From the time I was six years old, my after school snack was a coke and a Snickers bar. Growing up, It was common for homes I visited for play dates to have candy bowls on the counter. My friends loved coming to my house so they could snack on the treats my family kept in steady supply. This diet seemed to be the norm for me and my friends. We all drank the soda pops, ate candy bars, and other sugary treats. But the thing was, I thought I was healthy. I wasn’t overweight as a boy. I was athletic and stayed very active.
For breakfast, I ate a sugary cereal, something like Cocoa Puffs or Captain Crunch or Frosted Flakes. If I did eat a healthier cereal like Cheerios, I added sugar. I loved slurping up that last bit of sweet milk, then I washed it down with high-fructose juice, like Hi-C or Fruit Juicy Hawaiian Punch. Often I added a sugary pastry with frosting. Those sure tasted good.
My family ate most lunches together. Since I grew up in a small town, my siblings and I were able to come home from school for lunch and my dad would meet us at home for lunch too. I felt like we had the all-American family. We usually had processed deli meats for lunch with American cheese, Wonder bread, and canned soup. Maybe some canned sugary fruit like mandarin oranges. I’d drink a big glass of milk and many times I’d add chocolate syrup to make yummy chocolate milk. We’d usually finish our lunch with store bought packaged cookies such as Oreos or Keeblers.
Dinner was a mixed bag. Sometimes we’d have a good home cooked meal with whole foods. Things like a roast beef with mashed potatoes and veggies, but often it was frozen pizzas and dinners. We’d always have some sort of dessert such as ice cream with syrup or pie. Almost every Sunday my dad would grill steaks on a charcoal grill.
My own pattern of consuming bad ingredients continued well into my adult years. I ate lots of greasy burgers and fries, shakes, pizza, chicken wings, things like that. After I received my engineering degree from the University of Minnesota, I started working in the corporate world. I worked a lot of hours and fueled myself on caffeine and sugar. I had a coffee maker with a timer. I had the timer on the coffee maker set to start as soon as my alarm went off. The first thing I did each morning was stumble to the kitchen to pour myself a “cup of ambition”.
Breakfast consisted of more sugary treats. Coffee with cream and sugar. Sugary cereal and juice. Then I’d rush out of the house to a job I was not really excited to get to. I’d fill my travel mug with coffee and be off to battle rush hour traffic.
After battling the commute the first thing I’d do at the office was to top off my coffee.
In my desk, I’d stock some snacks such as energy bars which had lots of sugar in case I couldn’t find any donuts. I’d continue with the coffee and then start thinking about lunch. Sometimes I’d bring a lunch, maybe leftovers from the previous night. Otherwise, I was going out, which many times was a buffet. I remember stuffing myself at the buffets and washing the food down with a soft drink and sweet dessert. I’d go back to the office and have good energy for a short time while my food digested but soon after I crashed hard. I remember sitting at my desk craving a nap. If I could only get a short nap I’d be good for the rest of the afternoon. I remember driving to an afternoon meeting and feeling so tired that I’d pull into a convenience store and get yet another sugary coffee or soft drink. As I sat in meetings I could barely keep my eyes open.
Usually, I belonged to a fitness facility so I had a decent level of physical activity, but my weight fluctuated depending on when I increased the exercise routine. My diet consisted of a mix of frozen foods that I cooked at home or from restaurants including a lot of fast food.
As I was getting closer to 50, I began to contemplate how it was that not only my father died of cancer at 60, but my younger sister died of it at 35 after which I lost two young nieces to childhood leukemia. I had an inkling that I couldn’t depend on standard medicine and conventional treatments for cancer to save me and I wanted to learn everything I could about health to preempt this horrible disease that I worried I was fueling with simple, refined carbohydrates.
As I researched cancer-prevention and foods it came to me that functional medicine is critical in my quest for a long and healthy life. Though I was conditioned to eat out a lot, I began adding nutrient-rich foods to my diet, one little bit at a time.
I slowly but surely was giving up my inconsistent and toxic habits. I didn’t really understand how to prepare and store foods, so I began reading about the value of various foods and what makes them palatable and nutritious.
Then in 2013, a good friend told me about a highly regarded nutrition school
that had recently launched an online program. At that time, in the dead of winter, I was working in western North Dakota as a civil engineer. I decided to sign up for the program without any expectation except to become more informed about nutrition, using my evenings and weekends to study food and health. The impact the program had on me was amazing from the outset. After a few weeks of eating whole foods and cooking for myself, I noticed my pants were feeling loose—that I was shrinking into a better and more fit me. I bought a fresh battery for my scale and, though I didn’t realize it immediately, I was on my way. After a month I had lost twenty pounds, then after another month, forty pounds. For two years I maintained the weight loss, but I wanted to be stronger and add muscle. I updated my physical fitness routine by adding more weight lifting and increased my food intake. Ultimately, I reset my metabolism and I’m able to sustain healthy habits while I teach others how to do the same. Today, I’m a health-crazed consultant and trainer.
My transition into buying whole foods and cooking them in ways that retain nutrition has transformed me. I went from not knowing how to cook anything to developing methods of selecting, storing and preparing foods through basic cooking skills. I learned a lot by trial and error, and as I learned, I felt I was giving myself a chance at my dream for a long fruitful life.
By eating clean, whole foods and staying physically active, my whole life is becoming what I always envisioned. I’m still doing civil engineering but my role is one that I truly enjoy. Since I enjoy people, I’ve taken on business development roles where I meet with clients and potential clients. I also do project management, allowing me to mentor junior engineers. I’m also developing my health coaching and personal training as a service so I can share my knowledge of a healthy lifestyle with others to help them get on the path to the life they always imagined. I’m also living in the place I’ve always wanted to live in, Boulder, Colorado. I’m in a relationship with the lady of my dreams, I feel better physically than I ever have, and my life is on the right path.
It doesn’t matter which step we are on for a healthy lifestyle, the important thing is to be on that path. Just get up and move, eat a whole food, something without an ingredient label, think about things you're grateful for, take the time to breathe, get out in nature, rest, share your knowledge with others. It’s being on the path.
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