Confessions of a Wellness Disaster: How Simple Ideas Got My Wellness Ball Rolling

Things I did when I was young that would probably kill me now:

  • Staying awake for 48 straight hours
  • Extreme scootering1
  • Playing catch with a flaming piece of wood
  • Attempting to cure illnesses or major injuries using “will power” instead of medication
  • Accepting a dare to eat a mysterious foreign pepper
  • Accepting a dare to eat a food that was in a refrigerator so long it was scientifically unidentifiable
  • Really, accepting any dares from my degenerate friends 

When I look back on my young and reckless stage, I realize why car insurance is so expensive for young males; we make horribly unhealthy decisions. To visually represent just how unhealthy my lifestyle was, I documented several of my youthful actions on the “Do I Need to Re-evaluate My Life Choices?” graph (see above). As you can see, I coupled my high level of stupidity with an even higher level of unhealthiness. Having just one activity in the red zone puts your life in serious jeopardy, as you can clearly see by my propensity for “red” actions; I was an unhealthy time-bomb! By my calculations, the fact that I survived this period of my life is a miracle.

When I was in my early 20’s, I ate nothing but junk, I didn’t sleep, I rarely saw a doctor, and I took a series of unnecessary risks that should have classified me as clinically insane. As many young men do, I thought and acted like I was invincible. The only healthy thing I did well was exercise. But sadly, that just added to my unhealthy ego. I was under the impression that exercise was a cure-all that outweighed every other unhealthy act. I was dead wrong, and it definitely caught up to me.

A few years ago, I took part in a “meat eating challenge.2” After a failed attempt to eat more meat than my competitor; I was plagued with a case of heartburn that lasted about a week. I’d never felt anything like it, and for a while, I honestly thought I was having a heart attack. Looking back, failing in my attempt to devour a combo of steak, chicken, and bratwurst (seriously, we’re talking about several pounds of meat here) was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. That meat-induced heart burn was the wake-up call that told me I needed to make some lifestyle changes.

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not young anymore. Knowing full well that my body can’t take the beating that it used to, I made the decision to incorporate a few healthy changes into my routine. Considering the majority of my actions weren’t optimal, I had a lot of work to do. But since I was determined to make these changes stick, I wanted to start small. I hoped that after seeing some progress, being healthy would become contagious and I’d take on more. I decided on a three step approach:

1.       I visited my doctor (before I was bleeding, broken, or unconscious)

I’ve had a series of visits to the ER and urgent care in my day, mostly stemming from the moronic behavior I listed above. But until this year, I’d never seen my doctor for a routine physical. While I’m healthy now, my doc did have a few warning signs that I needed to be aware of. For my body type and medical history, she had a series of recommendations for my diet, exercise regimen, and gave some guidance about what I should be on the lookout for. Before that, I was essentially in the dark on what being healthy for me actually meant. As I had hoped, this visit scared me into making some needed changes.

2.       I started drinking smoothies

I’d say I had a about a two year stretch where I didn’t consciously eat a vegetable. Sure, I had vegetables mixed in with other foods3, but my intake of healthy produce was embarrassingly low. I never enjoyed vegetables growing up, and I carried that into adulthood. However, I found a secret weapon: smoothies. Fruit smoothies are delicious, and after talking to a buddy about my veggie dilemma, he advised me to “sneak some veggies” into a smoothie. Turns out, broccoli is delicious when it’s blended with blackberries, peaches, and yogurt. It got the veggie train moving, and after a while I started to enjoy the flavors they brought to my daily smoothie.

After I got a taste for them in liquid form, I took the plunge and I started to eat them. Now, my meal feels incomplete without a serving of veggies, and I’ve completely opened the door on what vegetables I enjoy. 

3.       I started sticking to a sleep schedule

For years, I was staying up late for no reason. Usually, I was just watching mind melting late night TV. Finally I asked myself, “What am I missing when I go to bed at a decent hour?” Turns out, not much is happening in the wee hours of the night. That realization led me to instill a bed time, and I started getting about two more hours of sleep a night.

Getting more sleep has been the most noticeable lifestyle change of my life. When I have enough sleep, I’m more productive at work, I look forward to exercising, and I don’t drink or eat junk to stay conscious during the day. Best of all, I’m not nearly as stressed as I used to be. Without realizing it, I was living in an unhealthy haze that was really limiting what I could accomplish in a given day.

These changes might seem pretty basic, because they are. But as I’ve learned, living a healthy lifestyle shouldn’t be overly complicated. I’m still not as healthy as I’d like to be, but by taking a look at myself and making a few small improvements, it’s made a huge difference. Oh, and I stopped acting like a idiot (most of the time). That certainly helped too.  

To all the young bucks reading this (while presumably eating a fried Twinkie at 3 a.m.), you’re probably thinking, “Shut up, old man! You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Enjoy it while you can guys, because whatever your meat-induced reality check is, it’s coming for you soon!

What small steps have you taken to improve your health? We all face different challenges, and if you’ve found something that works, we’d love for you to share it.

1When those tiny scooters first came out, my friends and I liked to sport leather jackets as we “rallied” scooters down giant hills. Easily one of the most dangerous activities ever invented.

2 I assure you, this activity was as stupid as it sounds.

3 In retrospect, asking the question, “Does eating the pickles in my burger count as a serving of vegetables?” probably should have been a big red flag.