How did 'healthy' happen?

How do I become healthy?

It's a question I get asked a lot, by family members, at parties when people find out what I do, backstage when other actors learn what I do... 'how do I get healthy'?  Often people are searching for a magic bullet, or something I can say or do that will make them change.  It's hard.  I want to be that person that helps them change their life, but really, you have to decide yourself that you want to change.  And what motivates everyone is different.  I'll tell you what motivated me.

When I was young, I was lucky to have pretty healthy parents.  My mom did her best to make sure we ate well (and my dad always insisted on a treat) so I grew up on skimmed milk, wheat bread, margarine (hey, they said that was good back then, we know better now) and thankfully a love of vegetables.  I also loved to move.  I enjoyed running, jumping, climbing ... basically anything athletic.  I was in track all through junior high and high school and pretty much burned off whatever I ate.  I was lucky to keep running through college, however, I had a few rude awakenings in my early 20s when I did a year abroad in England (lots of drinking, not much opportunity for outdoor sports) and then when I first moved to Chicago (like... no outdoor ANYTHING for six months if you've just moved from New Orleans and don't even know how to walk in snow yet).  

I eventually learned how to exercise to keep the weight off and how to cut calories by not eating as much when I wasn't exercising.  But that's about all I learned.  Eat less, work out more.  And while those basic principles will take you far, when you look at the basic nutrition of the average U.S. citizen, even one who thinks they're being healthy, it's kind of atrocious.  

I thought macaroni and cheese from the Kraft box was just fine.  My parents would give that to us OCCASIONALLY if they had to, but ... since I knew it as a meal, it's a pasta, right?  Also, those frozen, fried chicken tenders.... those are good, right?  They're chicken?  Eventually, I realized that this stuff wasn't good for me and... I basically stopped eating it.  I kind of stopped eating meat in general unless I was eating out.  Which I did fairly regularly.  A chicken salad sandwich at Potbelly wasn't that much.  Have that for lunch every now and then.  All 590 calories of it.  (I didn't know that at the time.  They weren't publishing nutrition, I wasn't counting calories, chicken salad sounded healthy!  Chicken!  Salad!)

I got into martial arts.  Thank god.  I had an indoor sport.  Something I could continue to do regularly throughout the year.  There was even a semi-functional treadmill in the facility that I could run on before or after class if it wasn't occupied.  I paid a year's tuition at a time since it was cheaper.  Then I lost my job very suddenly and unexpectedly when I was around the middle belt level.  While I looked for another job and did odd jobs, I basically spend most of my time down there.  I had already paid for it, I liked the people and it was something I could afford to do without spending money.  I got pretty good.  I tried other arts that were offered and I started competing in savate.  To get better in between savate matches (which were few and far between, at least in this country) I also started competing in boxing.  

I had to start making weight.  

I also had to be able to sustain myself through rigorous workouts where the alternative was getting your ass handed to you repeatedly if you couldn't keep up because you had decided to skip lunch that day.

I decided to 'adult up' and start learning how to cook meat.  It started slow and easy, sauteeing chicken in beer, throwing a vegetable in there once the chicken was mostly cooked, then drinking the rest of the beer along with the meal when it was all done.  Eventually I sent out a plea for other recipes.  My savate weight limit was 123.  My boxing weight limit ended up being 119.  Hugh difference.  Yeah, that's four pounds, but you try loosing four pounds when you're already down that low.  AND stay healthy.

I started researching.  I cut out ANYTHING that was going to add.  Beer.  Gone.  White bread.  Gone.  Mayo.  Normal pasta (been whole wheat ever since).  Milk chocolate.  The month before my first international fight, I cut out all alcohol completely because I heard horror stories about water retention on the plane.  

But I had a goal, an end date.  I had something I was working toward.  And I had people behind me.  There were people donating money so our team could fly overseas.  I organized benefits.  I wasn't going to lose the fight just because I couldn't make weight.  I also wasn't going to let people down who were volunteering to be my training partners because I didn't have enough gas to complete my rounds.  So, yes, my diet did go through some overhauls.  This is the thing...

After I was done, not only did I enjoy the weight I was at (who doesn't, honestly) but there were some things I realized I didn't miss.  I stopped ordering Potbelly sandwiches on original bread because the wheat left me feeling less bloated, was less calories and I still enjoyed it.  I stopped eating mayo because I didn't miss it (and the calories it added was crazy!).  I gradually cut out beer also but mainly because as I've gotten older, my migraines have intensified.  If I mix any alcohol, ANY. ALCOHOL.  I get a migraine.  Since drinking beer all night most often left me bloated, I just skip it completely now.

Later, I learned that I really enjoyed teaching martial arts and self defense.  I decided to try and turn it into a career which lead to me teaching cardio kickboxing, eventually yoga and strength training, and personal training for boxing and kickboxing.  The great think about the fitness industry is that you have to keep up with your continuing education.  New things are discovered all the time.  The more I learn, the more I try, the more I keep.

Currently I'm pescatarian.  I mainly eat vegetables.  I make my own hummus and cashew cheese.  I drink oat milk or almond milk.  I bike everywhere I go.  Occasionally I'll have real cheese, but I try and keep it to a minimum.  Occasionally I'll have a muffin, but I try and keep it to my breakfast dates with my husband.  I make my own tomato sauce now because I was trying to have pasta without sugar.  I make my own cashew cheese now because I was trying to avoid dairy.  I make my own hummus because I was trying to avoid added oil.

None of this happened overnight.  Every. Single. Aspect.  Happened one thing at a time.  There was no way I could be eating the way I am now back when I was 23.  I wouldn't have been capable of that drastic a change.  So.

If you want to stick with something, pick one thing. Pick one thing that you think you can do.  Maybe it's pasta.  Maybe you go whole wheat from now on.  That works?  Maybe you quit mayo.  And yes, Miracle Whip is in the mayo family.  Pick something.  Try it.  Once you feel confident that you're not going to backslide on that one thing (usually one month will do it) then maybe try something else.  Don't overwhelm yourself.  And pick a goal!

Try and make it something that means something to you.  That will be something different for everyone.  Maybe you sign up for a race in two months and decide you're going to get really healthy for that.  Maybe you decide you want to get healthy for Christmas.  Maybe there's a fitness challenge at work or at your gym that you can join.  Maybe your kids have started classes somewhere and there's something you can do there too.  Whatever it is, find something you like.  Stick with it.  You WILL fall off the wagon occasionally.  There will be ENDLESS reasons to stop.  Find something that motivates you to stay with it at least 95% for about a month.  Do it.  

Do it for future you!

Meredith LyonsComment