LET'S GET PHYSICAL:

Pumping up and slimming down

Almost as one, the entire universe seems to be hell-bent on being slimmer, trimmer, healthier. And on getting bigger pecs. From Subway's Jared to Renée Zellweger, losing or gaining inches is making headlines. But getting fit and losing weight usually involves drastically changing your lifestyle for more than three consecutive days, so it's often the hardest resolution to make stick.

GET OUTTA HERE: Gyms are usually the first place we start when we want to slim or trim, and for our favorite gym highlights, check the listings at the end of this section (like Peak's Fitness' Boot Camp taught by Navy SEALs). But we know that many people only pick up the pace to get away from a gym, so how about going outside? We know, this is a brave new world for many Phoenicians, who cling to climate control. But Arizona boasts some of the finest winter weather in the country -- take advantage of it. Camelback Mountain and Piestewa (a.k.a. Squaw) Peak are not only right in the city, but they offer dozens of options that don't leave you staring at the TV. For those of you who haven't been completely sedentary to date, we recommend the hike at the very top of Camelback Mountain in the Echo Canyon Recreation Area. Warning: It's steep and slippery, but as a bonus, it also serves as an unofficial meet market for outdoorsy types. The city's largest nature preserve, Phoenix South Mountain Park, has hiking, biking and horseback riding. And you can't beat the views or the sunsets. Another nearby option is Papago Park, home to the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix Zoo and the Hole in the Rock (exactly what it sounds like, but much cooler to explore). Not ready yet for serious hiking? Try the North Mountain Park. Hikes here are less strenuous. Also, for another fun outdoor activity that will whip your butt all the way to Harvard Yard, try the City of Tempe's crew (rowing) classes held on Tempe Town Lake.

EAT THIS: We don't want to name names, but we know people who exist solely on the dollar menu at McDonald's. Not that we're judging, because the Egg McMuffin may well be the best food item in the universe, but for those who want to eat more healthful and balanced, how about switching where you shop? Healthful eating is not just for those who want to lose weight, but also for those who want to avoid a host of nasty illnesses later in life. Most big grocery stores now have an organic section (including Bashas', Safeway and Fry's), and there are several chains that specialize in foods that are hormone- and pesticide-free, were not genetically altered, covered in wax, or made with so many chemicals that they barely resemble actual food. Check out Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Trader Joe's, AJ's Fine Foods, and Tempe's Gentle Strength Cooperative.

BEATING THE BULGE: If drastic dieting is on your resolution list, you may be looking for a jump start, whether you are on a fad diet, a long-term weight-loss program, or just trying to balance what you eat. Hi-Health stores have been a staple in the Valley for more than 30 years for nutritional supplements, diet aids, and everything from diet-friendly snacks (like Metabolife shakes and Atkins-brand candy bars) to weight-loss enhancers, vitamins and other supplements. Also try GNC Nutrition Centers. But if your diet plan includes low-carb dictates, you're among friends. Estimates are that 15 million to 30 million people in the nation are on low-carb and low-sugar diets including The Zone, Atkins, and Sugar Busters. Enter the Low Carb Mall -- the grocery store for the carbohydrate-challenged. Once a lonely store in Tempe, the Low Carb Mall has evolved into a local chain now based in Mesa, with stores in Tempe, Mesa, Glendale and Phoenix (www.lowcarbmall.com for locations). In addition to low-carb alternatives to the obvious problems of bread, tortillas and candy, the "Mall" (which is a bit of a misnomer as they are only single stores) also carries low-carb versions of hot cereal, pasta, even frosted flakes. Instead of giving up must-haves, try shopping for these low-carb alternatives before eliminating them altogether. It makes the diet easier to stick to, because eating nothing but meat, pork rinds and cheese can get old.

Trying to diet, but your schedule is forcing fast food on you? Numbers show you're not alone. In 1955, this nation spent 19 percent of its food budget outside of the home. Now, the percentage is around 41 according to Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., the author of Restaurant Confidential. But many fast-food joints now offer options much less damaging to the waistline so that eating on the run doesn't have to mean packing on the pounds. Subway has many low-fat sandwiches (but watch the cheese). Taco Bell now has a "fresco" option for many of its foods, which substitutes salsa for cheese and fatty ingredients. There is a nominal cost, but the food loses nothing in taste. Burger King offers three low-fat chicken sandwiches that come in a combo with a side salad and a bottle of water instead of fries and a Coke, and both McDonald's and Wendy's offer salads with low-fat or fat-free dressing alternatives. In-N-Out even offers a low-carb burger (basically just a cheeseburger wrapped in lettuce, but we applaud them for trying). Many restaurants like downtown's Kincaid's and the popular Chipotle chain (California-style burrito cantinas) have created special menus featuring such items as tortilla-free burritos and breadless burgers. Dr. Jacobson recommends checking your options when eating out. "If the menu is vague, ask the server to explain it."

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