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Associated Press
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DAYTON, Ohio — Having a busy schedule can make it difficult to stay on track with diet and exercise.

Things to consider include what types of foods to eat, timing of meals and workouts, and serving/portion sizes. Conflicting information about the "best" way to shed pounds and inches can be confusing, making the entire process feel frustrating and stressful.

For instance, when it comes to weight loss, some experts advocate eating six small meals daily, while others believe in the all-American breakfast, lunch and dinner with no snacking in between.

Those selling weight-loss products typically suggest that following their "specially designed" diet plans or exercise programs are the way to go. With so many choices and differing opinions, how do you know which is right for you?

Some tried-and-true tips

Your diet and exercise habits tell you and those around you how much value you place on your health. It is better to eat something, even if you are in a situation where your choices aren't the healthiest, than to skip meals. It's also better to engage in some form of activity, even for short periods of time, than to do nothing at all.

Skipping meals nearly always backfires, and can leave you feeling weak and lightheaded and can contribute to low blood sugar. This in turn, usually results in binges and cravings for less-than-healthy options. If you are prone to temptations, then plan ahead, snacking on a piece of fruit, fresh vegetables or a handful of nuts.

For one day, check to see how many times you are eating due to real hunger. Foods eaten for reasons other than hunger are the ones likely to expand the waistline, so rather than try to avoid your favorites, get to the root cause of your choices.

Some of the most common triggers for mindless eating include boredom, stress, the ample availability of food and simple force of habit. Stay mindful that the purpose of food is for survival.

When following a workout routine, it is important that you eat at the right time. Exercising too soon after a meal can cause sluggishness, cramping and other digestive issues as your body tries to supply blood to the stomach for digestion and to working muscles at the same time. Going for hours on end without eating before a workout is also troublesome, leading to early fatigue and slowing of mental faculties.

To avoid such problems, fuel yourself moderately before your workout. Generally speaking, having a healthy meal two hours before a moderate exercise session, and within two hours afterward, will provide you with sufficient energy.

Carbohydrates are your body's main fuel supply, and are burned along with fat stores (to a lesser degree) during your workout. Protein is used for recovery and repair. For strenuous tasks like heavy yard work, high-intensity aerobic or strength training activities, carbohydrates such as whole grains and fruits are ideal, along with a smaller amount of high- quality protein such as egg whites, yogurt, chicken or fish.

After a workout, consuming carbs, protein and healthy fats such as a handful of nuts will help replenish lost vitamins and minerals and help keep blood sugar levels steady.

Note: There is ongoing debate about the benefit of eating six small meals a day versus three "normal" size meals. Experts are divided on which is better for weight loss and maintenance.

On one hand, advocates of six small meals say that this raises your baseline metabolism, resulting in weight loss, along with less hunger and fatigue.

Proponents of the three-meal-a-day approach believe that as long as meals are not skipped and are eaten regularly it makes no difference whether you eat three times a day versus six.

Because of individual differences, what is best probably lies somewhere in the middle for most people.

Marjie Gilliam is an international sports sciences master certified personal trainer and fitness consultant.