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.

For years -- OK, decades -- I wasn't just meat-free. I also abstained from protein, fruits and vegetables and suffered from frequent running injuries. My diet was pathetic, but I had no clue how to change my habits.

The boyfriend, who later married me anyway, ultimately taught me a valuable lesson in healthy living: Seek help from others.

I know I was fortunate; my husband cooked our meals. 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. Following a few simple principles may help you start down the road to wellness:

The moment before you begin is 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 non-negotiable part of my daily routine; once you start blowing it off, it's much more difficult 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 so torturous 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 leaves less room for fatty, sweet and salty food -- and cook more of your meals. If you're sedentary, walk before you advance to running. Once you've established a routine, walk faster or longer. Change will happen only if you push yourself.


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," not "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.