entire curl! Do the maneuver only moving your forearms as you curl the weights upward and slowly return them down to a complete stop.  This will, I guarantee, be harder! Plus, it will be focusing your exercise on your biceps, the real reason you’re doing curls in the first place.


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There’s one idea in fitness that almost everyone wishes was true: the idea that doing certain exercises can reduce the fat in specific areas.  The underarm wiggle, the back fat, the saddle bags and the spare tire–wouldn’t it be nice if you could just do tricep extensions, rows, lunges and sit-ups to get rid of these? With0ut a doubt, if you stick to a workout regimen that includes those moves you will see a reduction in how much fat your body holds onto. However, you know just as well as I do that you can’t target fat reduction. So… let’s look at the good news!

Your body stores fat as a future energy source.  What you see as too much here and too much there, your body sees as potential energy to be used soon! It’s just waiting there. Give it a reason to break down. Plenty of shows and articles can tell you that fat doesn’t melt away or excrete into a receptacle. (Trying to keep it professional, always hard.) Fat breaks down and you actually, eventually, breath it out as CO2. That in itself is incredible. Get out there and start breathing hard. Jump, push and climb! Just like trying to look at food as fuel for your body, it is also hard to see fat as a good thing. You need fat on your body to be healthy, but if you want less in certain spots, take this as another motivation to get out there and train.

You’re on track, you’re working out, but here’s the kicker to truly losing the excess fat. Your eating habits now have to change. Your body stored the fat for future use and now you’re using it! However, you fuel up every day, and the food that you just ate is a whole lot easier for your body to convert to energy than your previously-stored fat is. So stop the extra fuel deposits! This is not a recommendation to stop eating, please. By consuming an ordinary amount of food at specific times of day–a large breakfast, medium lunch, small dinner–you can kick start your body into a healthy cycle and find the natural balance of where your weight, and fat, should be.

So the only “spots” you need to really hit are the gym and kitchen. What those places will really do is increase your muscle tone and increase your satisfaction. Those ideas are absolutely spot on!

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