Healthier living exercise and dietHealthier living exercise and dietI’m not the healthiest person on the planet, or in the state, county, city … The Independent office … my house? I’m not healthy. For most of my life, I counted on being extremely active to counterbalance a diet of salt, starch, and sugar. I was raised on fast food and still use food as a comfort device. I’m also pretty disgusting. Seriously, my wife has had to roll her eyes at me for something I ate so often that I’ve given her eye strain issues.

A bowl of brownie batter? Hell yeah! Raw cookie dough? Yes, please! A rack of ribs, a family-size bag of Funyuns, and a two-liter of Mountain Dew in one sitting? Dude, that was my diet all through grad school.

Healthier living exercise and diet
The author present day
Healthier living exercise and diet
The author climbing in Logan, Utah circa 2004

Still, rock climbing, skating, snowboarding, working out, and playing basketball kept me feeling healthy. At 25 years old, I suffered my third tendon injury from rock climbing. On doctor’s orders, I didn’t climb, lift, or do any exercise that could put strain on my finger for three months. It was all downhill from there. In the decade since then, I’ve gone from 145 lbs. at 5 percent body fat and doing sets of 30 weighted pull-ups to 185 lbs. at lord knows what percent body fat, and the last time I tried, I believe I managed six regular pull-ups.

This isn’t uncommon. During my time teaching at USU and DSU, I met dozens of former high school and college athletes who’d had to abruptly stop their athletic activities due to injury. They weren’t prepared for (or in some cases aware of) the need to lower their caloric intake as their activity level went from absurdly high to normal or in many cases below average.

I always wondered how people let their bodies slip away from them. Now, like all of those student athletes, I know.

Healthier living exercise and diet
The author climbing in Joe’s Valley, Utah

This isn’t about vanity. Honest. I know people say that all the time, but it really isn’t. When I was at my peak shape, I was still wearing shirts two sizes too large and pants halfway down my ass. Point? I was the only one who knew the shape I was in. But I felt good. I could feel my body working the way it was supposed to, muscles moving in unison, everything close to the surface. Now I don’t even notice my body until something pinches awkwardly or starts to ache.

This is about sex. Well, kind of. See, a little over nine months ago, my wife and I decided to start trying to have a child. On June 9, we welcomed our baby boy into the world, and everything changed. I never believed all the cliches about becoming a parent, but they’re true. I can’t help but look at myself and the world differently now.

Healthier living exercise and diet
Photo by Darren M. Edwards

I want to be healthy for my wife and son. I want to be an example for him of how to live a balanced life (I’m not crazy! I’m still going to eat cookies and steak, but I’m hoping to moderate my intake of those godly delights while upping my activity level and the level of healthy food in my diet).

This journey isn’t about fads or shortcuts. It’s about taking many little steps toward healthier living. I’m not perfect. I have no delusion that I will ever cut all of the delicious crap our American culture provides from my diet. However, I think that I can make some significant, sustainable progress toward finding a healthy balance. And there are delicious healthy foods out there. The cultural image of a healthy diet consisting of raw vegetables and bland grains is inaccurate but deeply ingrained in our minds.

Healthier living exercise and dietLike I said, I grew up eating out and love both the food and experience of exploring Southern Utah’s dining opportunities. Recently, I’ve tried skipping a buffet or burger joint for lunch a couple of times a week in favor of healthier options. My favorite option for healthy lunches is The Twisted Noodle. They have a handful of permanent menu items I love, but my favorite thing is trying their daily specials. It’s actually exciting to see what special options will be available each day. I had a watermelon salad with strawberry vinaigrette dressing a couple of days ago that was heavenly. Of course, I followed it up with a spicy chicken combo meal for dinner.

Healthier living exercise and dietIt’s not about perfect living or committing to a 100 percent healthy lifestyle that few of us can maintain long-term. It’s about looking at your life and making sustainable changes toward healthier living. Don’t eat the whole package of bacon. Healthier. Don’t eat the whole batch of cookies. Healthier. Do add an extra serving of fruit and vegetables to your day. Healthier. Do dedicate one meal and snack a day to getting healthier foods into your system. Take the stairs, do some pushups before bed, find an athletic hobby you want to take up. Healthier.

Healthier living exercise and diet
The author climbing at the Green Valley Gap in St. George, Utah

That is what this column is about. Monday through Friday, every week, I will document my journey toward healthier living. The little choices and changes that can move me from a four out of ten to a seven out of ten on that imaginary scale of healthy living. To document the effect these changes have, every Friday I will close with an update on my progress.

I know I’m not alone in my struggles, so I invite any of you who find yourselves in a position like mine to join me on this journey. We’re all starting in different places. Some of you may be a two out of ten or a eight out of ten. Some of you may have convinced yourself that you’re an eight out of ten when you are, in fact, a two out of ten. Not all of our steps will be the same size. I don’t imagine we’ll have the same measuring sticks. For example, pull-ups have always been one of mine, swimming laps has been another. For you, maybe it’s how long you can run or bike or walk. It could be how much you can bench-press or how long you can hold certain yoga poses. The differences don’t matter. We’re all in this together. So, share your struggles and success, your goals and worries in the comments and on social media. I promise to respond to as many as possible. Together, let’s take steps toward healthier living.

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