by Jackie Paunil, MFA, CHC,

The foundation to fitness really begins with the nutritional support provided to our bodies through the foods we eat. It is certainly possible to begin an exercise program without changing your diet, but to benefit optimally, create a positive exercise experience, avoid injury and unnecessary fatigue, and build strength, flexibility and stamina, the foods you choose to eat can affect your results considerably.

As an integrative nutritional health coach, I recommend devoting some time and attention to the quality of the foods you are eating prior to engaging in a new exercise program. If the thought of exercising is causing you a flare of anxiety or despair, you are not alone. The majority of Americans today are heading down a very unhealthy path to a large selection of lifestyle-related diseases and conditions. Being motivated to exercise can begin with consistently providing your body with the nutrients it needs to rebuild at a cellular level, resetting the hormones, detoxifying the system and re-energizing yourself. It all begins with some simple additions and subtractions from your food choices.

Make a commitment for a three-week change in your diet. This is the minimum time it takes to prepare the body to begin the exertions of a new exercise program.

Eliminate foods that come in boxes and cans, from restaurants or fast food joints, or basically any processed foods. Processed foods are prepared for your convenience, to increase shelf-life, and are very effective at getting you hankering for more of these nutrient-poor, toxic options.

Prioritize clean (preferably organic), whole foods. Real food will go bad or spoil if left too long. You may have to cut, chop or even cook these, but they are basically foods that have grown from this earth, not from a laboratory or processing facility.

Begin eating a breakfast of steel cut oats over boxed cereal, organic sausage with sautéed spinach, or smoothies with a variety of greens and fruit. Remember to look for organic options as many of our fruits and vegetables are sprayed heavily with pesticides that are counterproductive in providing the best options for your exercise preparation clean-up.

Eat a protein source (nuts, beans, meats) every three to four hours. Even if you have just a handful of walnuts, make sure you are providing this protein consistently. You’re reassuring your body that you are not going to starve by having this available on a regular basis.

Allow your midday meal to be the largest as your metabolism is most effective at this time. Shoot for 75 percent of your plate to be veggies with a 25 percent protein source. Skip the baked or bread products as these are generally just processed food. Eat a lighter dinner, again with a protein source, and a large proportion of vegetables. Begin with vegetables you are familiar with and, through the weeks, add in a variety of colored vegetables – raw, steamed, sautéed or grilled. Skip the canola and vegetable oils altogether, opting for extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil or flax oil. These are the anti-
inflammatory omega-3 oils we tend to neglect.

Probably the most challenging prospect is to eliminate the added sugars for your three-week change. Sugar is one of the most pervasive additions to our foods, and we have all developed an expectation for a level of sweetness in everything we eat. By avoiding processed foods (including sugary sodas and juices), you eliminate a large amount of added sugar. Watch out for salad dressings, sauces and condiments for these have hidden sugars. Lemon juice or vinegar and olive oil are safer choices for salad dressings.

When you have successfully provided an exercise preparatory diet for three weeks, it will be time to choose an exercise option that best suits you. Casa Grande has a nice selection of fitness centers and many will welcome you to visit and try out their facilities. Maybe the gym scene isn’t for you. Tai Chi, belly dancing or yoga may be a better fit, all of which I know are available right here in Casa Grande. But perhaps you have tried these and have not been able to stay motivated. Remember by starting with the preparatory nutritional support, you will be changing your initial status for beginning your exercise program. If you believe you need more information regarding nutritional changes, free introductory classes, “Choosing My Healthy Foods” will be offered this summer, as well as more in depth series, “Food Is Thy Medicine Series” and a “Guided Elimination & Detox” program. You can register for these, as well as many other exercise options through Casa Grande Parks & Recreation Summer schedule online at or call 520-421-8677. Always discuss changes in exercise activities with your doctor.