I used to think I was healthy because I ran marathons and was a longtime vegetarian. Then one day, the man I was dating looked in my refrigerator. "Where's all your food?" he said.
The boyfriend, who later married me anyway, ultimately taught me a valuable lesson in healthy living: Seek help from others. I was fortunate; my husband cooked. He regularly ate things like spinach, eggplant, beets and quinoa. He never drank soda. And when I discovered that eating colorful fruits, vegetables and legumes made me feel better, I was hooked.
You've heard it a million times: Exercise and diet are the keys to good health. But pulling it all together can feel overwhelming. When you're not in shape, working out is painful and joyless. Maybe you're not a runner or dislike the gym because you don't know what to do when you get there. And even though you'll supposedly feel great afterward, you never do.
Eating healthy food, meanwhile, often requires deciphering convoluted food labels, cooking or packing your own meals, giving up sweet addictions and forgoing convenient options.
If you have a support system, however — whether it's a spouse, personal trainer, registered dietitian or iPhone app — it helps create motivation and accountability, which many of us need when we're getting started. Most of the big changes or health decisions I've made in my life were inspired by friends, family, yoga instructors or others with an interest in wellness.
My way, of course, isn't necessarily the right path for anyone else; we all have different bodies, life circumstances and goals. I can't follow aerobics teachers and thrive on competition. You may love Zumba and prefer walking with a friend. But following a few simple principles may help you start down the road to wellness.
The moment before you begin is always the hardest. Once you get inside the gym — or haul yourself out of bed — the workout will happen. You will have good days and bad days, but you will never regret making the effort.
Be consistent. Exercise is a nonnegotiable part of my daily routine; once you start blowing it off, it's much harder to start again. Fitness is surprisingly easy to lose; it requires a regular investment. It won't happen overnight, but eventually you reach a threshold where exercise stops feeling like torture and starts transforming every aspect of your life. But you have to commit to consistency.
Set specific, manageable goals. Write down a daily goal and a long-term goal. Tell others. Post it on Facebook. If you're a gym-goer, always walk in with a specific workout in mind or in your hand.
Take baby steps. Drink more water, incorporate more fruits and vegetables — this will leave less room for fatty, sweet and salty food — and cook more of your own meals. If you're sedentary, try walking before you advance to running.
Pick several activities you like. You'll be more likely to stick to something you enjoy doing. And variety will keep things fresh and give you options if you get injured or bored. I used to dread swimming until I found it was the only exercise I could do while running injuries were healing. Swimming led to triathlon, and triathlon improved my relationship with food as I realized my body needed better fuel. That was when fitness became a lifestyle.
Think "movement" rather than "workout." Exercise doesn't have to happen in a gym. I often sneak body-weight movements into my day, which saves time and takes the pressure off getting to a health club. I also take the stairs and walk or bike when I could drive. In the kitchen, I might do 15 push-ups while waiting to flip the pancakes.