I’ll just come out and say it, from third to seventh grade, I was a fat kid. Not obese, but definitely chubby. It mostly came down to lack of exercise and overeating. While it may seem strange for a young kid not to get exercise, it was just the way things worked out. I was too young to be out on my own after school to run around and play and my mother just loved to feed people, her son probably being her most favorite. I recall my grandfather making a comment to me one day when I was drinking a soda and then I realized, this stuff is unhealthy. From that moment on I started being increasingly more interested in eating healthy and exercising.
Being healthy is not hard, but it does take work. It’s a combination of discipline and using common sense. Eating fast food, potato chips, and drinking soda on a regular basis. Well, if you don’t know already, those are bad habits that will slowly wear away your well-being. Leading a sedentary life by watching television alone for multiple hours a day won’t do much to help your healthy lifestyle either. I have organized my findings based on research and my own experience into four pillars of health, D.E.S.S. Diet, Exercise, Social Interaction, and Spirit.
- Avoid simple carbs in favor for complex
- Limit saturated fats such as cheeses, creams, and red meat
- Avoid anything with a shelf life of over 7 days
- Stop eating when you are 80% full
- Aim to have five colors on your plate to ensure a wide range of nutrients
- Eat non-fried fish 2-3x per week
- Drink water in place of beverages loaded with sugar
- Make it fun
- It should be automatic and daily
- Be around healthy people
- Isolation Kills
- Surround yourself with loved ones
- Make extended family a weekly event, not just the holidays
- Combine socializing with exercise and/or healthy eating
- Kiss the Chef
- Enjoy people, “A stranger is a friend I haven’t made yet”
- Don’t retire in the traditional sense, always work hard with a purpose
- Reduce stress through prayer or meditation
- Take time for self-reflection
- Turn off all electronics at least one night a week
Imagine yourself on vacation. You are out to dinner at a restaurant overlooking the beautiful coast of the Mediterranean Sea. What may you be eating? I like to imagine a nice piece of white fish caught that day with some fresh vegetables. Laughing over a glass of wine with loved ones and friends. On your walk back to your room you stop by a small shop selling fruit with brilliant colors of red, oranges, and greens. You purchase some for a snack. This is the diet you should follow.
I’m not talking about Atkins, paleo, or any other fad diet of the day. Those are a waste of time. But rather a lifestyle change. Following a Mediterranean diet of fresh fruits and vegetables while eliminating processed foods. Eating whole grains and legumes. Replacing butter with olive oil and canola oil. Using herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt.
Only Eat Things That Spoil
Save the long shelf life foods for your disaster recovery site. If it has a shelf life longer than 7 days get it out of your house. Some exceptions are your staples such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and peanut/almond butter. Following this rule will do most of the work for you. You will greatly reduce processed sugars and excessive salt commonly found in a lot of foods such as canned soups, potato chips, barbecue sauces, Oreo cookies, etc.
Not My Gum Drop Buttons
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I just watched Shrek with the kids. There is one scene where the ginger breads man’s gum drop buttons are threatened for information, it cracks me up every time. This brings us to sugar. An excess of sweetened foods and beverages are linked to weight gain, blood sugar problems, and an increased risk of heart disease, among other dangerous conditions. But sugar is not just in soda or candy, it is also in simple carbs such as white bread, bagels, and many cereals.
Complex carbs take longer for your body to breakdown making you feel fuller longer. They also provide nutrients and minerals that your body needs. Complex carbohydrates are found in foods such as peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Simple carbs are sugars that are in processed foods that offer little nutrition and cause your blood sugar to quickly and temporarily spike. They do not leave you feeling full for long, leading to more overeating. Some simple rules I follow are:
- Eating sweet potatoes instead of white.
- Whole wheat bread/pasta instead of white.
- Brown rice instead of, you guessed it, white rice.
Reduce Saturated Fats
Avoid foods with high level of saturated fat. I don’t know what that limit is, but this is where common sense comes in. When buying products compare the amount of saturated fat in the labels to start. Reduce the amount of cheese you are eating by taking it off your sandwich and skipping the sour cream in your burrito. Replace red meat, which is high in saturated fat, with chicken. We try to eat fish at home 1-2x a week. Nothing beats a piece of lemon sole cooked in white and lemon with capers, no butter necessary. A staple in our home.
Eat a Rainbow
By eat a rainbow I don’t mean eat a box of Lucky Charms cereal. Rather at every meal you should strive to have 5 different colors on your plate. While that will be hard to do in practice, it conveys the idea of variety. On average we have three to four colors at dinner. By having different colors, you are ensuring different vitamins and nutrients from various foods.
|Red||Purple / Blue||Orange / Yellow||Green||Brown/White|
|Red capsicum||Red cabbage||Cantaloupe||Asparagus||Brown pears|
|Strawberries||Purple||Sweet potato||Broccoli||White peaches|
|Red grapes||Blueberries||Mangoes||Green grapes||Potatoes|
|Red apples||Squash||Green beans||Ginger|
Take a Break
For the final point in the diet section of my four pillars is to stop eating when you are 80% full. You do this to limit your calories and to avoid that bloated feeling that you typically get after a Thanksgiving meal. In practice once you feel you are 80% full, you will stop eating and take a break for 20-30 minutes, allowing time for your stomach to tell your brain you are 100% full. Other ways to limit overeating is by serving food at the counter instead of family style. Doing so makes it more difficult to get seconds. Smaller plates are a good idea as well to limit portion size.
Exercise – Gym Membership Not Required
You will be surprised at how short this section is. It’s short because it’s simple. Make exercising fun and part of your daily routine. That’s it. Let’s face it, if you currently do not go the gym right now, you will likely not start and stick with it. I enjoy going to the gym simply because that is what I have grown up with. I’ve always been interested in lifting weights and getting my heart rate up, but it’s not crucial to a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is.
What is exercise? It can be going for a walk, climbing the stairs in your home, yard work, or even kneading dough to make bread. Whatever your form of exercise you need to make it routine and enjoyable. It is recommended that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week.
An example of making exercise automatic is my daily commute to work. It involves walking one mile from the bus station in NYC to and from my office. I could easily take the subway but why give up that great opportunity to stretch my legs and be outdoors. If you live close enough, walk to the grocery store or to a friend’s house. When I lived on the fifth floor of a building with an elevator, I took the stairs. All these one-off chances to exercise add up over time. The important part is making them automatic and part of your daily routine.
Socialize with Healthy People
Exercising on your walk to work is a great option, but don’t stop there. On the weekend go for a hike with friends. Play a sport or go for a bike ride. Walk the golf course instead of using a cart. Make a gym date with your spouse and encourage each other to go a little further on the elliptical. Socializing with the right group may be the most important part of your lifestyle. Studies have shown that if your three best friends are obese, you will have a 50% greater chance of being obese yourself.
The exercising portion of hiking with friends is only part of the benefit you will receive. Talking and socializing with people in person is likely the bigger benefit. I wrote about this in a post on how to live a good and happy life. I recommend reading it as well as watching the Ted Talks. The premise is simple. Isolation Kills. Humans are meant to be social and need it to be healthy. The quality of your relationships at age 50 is a big indicator of how healthy you will be at age 80. What’s great, is that it’s fun! Laughing with friends and family is my favorite part of the day.
Kiss the Chef
Since we combined exercise with being social let’s not stop there. Combine eating and cooking with being social. Include your friends and family in the kitchen. Slicing vegetables or helping make a loaf of bread. Before taking your first bite, don’t skip my favorite part. “Kiss the Chef!” In order to cook a great meal, you must do it with love. The love of the food and the love of who you are sharing it with. As someone who is about to eat the meal be sure to give the chef a kiss and thank them for the effort. Tell them what your favorite part of the meal is, if you’re lucky they’ll make it again.
Most importantly, try your best to enjoy people. Especially people who you are meeting for the first time. The expression, “A stranger is a friend that I haven’t made yet” is an optimistic way to view the world. Make it a habit of getting together with friends and family as much as possible. Don’t let the small things get you upset, it’s not worth the additional stress it will add to your life. If spending time with one person is especially difficult, then perhaps have a sit-down conversation with them and see if you can work out your differences. In the end, it’s about being happy and having a good time.
This may be the most overlooked part of the four pillars. I’ve only discovered this part over the past couple of years, but it very well may be the most important. It has to do with our mental health. We all work hard and often times push ourselves to our limits, but we know need to learn to stop well short of those limits.
For immediate, short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health. It can help you cope with fight or flight situations, such as an imminent car accident or moving out of harms way. Your body responds to stress by releasing hormones that increase your heart and breathing rates and ready your muscles to respond. But, if your stress response doesn’t stop firing, and these stress levels stay elevated far longer than is necessary for survival, it can take a toll on your health. Chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms and affect your overall well-being. Effects of chronic stress include:
|On your body||On your mood||On your behavior|
|Headache||Anxiety||Overeating or undereating|
|Muscle tension or pain||Restlessness||Angry outbursts|
|Chest pain||Lack of motivation or focus||Drug or alcohol misuse|
|Fatigue||Feeling overwhelmed||Tobacco use|
|Change in sex drive||Irritability or anger||Social withdrawal|
|Stomach upset||Sadness or depression||Exercising less often|
If you find that your stress levels are high, take action to reduce them. Ways to relieve stress are getting regular physical activity, keeping a sense of humor, finding times for hobbies such as listening to music, and spending time with friends and family. Aim to find active ways to manage your stress. Inactive ways to manage stress, such as watching television, surfing the internet or playing video games may seem relaxing, but they may increase your stress over the long term.
Take action to eliminate or reduce what may be causing you stress if possible. A few years ago I would actively manage my own stock portfolio. Constantly researching and trading stocks in my spare time. While I did well with my investments, it was causing me undue stress. Over the course of a year I unwound my stock trades and consolidated my finances. With the additional free time, I began to look for ways to reduce my stress further. I even bought a book on meditation.
Some of the benefits of meditation include stress relief, anxiety control, emotional health, and many more. It helped me destress from the work day and taught me to focus on one thing at a time. Over the course of a few month’s of meditating I saw dramatic results. My stress was down, I was happier, and most importantly I was more patient with loved ones at home.
Work smarter, Not Harder
With the money from the sale of my stock portfolio, I replaced my efforts of picking stocks with low cost index funds. This passive investment approach is likely to make me a greater return that the do-it-yourself method over a long period. With that free time, I am now able to spend it on my mental well being, giving myself and my loved ones a happier life. I even began this blog to help further my cause of self-reflection, learning, organizing, and sharing my thoughts. This one example is the premise of my definition of skillful wealth. To find efficiencies not only in investing, but in life in general. In this one change I gave nothing up and gained everything.
Don’t Retire – Always have a Purpose
The extra free time has also allowed me to think about what I want to do once I reach my financial goal and work is no longer mandatory. The more I think about it and read on the topic, the answer is not retiring. Retiring without a purpose can be quite damaging to your health. I recently heard that the two most dangerous years of your life are the year you were born and the year you retire. If people retire without a plan, the sudden loss of identity and “reason to get up” in the morning can be shocking.
Retiring from work that you “have to do” to support your family and/or yourself can be freeing and rewarding, but my goal is to do something that I would happily do without getting paid. There are stories of people at 100 years old still going into work to do open heart surgeries or working as a fisherman. These are great examples of living life to it’s fullest. Working hard at what you’re passionate about in life and enjoying your day with a purpose. It’s what the Japanese call Ikigai, which means a reason for being. It also helps in keeping you physical active, mentally sharp, and social.
Other ways on improving your spirit is through prayer. A common trait of centurions, those living to 100, it being spiritual involved in the church. Setting aside a day for reflection and prayer. This allows for alone time, like meditation, and being social with friends while having a purpose. While not everyone is religious, you may be able to replicate its benefits. Devote one day a week to family and friends. Turn off all electronics, don’t do any work, and spend time outdoors. Take time for self-reflection for part of the day such as meditating. Doing this will reconnect you to what is important in your life.
I covered a lot in this post and any many areas can be expanded upon, but I want to give an overview of how I live and aspire to live a healthy life. The basic premise is that none of this should be hard, on the contrary it should be fun. Avoiding foods mentioned in this post will be difficult at first but overtime it will become second nature. The most important thing you can do is it to make habits automatic such as daily exercise. I hope it helps. Please leave comments on how you live a healthy life for all of us to learn from.