LAST WEEK, my cousin Marvin came to me, alarmed and looking for help. He's got a big shindig to attend and was horrified to discover that he could no longer fit into his favorite custom-tailored suit.

"This event is coming up in about 12 weeks! I can't believe this is happening to me. What exercises do I need to do to get rid of this quickly?" he asked, desperation in his voice.

My cousin always maintained a svelte appearance - until recently. Like many men and women his age (37), he's let work and family responsibilities shove exercise aside. He used to be a distance runner, a bit of an amateur athlete and a weight training buff, too.

Good cousin that I am, I invited him over to my place to access his situation and come up with a strategy that would not only help him to reach his immediate goals but get him on the road to an overall healthy lifestyle.

The first thing I had him do was to take off his shirt and look in a full-length mirror. Yup, he had "donelaps disease" - his belly definitely done lapped over his jeans.

Next, we did a body-fat assessment and a weigh-in.

It was a little worse than he thought. He was up 25 pounds from his usual weight of 175. Yikes!

I did some other quick calculations and determined that he was consuming 2,700 to 3,000 calories daily to maintain his current weight. He would have to create a calorie deficit and up his fitness game if he expected to get into that suit in 12 weeks.

He was shocked and surprised when I told him that we had to begin his journey at Target.

In my opinion, weight loss is 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise. So, off we went to pick up some reusable portion-control containers, a lunch box, cookie sheets and parchment paper.

"Why do I need cookie sheets and parchment paper?" he asked. I explained that the parchment paper was to make cooking and clean-up a breeze, and the cookie sheets were necessary to prepare several meals simultaneously.

For example, he could prepare a tray of salmon, chicken breasts and talapia fillets at the same time - 10, 15 or 20 freezable portions in less than 25 minutes.

I also explained to him that while it does take a little planning, in the long run preparing his own meals would mean that he was eating better and saving money.

On a typical day, he would start with a breakfast sandwich, coffee and juice for around $7, spend about $10 for a small lunchtime pizza, then have dinner and a few drinks for another $35 or so. That's an average of $52 a day. Put another way, that's $364 a week or $18,928 a year.

We went to the supermarket and spent about $120 on enough food to last him a week - a savings of $244!

"See, I showed you how to save on your waistline and your wallet, too," I said. He was ecstatic!

We returned to my place and I showed him how to prepare everything. As we fixed the food, we discussed his neglected exercise habits.

I suggested that he up his running game to something comfortable for him - 30 to 45 minutes most days of the week - and do strength training a minimum of three days a week, plus some flexibility work two to three days a week.

Much to his amazement, he dropped five pounds in the first week.

Just like my cousin, you don't need access to a gym nor sophisticated equipment to get started. You don't even need a body-composition test to tell you you're carrying too much fat. In fact, I recommend the jump test.

What's that?

Well, take off all of your clothes, stand in front of a full length mirror and jump up and down. If there is anything shaking that shouldn't be, then you know you are carrying too much body fat. The mirror is your friend and a great ally.

The scale is also your friend, despite what you've heard. I recommend daily weigh-ins. A little weekend indulgence can set you back 2 to 5 pounds easily. This way, you won't let the pounds do a slow creep back on.

In addition to weighing in daily, I recommend daily exercise, portion-controlled meals and food journaling. While none of these methods are high-tech, put them all together and they are your best inexpensive weight-loss tools.

Now all you have to do is do it!

Kimberly Garrison is a certified personal trainer and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia (www.1on1ultimatefitness.com). E-mail her at

kimberly@1on1ultimatefitness.com. Her column appears each Thursday in Yo!