A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Through extensive reading, I am continually learning new concepts. Eighty percent of being fit depends on nutrition. An easy way to measure portion sizes is to remember that one portion of vegetables is a double-handful, a portion of lean meat is the size of your hand, and a portion of nuts is a small, cupped handful.

Another important lesson is that cardio and clean eating will burn fat, but progressive resistance strength training is necesssary to add shape to your body. Building muscle also increases your metabolism, which in turn, burns more fat!

I have learned that the best way to stick with a fitness program is to choose healthy foods that you like and to do exercises that you enjoy doing. By choosing foods that I enjoy, I have been able to stick with the meals plans I laid out. And when I go off track, it’s easier to be motivated to get right back on, because I am not forcing myself to eat things that are unappealing.

In an effort to stay motivated for strength-training, I have decided to apply the same logic. My upper arms are my least-favorite body parts. Even when I am thin, my arms have very little tone and no definition, and I have very little upper body strength. After reviewing several workout options, I have chosen one that hope I can stick with!

Here’s my latest fitness goal:

10 minutes of strength training each day for one week.

Deltoids/Biceps/Triceps (shoulders and arms): 3 days per week

Continue 35 minutes of cardio 7 days per week.

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When I decided to lose weight earlier this year, I took many small steps to help me get started. Over several months, I read everything I could find, asked others for tips, and collected tools that would help me reach my goals. As I learned, I put many new ideas into practice. I bought yoga pants and loose shorts for working out, found a digital scale for weigh-ins and a digital kitchen scale for weighing food portions. I bought a gym membership and set goals for working out every day. I also bought a new pair of gym shoes and downloaded various fitness-related iPhone apps.

I have the fitness tools and equipment that I need, and I feel confident that I know WHAT to do, but sometimes actually DOING it is difficult. I am motivated to eat clean and do cardio, but sticking with strength training is a challenge for me.

A few months ago, I bought a set of Jillian Michaels dumbbells. They sat in a box on the floor of my bedroom for awhile, then I finally committed to 10 minutes of strength training each day. Over the last three weeks, I completed three, 10-minute sessions. Instead of beating myself up for not reaching my goal, I am taking steps to a better path.

For the next week, my new goal is to be consistent with my strength workouts. For inspiration, I picked up a couple copies of Oxygen magazine.

In the Fall 2011 edition of Oxygen’s Collector’s Issue Off The Couch, there are a couple of great workouts for beginners:

1. Your All-Purpose Home Workout with dumbbells and a resistance band.

2. Head-to-toe fit…In just 15 minutes! which involves “5 total-body moves that don’t need any equipment.”

In the November 11 issue of Oxygen, I found this: Stunning Shoulders in Only Four Weeks. This workout requires the use of dumbbells, and most of the moves are done in a standing position.

Because I would like to improve the look of my arms and because I prefer to stand while exercising, I have decided to start with the Stunning Shoulders workout. I will also use selected parts of Your All-Purpose Home Workout for arms. As I get more confident, I plan to add additional routines for future workouts.

Small steps are still steps. Three or four small steps cover the same territory as one LONG step. We each have our own stride, with its own unique cadence. If we want to be in a different place, all that matters is that we face the direction we want to go and step….and step….and step…..

My dear friend, Jaylene McCrary Whitehurst, Heartwork Center for Creative Living http://www.heartworkccl.com/ posted this original quote. Reading it inspired new thinking for me.

Several years ago, I lost 30 pounds. It took an entire year of taking small steps, with a goal of losing weight, without concern for my overall health. I just wanted to be thin! I worked without a plan, simply eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was satisfied. I walked for 45 minutes three times a week and swam laps for 20 minutes twice a week. Nothing was forbidden, even my favorite Wendy’s homestyle chicken sandwich. I paid attention to my hunger pangs, ate a bit when my stomach growled, and then stopped eating when my stomach went quiet.

The problem came when I reached my weight-loss goal and stopped taking the steps that had helped me become thinner. I quickly started gaining weight, and without exercise, I became very winded, very quickly, even when walking the short distance from the front door of the school to my classroom each day.

This time around, I have committed to a healthy lifestyle. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and I have decided that I am more concerned with my overall health even more than my weight. I want to be strong and fit. Simply put, I feel so much better when I eat well and exercise. Being thin is simply a by-product of living a healthy lifestyle.

Even when I take a few steps backward, I pause and remember that even if the cadence isn’t smooth and steady, I can always get right back on track. Eating one meal that is off-target doesn’t mean that I have to keep trudging in that direction, moving far away from my desired path. I’ve learned to walk each day of this journey, one step at a time, always aiming to move in the right direction.

The longer I have walked the path to clean eating and fitness, the more I’ve read about living a healthy lifestyle. Along the way I’ve learned about processed foods that are unfit for consumption, as well as concerns related to pesticides in our foods. I have also found a variety of sites with information related to clean eating, along with healthy recipes.

In all of my reading, I have thought back to my childhood, when my parents worked hard to produce a garden so that we would have a cheap, ready supply of fresh and frozen vegetables. I was stick-thin until I started college, mainly because food at home was limited to fresh tomatoes, homemade tomato and vegetable soups, corn, potatoes, and lima beans. My dad also grew a huge watermelon patch, so we had fresh watermelon ALL SUMMER LONG! After I started college, I ate out for lunch most days and quickly gained 20 pounds!

My mother fried the occasional piece of chicken and sometimes made hamburgers or baked pork chops, but the bulk of our diet was plant-based. Daddy turned 80 this year, and Mother’s not far behind him! With all of the meat scares in recent years, they now eat only vegetables, and both of them are in EXCELLENT health! Based on my experience, I’m thinking there may be something to the theory that meat isn’t the healthiest option.

Here is a list of some websites and books that I have used to learn more about healthy eating.

Dirty Dozen Produce

This site is published by Environmental Working Group (EWG) whose mission is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment.

Each year, they provide a list of foods most contaminated by pesticides. For foods with a low number, choose organic to avoid eating pesticides.

http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list/

15 Food Companies That Serve You Wood

Just nasty! I used to LOVE fast food, and now I can hardly eat it, thinking of what may be in it! I’m not sure of the facts of the matter, but I do know that fast food is fattening, and after reading this article, none of it is appetizing to me any longer!

http://foodfreedom.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/15-food-companies-that-serve-you-wood/

The Gracious Pantry

This site provides basic information on clean eating–what is it and how to do it. The site also includes a variety of “clean” recipes, complete with nutrition information. Because I count calories, I am ALWAYS interested in nutrition, so this is one of my favorite recipe sites. I especially love the 5-ingredient recipes–so EASY!

http://www.thegraciouspantry.com/recipes/categories/

The Skinny Crock Pot

This site includes traditional recipes that are modified to be healthy and are designed to be cooked using a crock pot. This site also includes nutritional information for all recipes on the site, which is very useful when counting calories and trying to reduce sodium.

http://www.skinnycrockpot.com/

Fit, Fabulous, Forever

Great site with healthy recipes.

http://www.fitfabulousforever.com/about

Eating Clean Works

Information on a variety of topics related to clean eating and living a healthy, fit lifestyle.

http://eatingcleanworks.com/

Forks Over Knives

This book outlines the benefits of eating natural, unprocessed foods and avoiding meat products. Explains the workings of the modern-day meat industry and how the way meat is produced and processed is detrimental to our health. The book is called Forks Over Knives because the author believes that what we put on our forks can help us to avoid the knives used in surgery. One benefit of reading this book is that I now think twice before eating meat. Vegetables are now much more appetizing!

http://www.amazon.com/Forks-Over-Knives-Plant-Based-Health/dp/1615190457

The China Study

This book presents findings from a research study in which the effects of the typical American diet was compared to effects of the Chinese diet and explains how eating meat and dairy products can cause a variety of common health-related issues such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

http://www.amazon.com/China-Study-Comprehensive-Nutrition-Implications/dp/1932100660/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1321149054&sr=1-1

Need to know how many calories to eat each day for weight loss? Calculate daily calories burned and eat less than that number! Increase calories burned by exercising. Choose an activity that burns 250 calories a day and eat 250 calories less and you’ll lose a pound a week!

Calories needed per day to maintain current weight: http://caloriecount.about.com/cc/calories-burned.php

Calories burned with exercise: http://calcnexus.com/calories-burned-calculator.php

There are other, more accurate ways to calculate using BMI, but these simple calculators will help you get started.

Nutrition experts recommend that you eat at least 1200 calories per day when losing weight. You want to keep your body from going into starvation mode and holding on to fat. If you eat fewer than 1200 calories, your body prepares for famine!

Please keep in mind that I am NOT a nutrition expert, although I have read extensively on the subject of fitness and nutrition. You will want to consult with your doctor before starting any weight loss or fitness plan.

When I’m planning my meals for the day, I usually pack lunch and snacks in ready-to-eat individual portions and put them straight in my cooler with an ice pack. This way, I can grab the cooler on my way out the door to work.

On long days, this keeps me from being tempted to grab fast food on the way home. I have an almond bar on the way home from work and have dinner thawed, marinated, and ready to pop in the steamer, so it’s ready within an hour after I come through the front door. Sometimes you have to PLAN not to go off track!

All of the calories are pre-calculated, so I don’t have to think about calorie counts all the time. I stick to the same menu each day, with some variation, so that eating is simple and easy, and I don’t have to put much thought into what I’m going to eat. Choices are made ahead of time, so I don’t have to make food decisions when I’m hungry.

I eat a variety of foods that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, nuts and grains, and plenty of water. I use the “real deal” sugar, dressing, sour cream, and cheese, in limited amounts. Fat free and artificial just don’t taste good to me.

I would encourage you to make your own food plans. Choose foods that YOU enjoy, look up calorie counts using Google, and adjust portion sizes so that you have 3 meals per day, about 300-400 calories per  meal, and 1 or 2 snacks per day, about 100 calories each.

Typical breakfast: 315 calories

1/2 cup oatmeal (150 calories)

3 tsp. sugar (45 calories)

1/4 cup Blue Diamond unsweetened vanilla almond milk (20 calories)

2 fresh mandarin oranges (100 calories)

organic tea (o calories)

Measure oatmeal before cooking. I use instant oats and prepare in the microwave. Takes one minute, 30 seconds! And yes, I use REAL sugar! I love Tazo tea! Organic Apple Red is my favorite and tastes great unsweetened. I keep hot water in the coffee pot and make tea every chance I get, one cup at a time. Tea acts as a diuretic and also helps curb my appetite.

Typical morning snack/lunch: 515 calories

1/2 cucumber, sliced (45 calories)

20 grape tomatoes (20 calories)

1 T ranch dressing (75 calories)

20 grapes (50 calories each)

1 oz cashews (very small handful) (150)

1 oz Havarti cheese (110 calories)

7 Wheat Thins (65 calories)

Afternoon Snack: 160 calories

Almond bar (160 calories)

Typical dinner: 430 calories

2 flour tortillas (220 calories)

2 T shredded Mexican four cheese (60 calories)

2 T sour cream (60 calories)

1/2 cup Goya black beans (90 calories)

OR  Alternate Dinner: 315 calories

8 oz steamed boneless, skinless chicken breast in Lawry’s lemon pepper marinade; weigh before cooking (240 calories)

10 fresh, steamed baby carrots (50 calories)

1/2 cup fresh, steamed green beans (25 calories)

Almond Bars: http://www.amazon.com/Nature-Valley-Granola-Almond-6-Count/dp/B000EMK4DC

Tazo tea: http://www.amazon.com/Tazo-Organic-Infusion-Caffeine-20-Count/dp/B0017WO2H2

When I first started trying to lose weight, I found several calorie count apps for the iPhone. I downloaded My Fitness Pal and diligently counted calories. Unfortunately, I also built in regular “cheat” days until every day became a cheat day.

I joined the YMCA near our house and did lots of cardio, while continuing to eat almost anything I wanted. Since January of 2011, I have managed to lose 15 pounds, but I still have a ways to go to reach my goal of 50 pounds lost!

My YMCA membership expired, and I renewed it once and worked out at the gym every day, doing cardio for at least two hours, including the treadmill, the bike, and swimming laps. The second time it expired, I didn’t re-join, because by this time, we had moved, and the gym was quite a hike from our new neighborhood.

After settling in to the house, I again started my quest for weight loss in earnest. I bought a vegetable steamer and planned simple meals that I could prepare for myself while cooking huge, hearty meals for my husband. I set a goal to walk 2 miles each day, in 35 minutes time, approximately 4 miles per hour. I downloaded some fitness music from iTunes and set out with determination. Along the way, I discovered iTreadmill, a pedometer, to track my progress. I really like this app because it allows me to play the iPod in the background, while recording my time and distance.

Over the past year, I have found several resources that have encouraged me, starting with Chantel Hobbs’ book, One Day Way. I used this book as a basis for my new lifestyle plan–eating chicken, shrimp, tuna, and vegetables. Chantel lost over 200 pounds by choosing healthy foods that she enjoyed. I modeled my meal plans after her ideas, choosing things that I enjoyed eating.

I started posting my progress on Facebook, and I’ve had many friends who have encouraged me and have shared additional resources. Two that I like are: CrossFit, a website with various strength-training workouts, and Oxygen, a fitness magazine with tips and workouts for average women, not just those who are into competitive weight-training.

I am currently studying a strength workout for beginners in the current issue of Oxygen and will add the CrossFit routines as I become more advanced.

My Fitness Pal: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/

iTreadmill: http://www.itreadmill.net/iTreadmill/Home.html
Chantel Hobbs’ One Day Way: http://www.amazon.com/One-Day-Way-Today-Time-Weight/dp/0307458784
Chantel Hobbs’ Website: http://www.chantelhobbs.com/
CrossFit: http://www.crossfit.com/
Oxygen: http://www.oxygenmag.com/