I played basketball most of my life. During my time playing basketball, I could eat any and everything. And, I did! I would eat a Big Mac once a day, drink a bottle of Sprite each time I was thirsty and I kept a packet of Skittles in my pocket at all times. 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 did some introspection. I witnessed that too many professional athletes get out of shape after their careers. I even witnessed a few teammates get out of shape after their collegiate careers. I did not want to suffer the same fate. I realized I had to make some changes. I was going to have to workout 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 started doing some research. I read numerous books, dozens of articles and talked to a few 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 decided to change my diet so, I traded in the Big Macs, Sprites and Skittles for whole wheat bread, Kale and even Almond Milk.
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 did not want to compromise the taste of cow milk for the health benefits of Almond Milk.
I learned a lot from being a “health freak” for a year. Though I did not learn enough to make me an expert, I believe I learned enough to allow me to positively contribute to the conversation. Below are five important lessons I learned about what it takes to be healthy.
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 don’t want to be the fittest man 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 in the middle of the pack.
As I said earlier, we all are healthy in our own ways. Some of us are healthier than others. 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 everyday (the old me). Someone who eats Kale salads, salmon and Almonds is more than likely healthier than I am. This step is great because there is no right or wrong.
People will want to tell you what you should or should not eat. They’ll want to tell you how healthy you should be. 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 is 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 get clogged. If you’re okay with that consequence, and you love eating Big Macs, then you should eat Big Macs. Don’t let anyone tell you how healthy you should be.
Know your body
Wanting to eat Big Macs everyday is one thing. Your body being able to process Big Macs everyday 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 super human genes. Those genes may mean 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.
Stick to what we know
Too many times, I hear people give up on their diet because they “don’t know” anymore. One week, you read an article that says coffee is good for you
, the following week, you hear a different article warning everyone that coffee could lead
to cancer. 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. Many of them are based on factual evidence. 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 some consensuses. For example, as a general rule, foods that are natural tend to be better. This rule is not always true. It is true most of the time. So, if you ever get confused, start with fresh veggies, nuts and water. If you find yourself at the grocery store and you can’t decided on whether to buy` Kale or spinach, flip a coin. You can’t go wrong with either.
Speaking of sticking to what we know, exercise moderation whenever possible.
One of the books I read as 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 super food 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. It is true. Alcohol does dilates 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 solely 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.
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 investigating 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 the Luc 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. As I said earlier, we all are healthy in some way. How ‘healthy’ you want to be, is all up to you.