• Experts speak

    Eat clean to get lean

  • –  Erin Oprea 

    I have been active all my life, playing soccer all during my youth. I still play anytime I get the chance. I love to move – fitness is both my job and my hobby.

    I am fortunate to be able to make a living doing the thing I am most passionate about. The first time I was certified as a personal trainer was when I was 18-years-old; but, I did not really begin to explore the nutrition side of the equation until I was in my 20s and my father, an apparently fit and healthy man, died of a massive heart attack. That was when I really began looking into the foods that surround us, the foods we choose to eat and what those foods are doing for us and to us.

    “Eat clean to get lean and work out to get strong.” I say it all the time and I live it every day. When I work with my clients like Carrie Underwood and Kacey Musgraves, I remind them that you cannot out work a bad diet. It’s important to eat clean most of the time to give your body the clean fuel it needs to function at its best and to keep us healthy.  That’s great, but what does it mean to eat clean?

    Well, it means that most of the foods that come prepared, in boxes, in cans, or in jars are off limits…most of the time. Life is to be enjoyed. Right? So you have to have balance. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you know that I love doughnuts. I really do. Finding new doughnut shops is one of my favorite things to do when I travel. But, I don’t eat doughnuts often at all and, when I do, I have a rule that I have to walk to go get them. I’m not allowed to get in my car and drive to the doughnut shop; I have to walk there. It’s balance, right? I get the treat, but I get a good walk in to go get it.

    Now, there are some prepared foods that are okay. The thing we have to train ourselves to do is to read the label – and I mean really read it. If you see that a serving of yogurt has four grams of sugar, that’s perfectly fine. However, if that 225g container of yogurt has 6 servings and you eat the whole thing, you just ate 18 grams of sugar and that’s not fine. In my book, The 4X4 Diet, I talk about four dietary changes to make over the course of four weeks. The changes are simple things and since you are implementing them one at a time, they are easy to get into your routine. Mostly, they just take some awareness.

    Generally speaking, if you stick to foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, the better they are for you. Even things like white potatoes have some nutritional value, although I suggest eating them early in the day because they are so starchy and contain so many carbohydrates. I avoid them because they are calorically dense and I don’t enjoy them to justify adjusting the rest of my day to eat them. I do, however, really enjoy a bowl of oatmeal to start my day. While that bowl certainly contains carbohydrates, they are clean ones and because I eat them early in the day, my body uses those carbs for fuel rather than storing them as fat. There are wonderful foods to be enjoyed from all the food groups and I suggest keeping all those groups in your daily diet. Just make smart choices, stay away from things that are highly-processed and enjoy!

    People ask me regularly if my 4X4 Diet is good to follow when pregnant or nursing. Since the diet is not highly restrictive of either calories or food groups, the answer is yes! My plan is based on sound nutritional guidelines that have been around for decades. I just help you move in the right direction to get them into your daily lives.

    Speaking of moving, let’s talk about the second part of “Eat clean to get lean and work out to get strong.” The pace of our society may be moving faster than ever; but, we, the members of that society certainly are not! We sit behind desks. We sit in cars, buses, and trains. We sit waiting for doctors or watching sporting events. Then we go home and we sit some more there. As the world gets smaller and technology more advanced, we have less and less reason to move. As a result, many of us are moving less and we are paying the price for it. Still, between work, errands, and home, where do we find the time to move more?

    All day long!

    I recommend to all of my friends and clients that they take at least 10,000 steps every day. I also recommend that they wear a fitness tracker to see just how much they are moving. If you don’t wear one, I suggest you get one. You may be surprised at just how few steps you are walking – most people are. Once you have the tracker, you can make a game of it. Let’s say that you discover that you are walking 3500 steps on an average day. Jumping up to 10,000 right away may be a little much; so, find ways to add them in gradually and throughout the day. Take the stairs rather than the elevator, even for just a floor or two. Get off the bus or train a stop early. Walk to a coworker’s desk rather than sending a message. Take ten minutes during your lunch break to take a brisk walk around the block. With persistence and creativity, you will be up to 10,000 steps in no time! Once there, you can add some further challenges – find hills to add into your walk, do some walking lunges, and, of course, take the stairs.

    Once you have your basic level of activity up, it’s time to start making pretty muscles! Women often tell me that they are afraid of strength training, thinking that they will somehow end up looking like a bodybuilder if they lift weights. Trust me. No one accidentally became a bodybuilder. Those people work very hard and eat very strict diets to build the muscles that they have. What we are working towards is general strength that will support your body and allow you to live a healthier, more mobile life.

    In my book, The 4X4 Diet, I have included several exercises to help you get strong. The exercises are grouped into Tabatas, which are a workout style that I just love! By using the Tabata method, you can see results faster and you can fit the exercises into four-minute segments of your day. There is no need to take an hour to go to the gym. You can do squats and lunges while you are cooking dinner. You can do dips and push-ups while watching television. And the exercises require little or no special equipment. If you don’t have two pound hand weights, you can substitute liter bottles of water. By using things you already have and being aware of opportunities throughout the day when you can complete a single Tabata set, you can get a whole workout in without having to make a special trip or purchase. By creatively looking for times when you can get in just four minutes of exercise, you make working out a real part of your life. I recommend that my friends and clients incorporate strength training into their routine three days a week and mix in cardio on the other days.

    I get a lot of questions about which cardio exercises are the best. The truth is that the best exercise is the one that you will do. Jumping rope may be best for me, but you may hate it. If you hate it, then you’re not going to do it. Find something you enjoy. Swim. Run. Dance. Ride a bike. There is a whole world out there of fun ways to get your heart rate up. If you try one and don’t like it, then try another. Keep looking and, as we discussed earlier, never underestimate the value of a brisk walk. Working out should be fun! If you are not enjoying your workout, then try something else. The world is your gym! Play in it!

    Life is all about balance. We eat clean so that we can be healthy and still enjoy an occasional treat. We work out so that our bodies will serve us well throughout our lives, letting us participate in all of the activities that we enjoy.

    When you start working out, the most important thing is to just START. The second most important thing is to KEEP GOING! Remember, you don’t have to run a marathon right away. To tell the truth, you never have to run a marathon! You just need to get moving and stay moving. My book contains exercises that will take you from beginner to advanced.

    Celebrity trainer, former US Marine, and author Erin Oprea serves as the personal trainer to some of the fittest names in music, including Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini, Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris, and many more. A nine-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Oprea made history when she was appointed to lead the first female platoon attached to the infantry in a war zone. The fitness expert’s calorie-torching workouts have been featured on Good Morning America and E!, as well as in People, Women’s Health, Self, Vogue, Glamour, and more. Her revolutionary fitness and nutrition guide, The 4×4 Diet, is available now.