Updated December 11, 2017
When I was running and still not losing even an ounce, I didn’t understand why I wasn’t losing weight. It was so frustrating. But now I understand: I couldn’t exercise my way to better health when the root issue wasn’t exercise-related but rather a bad diet. Not until my wife and I changed our eating habits did I finally see the pounds come off and stay off. It was then that my running took off. Today, people who see pictures of me before the transformation don’t even recognize me.
|The bigger me in 2002|
(with then Indiana Governor Frank O'Bannon)
If there's one nugget of wisdom I've gleaned from my transformation years ago, it's this: Whatever you do to try to live a healthier life, make sure it's sustainable and enjoyable, and make sure you pursue good health not just through regular exercise but especially a healthy diet that you enjoy and can maintain and build on.
Let’s start with exercise. What exercises are best? It’s simple: Find what you love to do and then make it a permanent part of your daily life. Mix it up, too. You don’t have to do the same exercise every day. For me, running is my focus. I run between 3,000 and 4,000 miles per year and I love every step of it. I can't remember the last time running was “exercise.” Find what you love and stick with it (here are some tips on taking up running).
|The fit me after changing my diet.|
But exercise is only part of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Diet and lifestyle play a huge role. If you burn 500 calories at the gym and then reward yourself with a giant slice of cake, what have you gained? Nothing. In fact, that slice of cake might have dug the hole a little deeper.
Here are a few sustainable lifestyle and dietary changes I made that impacted my health in positive ways:
Got to bed earlier.
Be in bed by 9 or 10 ‘o clock at night. If you're a night owl, the temptation to eat in the wee hours is often a killer. If you go to bed at an earlier hour, the temptation to eat won't be there. Plus, going to bed earlier will mean you can get up earlier and workout.
Get up early and get after it.
There’s a famous saying that goes, “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or a gazelle—when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”
I’m usually up at about 4:30 in the morning to get in my run. I have found that as the day goes on and there are more and more distractions, it’s harder and harder to find time for my run. I prevent that from happening by running first thing in the morning. I feel there’s no better way to start the day than with exercise. Be sure to exercise for at least thirty minutes and ideally an hour or more. One of the benefits of getting up early to workout is that you’ll be tired at night, which will make going to bed earlier much easier. It’s a cycle.
But what if it’s dark outside? Simple. Wear a headlamp.
Eat quality foods that are close to the source.
Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, quality meats, and healthy fats. Whole grains are generally okay but limit them. There are some great alternatives to grains. For example, sub finely sliced zucchini for pasta. Cut out simple carbohydrates altogether. Except for occasional treats, they have no place in the diet of someone committed to lifelong health.
Drink only water and avoid sugary drinks.
Sweetened beverages, whether they’re coffee and energy drinks, sodas, juices, and the like, are loaded with calories, sugar, and man-made chemicals. If you drink coffee, just add some full-fat cream and that’s it.
If the packaging says “organic” or “all natural,” that doesn’t mean the product is good for you. Read the label, looking specifically at how much sugar the product contains. If it has added sugar or ingredients you’ve never heard of and can’t pronounce, put it back on the shelf.
Pack your own lunch every single day.
If you’re at a business lunch and what they’re serving is less than ideal (happens to me frequently), do one of two things: Eat only the healthiest things on your plate or don’t eat at all. To give an example, not long ago I attended a luncheon where white-bread subs were served. I removed the bun and just ate the meat, lettuce and tomato. Instead of the chips, I ate the salad. They gave me tea but instead I drank water. There’s almost always a better way.
The environment around us often promotes poor choices and poor health. If you let the big food companies control your choices, then you are allowing them to enslave you. Instead of grabbing that bag of chips or ordering that sugary coffee drink, exercise discipline and say no. You control you.