SUMMER HAS always been my favorite time of the year. In fact, I can't think of anything more wonderful than frolicking on the beach, or taking a nice stroll or bike ride on the boardwalk. To me, summer is a little slice of heaven.
On the flip side, however, several anxious readers have written to me, concerned about baring their bodies and wanting strategies to shape up quickly.
Here are a few recommendations to help you get ready not just for the beach but for the rest of your life. If you're just starting out, you should quickly see changes; if you're already training hard, this will help you become more defined.
DITCH THESE: Avoid the obvious offenders such as fried foods, burgers and other fatty meats (pork, bacon, ham, salami, ribs and sausage). If you want to go hard core, ditch dairy products, wheat gluten, salty and sugary condiments and starchy products like pasta.
EAT THESE: Eat more fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, beans and grilled, baked, broiled, or steamed chicken, turkey and white fish. Eat good fats like avocado, or a one-ounce serving of nuts.
EAT LESS, BUT MORE: Downsize your portions but eat at least every three hours. That is the key to keeping your metabolic furnace burning at an optimal rate. This way you'll never allow yourself to get overly hungry and gorge at the next meal. Only eat until you are 80 percent full. No more.
MOVE MORE AND MORE! Make it a daily habit to find ways to joyfully move your body. Given the choice between elevator or escalators or stairs, take the stairs.
Walk your dog, chase yours kids, stroll through Fairmount Park, or put on your pedometer, head to the zoo and walk its five miles of pathways.
REDUCE STRESS: I know, it's easier said than done. But reducing your stress is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and your waistline, too.
When you feel constantly stressed out, cortisol floods your system and stores fat along - you guessed it - your belly and waistline. So figure out which stress-reducing techniques work best for you.
Some experts recommend positive thinking, meditation, spiritual readings, daily prayers, mantras, singing uplifting songs, listening to soothing music, looking at a funny movie or even walking your dog. What's best for you, meditation or medication? You decide.
AVOID ALCOHOL: While some experts believe a serving of wine can help protect against heart disease, more than that can cause other health problems such as liver and kidney disease and cancer. When it comes to alcohol, less is indeed more.
FLOSS YOUR TEETH: Studies have consistently demonstrated a connection between health and flossing your teeth. Ignore your teeth, and they will leave you, as will the rest of your health. Keep floss handy in your car, your bag and in the medicine cabinet. Your smile and your health depend on it.
DON'T BLAME MOM (OR DAD): Most experts agree that better lifestyle habits, not genes, can prevent 80 percent of coronary heart disease and 90 percent of type 2 diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declares that "chronic diseases - such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes - are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. These diseases account for 7 of every 10 deaths and affect the quality of life of 90 million Americans.
"Although chronic diseases are among the most common and costly health problems, they are also among the most preventable. Adopting healthy behaviors such as eating nutritious foods, being physically active, and avoiding tobacco use can prevent or control the devastating effects of these diseases."
Kimberly Garrison is a certified personal trainer and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia (www.1on1ultimatefitness.com). E-mail her at