This month I celebrate another birthday and I invite you to the party.

Since becoming an aerobics instructor, I celebrate each birthday with a fitness check-up. My ‘gift’ (besides a little cake) is looking back over the past year and setting a new goal (or two) to stay motivated on my fitness journey.

For example, in 2008 my goal was to spice up my aerobics and I became certified to teach Zumba. This year I’m vowing to do better with healthier eating.

Don’t get me wrong; I already do pretty well. Better than most I imagine. However, I have a confession: I love sweets.

“Without the right diet, even the most rigorous cardio regime is useless. That means cutting calories,” writes Susan B. Roberts, author of “The Instinct Diet” and professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Boston’s Tufts University.

Therefore, I invite readers to join me for a chat with Coretta Chaffin as I tackle this year’s goal – ensuring that I continue eating properly while on my fitness journey.

Chaffin, a nutritionist and community dietitian with Mecklenburg County Health Department and Carolinas HealthCare System, has been a registered dietitian for 16 years.

Q. What is a common mistake exercisers make when starting their fitness journey?

Not eating a light snack before working out to make sure the body has some quick energy so you’re not completely exhausted afterwards, i.e. a handful of nuts, trail mix, crackers, fruit, a half sandwich. Focus on carbs with limited fat, and a little lean protein. People assume because they exercise they can overeat. Foods should be limited in order to maintain successful weight management.

Q. Can you recommend a pre-workout meal?

Nuts, trail mix, crackers, fruit or a half sandwich.

Q. What should be eaten post-work out?

One half to one cup pasta or brown rice with lean meat (chicken, fish, beef), lots of colorful vegetables, a sandwich on wheat bread with a slice of cheese and fruits, or whole grain cereal with nuts.

Q. How can I satisfy my sweet tooth with healthy alternatives that don’t taste bland?

Fruit is nature’s dessert. Start with dried fruits (apricots, cranberries), yogurt, a small portion of dark chocolate, whole grain cereal with a little sweetness, or a yam that’s not part of a pie.

Q. What are the so-called ‘super foods?’

Super foods are low in saturated fat, high in fiber and antioxidants, which energize the body and protect it against rapid aging, illness, and infection. They include berries, apples, walnuts, yams, oatmeal, spinach and broccoli, soy/rice milk and whole grain bread.

Q. Name a food that should be eaten daily (besides my favorite indulgence, chocolate)?

An apple or prunes for the fiber and antioxidants.

Q. Why do people struggle with eliminating unhealthy foods?

Emotions. We develop cravings and often eat because of emotions: bored, frustrated, excited or depressed. Or in social situations we eat, i.e. with friends or watching TV. I suggest finding healthier ways to deal with emotions (stress), like exercise, meditate, listen to music, talk, paint your nails or work on a project or craft that’s relaxing.

Q. Why is it important to eat the right foods to maintain healthy weight?

Food is fuel and healing for the body. To exercise is awesome, but to have the best balance, the body must be fed. Just as a car needs gas and oil to function, the body feels the same about healthy foods.

In closing, Chaffin says meals should always include foods from all of the food groups. Additionally, she recommends adding calcium, which helps protect bones and can lower blood pressure, iron and carbohydrates for energy, protein to build and protect muscle, and vitamins to protect the immune system from exhaustion.

As for my sweet tooth? I’d prefer to remain on my fitness journey while occasionally giving in to cravings.

Be healthy. Be well.

Coretta Chaffin is available for one-on-one consultations and can be reached via email at

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:

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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