Being Healthy is All About Choices

>> Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I wasn't always fit and healthy. Far from it, in fact. I think we've already established that -- at least in high school -- I felt running was a cruel form of punishment. I would eat candy and cookies, double-cheese pizza and fries to my heart's content. I drank soda, not water. The most exercise I got was practicing my violin. I felt like crap, though -- and I stayed thin (which is how my warped mind defined healthy back then) only from a cycle of bad choices (between overeating and eating nothing at all).

I didn't gain a full freshman 15 my first year of college (that's me -- above -- on my 2nd day away from home), but my unhealthy choices definitely caught up with me in other ways. No, it wasn't the weight that got me thinking about turning it all around. It was my friends and even just random people I saw out and about. Jogging, walking, hiking, eating extremely healthy foods (it was during college when I was introduced to a HEALTHY vegetarian diet, and not one solely based upon consumption of anything without meat, like Reece's Peanut Butter Cups).

Being healthy is the ultimate gift you can give yourself (and others around you). You may not have a job. You may hate where you live. You may have a lot of problems that just get you down. But choosing to eat well and exercise. Choosing to actually feel ALIVE isn't for anyone but yourself. If you take care of yourself, you're better able to take care of your friends, family, and others. And that's so very important!

I guarantee (yeah, I just went there: GUARANTEE) that if you follow these three steps, you can -- TODAY -- start your journey toward a healthier lifestyle. No matter your age, sex, location, etc., if you invest in yourself. If you take the time to examine your choices, you can be successful. And this success, to be done right, should be measured not in pounds or dress sizes . . . but instead in how you feel.

(Want to know more about skinny versus healthy? Check out this post.)

First, be honest with yourself. What is your current health status? Have you had a physical lately? Do you have any nagging health issues (headaches, fatigue, etc.)? Have you eaten a vegetable or piece of fruit in the past week? When's the last time you drank a glass of water? When's the last time you exercised?

These are the kinds of questions you should be asking yourself. Write it down if it helps. We all start somewhere, and lying about your answers to any of these questions won't help anyone. And no one but you need to know your answers to these questions. So, take stock of where you are in life. It's OK if you aren't exactly the poster-child for good health right now . . . because as trite as this sounds: Every day is a new day. And you have the power to turn it all around.

I asked myself these types questions the summer after my freshman year of college. At the time, I ate a diet of mostly D.P. Dough (calzones), pizza, bread of any kind, and wine. I watched a lot of movies (so I was on my butt a lot). I was tired ALL the time (even though I told myself it was from being away from home and studying so much). It was hard being honest -- I even kept a food diary for a short period of time. I felt embarrassed by my lack of activity. By my diet.

But it's this step that's the most important. Honesty is difficult, but the hard work is definitely worth it.

Second, set a goal. Even if it's a small one. But whatever you do, don't set it in pounds. When you're living healthfully -- pounds don't matter as much. You'd be surprised to know that I weight more now than I weighed when I was totally inactive/eating horribly. It's from muscle, I tell you. If you absolutely must set a "looks" goal, do it by improvement and how you feel in your clothing.

Now, when I'm talking about goal setting, I'm talking about starting small.

Some examples . . .
  • Eat three servings of vegetables a day.
  • Drink six to eight glasses of water a day.
  • Walk during lunch for at least 15 minutes, four times a week.
  • Run one mile without stopping by the end of the summer.
  • Swap out soda in favor of water or herbal tea.
  • Eat vegetarian one day per week.
  • Go for a hike every Saturday instead of shopping.
Better yet, once you get comfortable . . . don't stop with just one goal. Make a new, small goal each week. And then see how those add up over the course of, say, 3 months. If you can make it -- that'll be 12 -- count 'em TWELVE -- steps toward a healthier you. What's even better is that most of these goals are small enough that they won't be 180 degrees from what you're doing now. I bet some of you, however, are thinking: "But I want to see immediate results -- I should kick-start everything with a fast/diet/etc." This approach does work for some, but if you're in it for the long run, you'll find that you can't maintain a fast . . . or whatever else it is . . . and over time, I would imagine those "quick" results will fade.

For me, my goal was to run 3 miles without stopping by the end of the summer (and eventually run a 5K, which I did -- in the photo above). I worked at it, and BOY was it hard. We're talking, I couldn't run down the street when I first started. Running hurt. But after a couple weeks, it hurt less and less. What else? I noticed that other things were changing in my life, too. I didn't want to drink as much at parties. I wanted to go to bed earlier and rise earlier. I wanted to eat more healthy foods. I became addicted to . . . living healthfully. I also found that once I got into my groove with running, it wasn't about the exercise anymore. It was about the sport. The achievement. So, find something you truly enjoy. Maybe for you that's dance. Or kayaking. Trail running. Triathlons.

You get the picture. It's a personal decision that only you can make.

Last, don't get down on yourself. Sometimes, you'll fall of the wagon, so to speak. If it hasn't happened to you, you aren't human. Or you have the will power of a God of some sort. SERIOUSLY. But it will happen: You'll be eating those veggies every day . . . and then one day, you'll be in a bad mood and forget. Or you'll find yourself at an office birthday party . . . eating like five pieces of cake. I'm over-exaggerating because -- at least for me -- if I can't make a goal work. If I slip up, it feels like I've completely failed. It's a slippery slope from there.


But it doesn't have to.

What I've been desperately trying to do this year, and it's my first year really sticking to it, is the whole "tomorrow is a new day" approach. But instead of it being "tomorrow" -- I do it by the hour. It works remarkably well, and I highly recommend it to anyone. For example, one day last week, I ate a TON of stuff I don't normally eat for lunch. Pizza. Cookies. Soda. Instead of letting this lapse in judgment ruin my day, I sipped my last sip of soda and then went to get a glass of water. I ate a big plate of veggies for dinner that night . . . and I made sure to take note of how eating all that high-fat, high-sugar food and drink made me feel.

Awful, in fact. I crashed and nearly fell asleep after lunch. I had a headache. My stomach was actually yelling at me (growling). But by choosing to not get down on myself, I stayed positive. I reminded myself that my health is all about the choices I made on an hourly -- OK even each minute -- basis.

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