I played basketball most of my life. During my short (high school & collegiate) basketball career, I could eat any and everything. And, I did!
Back then, I would eat a Big Mac once a day, drink a 750ml bottle of Sprite each time I was thirsty and I kept a packet of Skittles in my pocket at all times, you know, in case of emergency.
Despite such a horrendous diet, I did not gain any weight. This was probably due to the fact that I worked out at least twice a day, six days a week.
As my basketball career was coming to an end, I realized I was going to have to make some changes.
I knew that the diet I was on while I was playing basketball was not sustainable if I wanted to stay fit. I was going to have to work out as much as I did during my career, or I was going to have to eat differently.
Given that I was probably not going to work out as much, I decided to change my diet.
So, I did some research. I read a couple of books, scanned through dozens of articles and talked to numerous friends.
When I first started researching, I was shocked to find out what I had been putting into my body. It was a melange of saturated fats, empty calories, and sodium-filled foods.
I had to make the change, so I traded in the Big Macs, Sprites and Skittles for whole wheat bread, Kale and even Almond Milk.
The “Health-Freak” phase.
This period of my life lasted about a year. A year was long enough for me to realize that I did not want to drink Almond Milk for the rest of my life.
Have you ever tasted Almond Milk? DON’T! It’s gross. Especially compared to regular cow milk. Almond Milk does contain fewer calories, less sugar, less fat etc.
Almond Milk is arguably healthier than cow milk. I was not, however, ready to compromise the taste of cow milk for the health benefits of Almond Milk.
I learned a lot from being a “healthfreak” for a year. Though I did not learn enough to make me an expert, I believe I learned enough to positively contribute to the conversation. Below are five important lessons I learned about what it takes to be healthy.
1. Find your (healthy) balance.
Before deciding what you’re going to be eating, it’s important to find your balance.
Being healthy isn’t black and white. We’re not either healthy or unhealthy. Instead, we’re all healthy in some ways.
Some of us happen to be healthier than others. The graph below illustrates that.
I found my balance when I decided that I did not want to compromise the amazing taste of cow milk for the health benefits of almond milk.
I still wanted to be fit, but I didn’t want to be the fittest person on earth. Being the best at anything takes time and commitment.
If I had to spend too much time counting calories and planning my meals, it’d take away from my time doing things I really love, like blogging, painting, baking etc.
Finding your balance means deciding where on the “healthy scale” you want to be. When it comes to my fitness and health, I’m okay with being somewhere in the middle of the pack.
Today, my diet consists of Whole Wheat Bread with Nutella, Whole Wheat Pasta with tons of cheese, and the occasional side of french fries. That’s my balance!
With this diet, I’m healthier than someone who eats Big Macs, drinks sprite and consumes skittles every day (the old me). Someone who eats Kale salads, salmon and Almonds is more than likely healthier than I am.
People will want to tell you what you should or should not eat. They’ll want to tell you how healthy you should be. Screw them.
Life is like art. There are no right or wrong. You choose how healthy you want to be. That choice alone will determine what you get to eat; Not other people.
There are consequences to what you choose to eat, however.
Everything in life has consequences. The consequences of my current diet are that I may not live as long as someone who eats kale, salmon, and almonds every day.
Another possible consequence is that I may not look as good without a shirt, as some of those guys with 20-pack abs.
I’m okay with those consequences.
If you decide to eat McDonald every day, this may mean you become overweight and your arteries may get clogged. If you’re okay with those consequences, and you love eating Big Macs, then eat all the Big Macs you want. Don’t let anyone tell you how healthy you should be.
2. Know your body
Wanting to eat Big Macs every day is one thing. Your body being able to process Big Macs every day is another.
We’re all built differently. Over the past few months, I realized that my body can handle my Nutella diet, especially when I eat smaller portions every few hours.
My diet might not work for everyone. It’s possible that I’m a weird African with superhuman genes, and that as a result, I can eat anything without gaining weight.
Whether it’s a Paleo diet, Weight Watchers or my Nutella diet, it’s important to know how your body processes different foods. Knowing that will help you find your balance.
3. Stick to what we know
Too many times, I hear people give up on their diet because they “don’t know” anymore.
One month you hear about the health benefits of spinach, the next, you’re told you should eat Kale instead.
The truth is, experts’ opinions are just that: opinions. Yes, experts’ opinions are more valuable than your uncle Joe who believes the earth is flat. Moreover, most experts’ opinions are based on fact.
However, one set of facts can yield to two completely different experts’ opinions.
The debate to find out if spinach or kale is better will never end. There are consensuses of course.
For example, as a general rule, foods that are natural tend to be better.
So, if you ever get confused, start with fresh veggies, nuts, fruits, and water. If you find yourself at the grocery store and you can’t decide on whether to buy` Kale or spinach, flip a coin. You can’t go wrong with either.
4. Practice Moderation
Speaking of sticking to what we know, exercise moderation whenever possible.
One of the books I read, when I was on my health binge, was “Healthy Eating for Dummies”. Sure, it might not be the most legitimate source I could find, but like Wikipedia, it’s a great start.
In the book, the author listed the “top 10 superfoods every one should consume at least once a day”. Guess what made the top ten?
If you guessed alcohol, you’re a genius. The author argues that alcohol dilates the blood vessels. Dilated blood vessels are good for circulation, which makes alcohol healthy. That is true.
Alcohol does dilate the blood vessels. Alcohol is therefore healthy… up to a certain extent. Take one or two glasses of wine, you get dilated blood vessels. Drink a bottle Jose Cuervo a day, you get a hangover and possible heart problems in the long run.
The point is, excess is the root of all evil. Water is amazing for you. Drinking too much water, however, can cause hyponatremia, also known as water intoxication.
Kale is amazing. If you only eat Kale, however, you might not get enough of the other nutrients recommended for a healthy diet.
Furthermore, consuming too many greens can hinder your body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients.
So, whether you’re consuming Big Macs, Kale Salads, Nutella sandwiches or even Tequila, remember to practice moderation.
5. Stay informed
Unfortunately, being healthy is like technology; It is always evolving.
In the tech industry, what we consider fast and efficient today, will be obsolete in the next five to ten years.
Likewise, what we consider healthy today, may be considered unhealthy in five to ten years.
For example, eggs were believed to be unhealthy because of their high cholesterol content.
Today, many experts agree that the health benefits of consuming eggs outweigh the cons.
Whole milk was once believed to lead to obesity. Today, most experts agree that this belief was erroneous.
Researchers are always looking into the foods we eat and how they affect us.
As they do so, they’ll keep discovering new health benefits for various food items. It is our responsibility to stay on top of the research and be aware of new health benefits.
If you want to be/stay healthy, it is your responsibility to stay updated on healthier options as they arise.
As you can see, being healthy without dieting way is easy. It’s all about creating your own rules, understanding the possible consequences of those rules, and staying up to date on healthier choices as they arise.
When all odds fail, remember this: YOU ARE HEALTHY. How ‘healthy’ you want to be, is all up to you.