I got a call from Kay, a recent college graduate who works out regularly but still gains weight.

I asked what foods she ate and soon realized she had fallen victim to a common mistake: too many frozen meals. She assumed these meals were healthy because of their names — Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, etc.

Such foods are acceptable if eaten in moderation. But planning your meals (and eating home-cooked foods) is always preferred.

OK, I can hear you thinking: “Planning and preparing meals is like having the boss add another duty to my already-loaded job description.”

I’ll concede your point.

Still, if you plan to stay on this fitness journey you must make adjustments, and one of them is planning your meals, healthy meals.

Marcel Anderson, a certified personal trainer who works in Charlotte, agrees:

Anderson has worked with clients for 11 years. A large part of his training involves teaching them to eat healthy with planned meals. (See his sample meal at the end of this column.)

To begin, he says, you should eat several small meals throughout the day instead of three big meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. This can be tricky at first, but with practice it becomes easy and is necessary to maintain a healthy weight.

When people eat three big meals, Anderson said, they are more likely to grow hungry in between, resulting in overeating. But also, the body is tricked into believing that it is being starved, so it begins to burn tissue, not fat.

That is not a good thing.

“If the body is using body tissue for energy, then the body is storing the fat, which leads to potential weight gain,” says Anderson.

Unfortunately, weight gain leads to a multitude of health sins, including cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death for men and women. One way to avoid this is by eating healthy food as part of planned schedule.

Some days will be better than others. That’s ok, so long as you don’t give up and don’t cheat, as I did.

During a recent trip to Atlanta, I caught Super Bowl fever and ate things I generally avoid, a la fried foods. Yes, it was tasty, but around midnight my body began to chastise me, and my stomach did somersaults.

When you eat light meals throughout the day, your digestive system gets a workout. Or, as Anderson put it: “Eating three large meals per day does nothing significant to the digestive process, so your metabolism becomes inactive.”

  • Here are some tips for getting started:
  • Plan your small meals the night before to avoid a morning rush.
  • On weekends, make meals in advance and freeze leftover portions.
  • Add family members and make it a fun project.
  • Include a variety of low-fat foods.
  • Monitor salt intake, commonly disguised as sodium.
  • Use fresh items when possible instead of canned goods (generally packed in sodium).
  • Eat low-fat frozen meals sporadically, not daily.
  • Set realistic goals. (Start with two days and increase gradually.)
  • Don’t skip meals.

If you are consistent, planning meals offers two important benefits: a lower calorie intake and help achieving your desired body weight.

“Bottom line,” says Anderson, “meal planning makes life much easier and healthier.”

And your body will thank you.

Be healthy, be well.

Sondra E. Z. Hines is an adjunct professor of health and wellness at a community college and is certified to teach group fitness and Zumba. Email: sondraezhines@yahoo.com.

Marcel Anderson’s sample meal plan (2,275.54 calories)

Breakfast 7:00 a.m.: 1 egg + 2 egg whites scrambled, 2 English muffins, 1 Tbsp jelly 1 apple, 1c skim milk & 2 pats butter

Snack- 10:00 a.m.: 6 Ritz crackers, 1 oz cheese

Lunch – 1:00 p.m.: 1.5 c pasta, ½ c spaghetti sauce, 2 oz mozzarella cheese, 1 cup green beans, 1 peach

Snack – 3:00 p.m.: 1 bagel (no cream cheese)

Dinner- 7 p.m.: 3oz chicken breast (baked), 1 cup brown rice, 2 whole grain rolls, 2 c broccoli, 1 cup skim milk, 1c fruit cocktail, 2 pats butter

This nutrition program follows ADA (American Dietetic Association) guidelines and is not meant to replace the counsel of a qualified healthcare professional. Consult a physician before starting any exercise or nutrition program.

Marcel Anderson, NFPT, offers free consultations, including how to choose meal plans. Email: setitupfitness@gmail.com.

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Sondra E. Z. Hines is an AFAA-certified group fitness instructor, Zumba instructor, workshop presenter and motivational speaker. A former adjunct professor, she has 15-plus years as a fitness instructor...

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