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Being Healthy is Not Normal

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The figure is inching upwards. 70 per cent of Americans are overweight or obese.

That’s seven out of ten people walking down the street, not excluding you. It will be three out of four in a decade.

Luckily for my health, I’m not quite American, I’m only Canadian. Canada, the land of fresh air and slightly smaller fountain drink sizes, is marginally better healthwise. Only six out of ten of us are above a healthy weight.

This means, statistically speaking, that in either country it is normal to be fat. I’m honestly not quite sure if I’m part of the four or the six. Either way, as I age, I’m edging toward the fat end.

I always thought I was one of the healthy ones, but just recently it’s dawned on me that I’m not, no matter which side of that 60/40 split I land on. I think most of us who consider ourselves to be of average health are much further from good health than we think.

Why is health the number one concern for so few of us? Why is it normal for everything else to be more important? Good health improves the quality of everything else: your working life, your outlook, your self-esteem, your energy levels, your confidence, and your ability to do just about everything.

I know some people are probably thinking, “Speak for yourself!” You run ten miles a day, eat a strict paleo-diet, do yoga on the beach at 5am and you never take elevators.

I admire you, but you are in a rather slim minority, and you can stop reading now if you like. This post is for everyone else — those of us who do buy vegetables but also have the not-quite-infrequent binge on wings or ice cream. Those of us who have to tell our host to take the bowl of cashews away. Those of us who detect in ourselves a secret joy when we realize we’ve forgotten to bring a lunch to work, and have “no choice” but to get drive-thru. Those of us who are steadily fulfilling the average adult’s fate of gaining one pound a year (maybe two) until we die.

For many of us, getting into good shape is a nagging “should” in our lives that we never really tackle. Life gets in the way. After all, you’re still in okay shape, aren’t you?

Are You Okay?

Just looked in the mirror.
Things aren’t looking so good;
I’m looking California,
And feeling Minnesota.
~Soundgarden, Outshined

I don’t know when it happened but I don’t look good naked anymore. Not to me anyway. But I’m not fat. Not really. Nobody would describe me as overweight. I’m still this, plus ten pounds, minus a bit of muscle.

I’m certainly not in poor health. I am able-bodied and I have nothing abnormal medically going on, as far as I know. Unless I’m unaware of something major, no doctor would say my state of health is anything but “good.”

I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with my turning 30 this Friday, but this week it struck me that while I don’t look all that different, I am feeling myself slow down, just a little. Year by year, some vital element inside me has been gradually deflating. I don’t believe numerical age means a whole lot, but even if it doesn’t, my physiological age seems to be deteriorating in lockstep alongside it.

As I said, this is normal. But maybe normal isn’t okay. Normal is five hours of TV a day. Normal is overweight. I think part of the reason I’ve excused my unhealthiness is because so many people are so much worse. I usually eat tofu sandwiches and a salad for dinner. But I eat some kind of fast food several times a week. Weekly, I drink alcohol “to excess” — like almost everyone else my age.

For years I thought I was safe, because I exercise. Don’t I? At least sometimes I do. I have been in good shape before. Kind of. I picked up my kettlebell not long ago at all. Thursday I think. Definitely better than those people who don’t exercise at all. I am totally better than them.

But better than bad is not necessarily good, and when unhealthy is normal, one has to be much, much sharper than normal in order to be genuinely healthy.

The messages I get from my surroundings are that I am healthy. Public service announcements tell us that if we just park at the opposite end of the parking lot and walk an extra 80 meters a day, we are adopting a healthier lifestyle.

For somebody living a morbidly sedentary lifestyle, this might be a dramatic increase in physical activity.

Question: How many parking-lot-lengths does it take to burn off a single KFC Double Down?

The answer is about 90. With large fries you can double that. Taking the stairs and walking across the car park doesn’t even begin to stop the bleeding for people neglecting their health.

I think many of us could stand to redefine “healthy” for ourselves. Even for a doctor to pronounce you anything but “perfectly healthy,” there has to be something conspicuously wrong. If you gain two pounds a year from here on in, your doctor might mention it in a decade or so, if there are no obvious complications from it. Only if your cholesterol, blood pressure or some other metric is out of whack, is your doctor likely to say you’re anything but healthy.

The Status Quo is Big Trouble

People of all ages read Raptitude, so each may be at a different stage in the game. You could interpret this article as something of a personal rant, but I’m posting it here because I know some of you are exactly where I am. You’ve drifted imperceptibly from high-school fresh to working-world stale. Your twenties are done, and youth is something you have to fight for now.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be rock hard. I want to be cut like Tyler Durden. And I am still young — as of right now peak health is well within reach. But this current course is not taking me there.

This isn’t a matter of vanity. I’ve let everything else in life become more important than achieving outstanding health. Health is life, and that’s no euphemism. I’ve let my health reach mediocre levels under the impression that I am healthy just because most North Americans are even worse.

Until recently, I was okay with maintaining the status quo with respect to my health. But when it comes to health, the status quo is atrocious. The status quo means I am deteriorating from here on in. It means I will never have more energy than I do now.

I don’t like that thought. It’s actually terrifying — in the mirror I can see what will happen if I don’t change course. I’m already starting to look like a paunch-bellied couch potato. I have a nearly unhideable spare tire now. And worst of all: in certain lighting scenarios, I can almost see a hint of man-boob action happening. Me with man boobs! No! This is not happening.

But it is happening. It’s happening because I have convinced myself that being normal, with respect to diet and exercise, is being healthy. In this country, and particularly in the country just south of me, normal is anything but healthy.

How important is your health to you? I’m not telling you what to do — I’m certainly no role model in this department, but I’m curious: if you haven’t made your health a primary concern in your life, why not?


Photo by The Pizza Review

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Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) October 5, 2010 at 3:40 am

Health is the key concept methinks.

I see the oldies that have issues walking, reading, enjoying life and I do not want that for me~ I want to keep hiking (if my joints aren’t moving they will stop, and my stamina along with it), and feeling the wet grass under my feet and the scent of rain hitting forest leaves (if I have diabetes then my sense of touch and smell will go)…etc

Ice cream = paint stripper which hardens my cells; chocolate means death to orangutans and child slavery and all that goes along with it; instant coffee = chemicals that harden my cells. I want to live on the edge of life, taste It~ not illusion.

Recent potential beau~ really good bloke (way too young ~:-) anyways, first thing I said was, No thanks, your diet is crap~ and this temple is hallowed ground. We’re still friends, the ball is in his court now ~:-))

David October 5, 2010 at 6:30 am

Yes, overall health is what’s important to me, not just weight, energy level or any one thing. Getting enough sleep, learning where my food comes from, minimizing my risk of cancer and disease, and examining my reasons for exercising all come into the picture too.

Amy September 18, 2011 at 7:25 am

I agree that overall health is very important to live a long and healthy life, not just to look good.

That being said, I haven’t had one in so long, but that pizza looks mighty tasty :)

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) October 5, 2010 at 3:42 am

…um, beer is bad!!!! no one told me ~:-)

moderation and natural brews

Astrid October 5, 2010 at 3:48 am

Hi David. This a good point to get to. I got to a similar point last year aged 29 and it led me to feeling better now than I ever have. I noticed my peers were starting to look ‘middle-aged’. Ten years of post-work boozing and the kind of diet you have been talking about were taking their tole. I also was looking in the mirror and did not like what I saw. So I decided to cut alcohol from my diet and have become an expert on feeding my body the food it needs to stay healthy and strong. Because I was not an alcoholic I have one drink at weddings/celebrations now and it always tastes amazing. The art of savouring every mouthful of what we consume needs to be rediscovered by our generation.

David October 5, 2010 at 6:32 am

I think I’m at the same place :)

Gerrit October 5, 2010 at 4:57 am

Hi David,

Wonderful post! Love it.

Well, I think it highly depends on what is it that YOU really want. Are you running after an ideal that other people are holding up for you (just turn on the TV, watch the commercials, or look at a lifestyle magazine; then you see how others tell you how you “should” be…) or are you pursuing your own individual goals?

Why so many people are not living very healthy is pretty simple: fatty food and beer simply taste good, and all these stuffs give us quick and short-term satisfaction. In contrast to that, you have to do quite some exercising until you really FEEL the benefits.

However, same as you, I do not want to tell anybody how to live. Personally for me, it all comes down to what makes people happy. People can be very healthy but unhappy, can’t they? People can pursue a healthy lifestyle and keep a strict diet – and still die of cancer in their forties. For myself, I am quite happy with regular exercise but not saying “no” to the little culinary pleasures in life.

I think the most important is to live life the way you want it to be – consciously, and with responsibility. Ultimately, only YOU are making the choice what to do an how to feel. In the end, there is nobody else to be held accountable but you…

Carpe diem.

David October 5, 2010 at 6:35 am

I think part of it is getting over the impression that to be healthy is going to be less fun. I think many of us fear having to eat celery sticks for dinner, when it’s really a matter of spending more time preparing food for ourselves and looking at our habits, and what they’re costing us.

Lisis October 5, 2010 at 6:53 am

I loved this post, D., really. Of course, you already know I’m currently struggling with the effects of being constantly lectured by that slim minority of paleo-diet yogis. I am now convinced that everything I eat is crap, and yet… it’s what I like to eat. They haven’t persuaded me to grow my own food, they’ve only taken the joy out of my current meals. :(

I’m right there with you in terms of relative health (or the appearance thereof). Not high school fresh, but better than most. However, as you’ve pointed out, “better than bad is not necessarily good.” Agreed. But what it takes to be in good health is WAY out of the way of what I find enjoyable, both in terms of diet and how I spend my days.

So… it comes down to what Gerrit is saying: what do YOU really want? I don’t have any particular goals for health, longevity, or vanity. I want to enjoy my present moments, since I may not have many left. What’s the point of living to 85 or 100, and looking fantastic, if I have to give up all the stuff I love, or radically change who I am, to do it? If I make it to 60, in relatively good health, having done *exactly* as I pleased my whole life, I’ll be pretty happy with that.

Obviously, for someone who enjoys tofu and treadmills, good health does not require much sacrifice, but for me it absolutely does. Do I change who I am in favor of what others (society, doctors, etc.) have told me I *should* be?

David October 5, 2010 at 7:07 am

But what it takes to be in good health is WAY out of the way of what I find enjoyable, both in terms of diet and how I spend my days.

I am banking on this not being true. I would bet money I would find life a lot more enjoyable than I already do if I got out of some of my unhealthier habits.

Optimum health is probably not for me. But I want to have more energy than I’ve ever had, and I just don’t believe achieving that will make life worse.

I am not doing this for my doctor or society or anyone else. “What I want” in the moment when there’s a bowl of cashews in front of me is not the same as what I want in the scope of my entire life.

Lisis October 5, 2010 at 9:02 am

I promise you, it’s true. YOU might find your life more enjoyable if you got rid of some of your unhealthier habits, but I’ve pretty much gotten rid of all the vices I wish to purge.

I want to KEEP ice cream, and pizza, and those burgers from the Cider House Pub, and the wings from the Waterbury Reservoir, and Celia’s Pale Ale from The Alchemist… AND I want to spend as much time as possible sitting, reading, and contemplating. I don’t remember the last time I broke a sweat, and I’m OK with that.

What I want for the scope of my entire life is an endless string of enjoyable moments. So, in my case, the bowl of brownies in front of me (I’m not big on cashews) IS in line with my long term goals… keeping in mind, I’m of average build and relatively good health. I practice moderation. I don’t actually feel the need or desire to eat ALL the brownies.

If YOU want more health, you should definitely pursue it. But I don’t think it’s safe to assume we ALL want more health. I’m totally fine with the slightly-above-average health I have right now.

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) October 5, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Lisis~ I make my own ice cream now~ cream from organic store, honey, fruits of choice or oats, stir and freeze. It’s a once in a while thing, so not fretting all that fat sitting in my vessels.

Alex February 27, 2013 at 3:06 am

I think if that is what gives you pleasure, if that’s what you enjoy doing, I completely respect that. There are people that do it for vanity, it’s true, but there are a million reasons why people “sacrifice” themselves to get fitter.

I’m 36, I love being active (NOW), I practice martial arts and bodybuilding, I’m always looking for physical challenges but I don’t deprive myself from tasty food. I don’t eat junk food and I don’t drink alcohol, not for healthy reasons, I simply don’t like it.

But 5 years ago I was a couch potato, always watching TV, movies and playing computer games, etc. Then my son was born and I decided that I couldn’t carry on like that, what kind of role model was I going to be? I want to inspire him to be physically and intellectually active and not one of those kids, I know quite a lot of them, that spend most of their time with a console controller in their hands.

So my reason is my son, not only for the reasons above, but because I want to keep up with him. I want to be able to run, cycle, play sports, etc with him when I’m in my forties instead of being a chubby dad that can’t even run 100 meters.

Obviously I also prefer to look like I do right now compared to 5 years ago. I much more confident, stronger, faster, I have pretty much unlimited energy (which my wife loves for many reasons ;-) ) and I don’t have the need to sit down and have a lazy afternoon ever, because my body doesn’t let me. I’m like an hyperactive kid that needs to burn off all the energy.

I recommend that everybody should find a sport they actually enjoy doing, don’t do it if it feels like a chore, you will quit eventually. I tried a lot of different ones until I discovered Karate, I really enjoy it, it became a lifestyle so there’s no sacrifice, it’s something I look forward to.

But like I said in the beginning, if you enjoy your lifestyle, if you feel good about it, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s all a matter of personal choice in the end.

David October 5, 2010 at 3:56 pm

I guess I want that string of enjoyable moments too, and noticing myself lose my energy and youth is something I can’t bear. You’re right, we all have our own situation, but I think most of us are in denial about the consequences of our lifestyles.

Not that I’m determined to convince you here, but I think I should mention that part of this is not about what I want now, but I think I will wish I would have done by the time I’m sixty or seventy. Thirty or forty more years along my current trajectory is a place I don’t want to be.

nrhatch October 5, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Good point, David

Who we are NOW is a product of what we once wanted:


The choices we make “today” determine the life we will have tomorrow.

Lisis October 5, 2010 at 5:40 pm

So… is there a point at which it’s too late to change? Like, if I continued on this path until I’m 53, and *then* decided I’d like to get in shape… would it be too late? I think we each get to a point at which the incentive to change is greater than the incentive to stay the same. For you, that seems to be at 30. I’m just not quite there yet, I guess.

Jay Schryer October 5, 2010 at 8:11 am

I’m in no shape (Hah) to comment about being healthy, but I just wanted to let you know that my dad is now in the best shape of his entire life. After smoking for most of his life, he quit about 5 years ago. After being slightly overweight for most of his adult life, he recently lost all of his excess fat and added several pounds of muscle. At 67 years old, he is in better shape now than he was when he was 18 and in the Air Force.

He rides horses every day, he works on the farm, he swims in the Summer, and he exercises daily by doing old-fashioned push-ups and sit-ups. He eats incredibly healthily, but he’s fortunate in that he really enjoys healthy food.

So, getting older doesn’t necessarily mean that things have to go downhill.

Lisis October 5, 2010 at 9:05 am

Jay, this is really awesome for your dad, particularly because he has an active lifestyle (living on a farm) and enjoys healthy foods. Sounds like a natural fit for him. :)

David October 5, 2010 at 3:57 pm

That is so awesome. Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean things go downhill, but as I mentioned, my current course is not headed somewhere good.

Lindsay October 5, 2010 at 9:01 am

David, I just turned 30 in July and I’m this post REALLY resounded with me. I am in the exact same boat you are. I’m not happy with it. Do I look skinnier than most North Americans? Evidently I do! But that doesn’t mean I’m healthy.

I’m not in the best shape I can be and I have really stopped exercising over the past couple of months. I figure I’m doing okay because I “look” good compared to others, but I don’t any more when I stand in front of the mirror naked.

Thanks for this post. It gave me a kick in my (increasingly flabby) ass to get off the couch in the evenings and start exercising again.

David October 5, 2010 at 4:00 pm

I’m glad it resonated with you, Lindsay. I think the big 3-0 has something to do with taking a look at where we’re headed. That “I’m not so bad, because others are worse” pattern is probably pretty common for people our age.

Melinda October 5, 2010 at 10:04 am

Great post! A lot of your views on health in America coincide with what wellness experts have been saying for years. More and more people are becoming aware of health as being more than just weight issues or cholesterol issues. Individuals are waking up to achieve WELLNESS as being the main goal, not just being “healthy.”

I am actually currently a certified Personal Wellness Coach who gives free nutrition courses in my community. Nutrition is a HUGE factor in balancing the body. I am very aware of the status quo and being healthy is definitely not normal. It is not surprising for me to hear someone compare themselves to the much unhealthier side of the population. Your health is your responsibility and you are your best guru. How you feel INSIDE your body is what matters. I would advise no one to ever compare themselves to ANYONE. So I say health is part of wellness, which everyone should strive for because it is a balance of the whole Self.

Everyone is capable of having boundless energy and being at their ideal weight, at any age. It’s all about choices, action, accountability, and support.

If anyone needs some nutritional advice, I’m available! Educating is my main purpose. E-mail: melinda4wellness@hotmail.com.

Oh, and by the way.. food is our GREATEST ALLY!

David October 5, 2010 at 4:03 pm

I have always been focused on my mental health, and I suppose that’s because my mental health hit rock bottom pretty early on. But I’m just starting to see where I’m headed physically, and I got a jolt thinking about it. Both sides are essential.

nrhatch October 5, 2010 at 10:26 am

Great post . . . but that pizza sure looks good. 8)

We have HEALTHY pizza dinners ~ filling 3/4 of our plate with fruits and veggies and savoring every bite of the pizza (instead of inhaling 2-3 slices of pie while guzzling beer)

Drew Tkac October 5, 2010 at 11:15 am

Humans have evolved to seek pleasure. When you think about it, it’s what keeps us going as a species. Would we really procreate if sex was not enjoyable? Would we continue to eat if eating was not enjoyable? These activities stimulate our dopamine receptors in our brain and create a pleasurable feeling.

Studies have been done on rats where the rat pushes a button and gets a direct dopamine stimulation. The rat never did anything else and eventually starved to death even though food was available.

Fortunately eating and sex are not the only activities that stimulate dopamine. Exercise does as well. The secret is finding an exercise or physical activity that is right for us and getting pleasure from it. Explore!

I am 55 years old, 175 lbs and 6 ft tall. I have been at this weight since high school. In my twenties I hated running. Jogging, even with headphones on and my favorite rock songs playing, was too boring. But there was a great feeling that overtook me during and after a jog. So I kept looking for some activity that would disguise running.

After much searching, I found I enjoyed tennis. The social interaction, the thrill of the competition and oh yes, there was running. The feeling after a hard match or even an intense practice session was great. Peaceful, euphoric, mentally and emotionally calming. I love the feeling of going up to serve, my cap is drenched with sweat. So much so that when I duck my head slightly the sweat drips off the bill and makes rain drops on the court. I feel totally present. Nothing else matters at this time. Twenty two years later I still play tennis.

I also enjoy bicycling. It is easy on your joints, low impact, and very peaceful to just get out on your bicycle and push yourself until the sweat rolls of your body, your heart is pumping, you can hear the rhythm of your breath synchronized with your pedal strokes. When your riding you are the bike, you are the moment. With a feeling like this what could be better!

These are the physical activities that I enjoy and the effect they have on me. The secret is to find the ones that you enjoy. The ones that make you euphoric. They do exist, keep searching. Sweat every day! That’s the rule.

So, in my mind, this is a matter of choosing your pleasure. Do you want to get pleasure from eating unhealthy food or do you want to get pleasure from physical activities? It’s your choice.

But exercise is not enough.

A few weeks ago I was competing at a local tennis tournament. I had the pleasure of talking with a food scientist from the University Of Arkansas who grew up in France. There are not many fat French people, yet they consume rich foods, meat and lots of wine. So I asked him what was the difference between the US and France. His answer was the food culture.

In the US, and Canada, the food culture has become that of large-cheep-fast food. In France the culture is good quality food with recipes that have been passed down through the generations. A true Frenchman would would be ostracized from the French society if he ate a Big Mac. He said that the obesity problem in the US and Canada will not change until this food culture changes. So we are responsible for changing this culture, starting with ourselves.

There is more to this story however. Food corporations, and companies like Wall-Mart, have either created this large-cheap-fast food culture or they are exploiting it. Either way the result is fat people. Salt, sugar and fat are the three ingredients that we become addicted to. These ingredients are also very-very cheap. The food companies can create a product with these ingredients, package it with a fancy label, slap on a sexy name, and create an advertisement that appeals to our inner lust and the profits are off the charts. In the end it is just sugar, salt and fat.

Our only way to fight this is with education. We must know about the food we eat. It is our body, don’t you want to put the best stuff in your body as possible! Take the time to know food. A real good place to start is with Michael Pollan’s book “Food Rules” An Eater’s Manual.

Here is a link to his website:


This book is required reading if we want to improve what we eat and change the large-cheap-fast food culture.

Pollan also has many You Tube pod casts. He is a good writer and and entertaining speaker. Check him out.

A final warning. I have found from experience that eating better will not be easy to do. Anytime you go against the prevailing culture you are in for a fight. So be ready. Here are a few tips I have from personal experience:

1) Your friends will fight you and try to influence you not to change. Remember, they are a part of this current large-cheap-fast food culture. It does not make them bad, just unaware. Stand your ground or find different friends.

2) Because the better foods are not easy to get, I end up going to four different food stores to get good ingredients. I have to drive 40 miles to get the organic fresh food from a natural food store. There are no restaurants here that make healthy food. So I must take the time to cook the food and find good recipes.

3) Be ready for an evolutionary process, over years, to eat better. It must start with the acknowledgment that the way “normal” people eat is not natural, is corporation driven, and is just plain unhealthy.

4) Make a commitment to do better, everyday. Even if it is just one thing like cutting out sugar soda.

5) Get Michael Pollan’s book and follow his guidelines. They are simple and easy to remember.

6) Budget more money for good food. Good food is expensive and worth it.

7) Take one step now. Just start.

I hope this helps. It is my first hand story that I hope others can relate to. Good luck on your journey!


David October 6, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Great post Drew, I appreciate it very much. I will take your advice.

I did do an experiment (#4) on defensive eating, and the biggest revelation for me was how much pressure there is to eat poorly. It is really hard to hold your own course when it comes to eating. The pressure comes from friends, cultural customs (such as when everyone at work goes out for a greasy breakfast… do you just have black coffee while they eat bacon and eggs?) I will prepare for these pressures.

Nate January 27, 2011 at 4:13 pm

From my understanding of the ‘paleo’ diet, bacon and eggs would be in the ‘healthy-ish’ category since its mostly unprocessed animal product. It’s the orange juice, toast and hash browns that’d be the culprit in that meal!

Chris September 13, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Yes, bacon and eggs are great for losing fat. Get rid of the sugar and grains and go paleo. Best decision I have ever made.

shaun October 5, 2010 at 11:21 am

The flip side of the coin is that the images the media show us of ‘healthy’ people are often unrealistic and almost unattainable by those of us who can’t revolve our whole lives around getting ripped. The picture of brad pitt during fight club is a classic example. His body fat percentage during filming was 5%, which is unsustainable, even for him. 3% is the physiological minimum for a young male to function, and that goes up with age, and is also higher for women. Most of the people you will see on the cover of men’s health magazines have severely dehydrated themselves to look more defined for the photo, and have been touched up with photoshop.
I totally agree that we should be in the best health possible, and getting in shape is a great goal. However with an unrealistic conception of what healthy looks like, its easy to fall into the same trap as teenage girls thinking they should look like the anorexic models they see in cosmo.

David October 6, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Yes, definitely. Don’t get hung up on the Tyler Durden reference though; I’m not looking for 5% bodyfat. As you probably know, Tyler Durden is a symbol for the person the Narrator wants to be.

Fitness magazines are crap, and that is not the ideal I’m shooting for. My motivation here is related to how I’ve been feeling, particularly my energy levels. I don’t feel great, and I want to.

Kevin M October 5, 2010 at 11:55 am

I find myself slowing drifting toward unhealthy habits too – more caffeine, more fast food – since having our second baby in June. This is a good reminder to start drifting the other way, so I can be a strong, healthy Dad for my kids and be there a long time for them. I need to start reading up and figure out a game plan.

Are you still doing the kettlebells? Any recommendations on blogs or websites I could check out for a good workout?

David October 6, 2010 at 8:32 pm

I’ve been doing kettlebells intermittently, but I haven’t been working out consistently for almost two months. Dragondoor.com is kind of like kettlebell central on the web, but it isn’t the only source. Do some Googling.

Ethan October 5, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Ahhh…. this, too, is something I have been grappling with much of my life. I have never been completely healthy, as in not obese or anything else, buti was born a hefty baby and always remained on the “husky” side of the weight curve. I don’t think I’ve ever hit true obesity, but I’ve always been concerned that I don’t do enough to maintain good health. I feel as my problem is essentially of my own making. I want to eat healthier, exercise, and “become healthy” but, currently, I live with my parents, I do not buy my own food, and besides my own desire to become healthy, everything else is the same.
I think it goes back to your post about habit change, but revolves around my own ability to be independent. If I got a job and a car, I could possibly move in with my grandmother, who lives a much healthier lifestyle. Not only that, but I think that if I changed my scenery it would be easier to change my habits. It’s hard to make significant changes when, as you say, the status quo is pretty much alright. I need to initiate the change since I am the one who recognizes that my current status quo is NOT okay regarding my physical health.
Ironically, I think most of my life up to this point has been focusing on finding a way to stay mentally healthy in a world where well, shit happens lol. Now that I think I can come to terms with life, reality, etc, on most levels, I think it’s time to work on my own independence, which also includes my ability to take care of myself not just mentally as I have been, but physically as well which I have been neglecting.
Great post!

P.S. – I am currently working on constructing an essay that contains my philosophical understanding of reality. It is essentially the culmination of all those earlier years trying to become mentally healthy by coming to terms with existence. It’s heavy stuff, and possibly a little ambitious an undertaking for me, but if it turns out well I’d like you to read it and for you to share your thoughts on it, if possible. Raptitude helped me form this idea in the first place, so I think you would like it, if I can manage to make it clear enough to comprehend lol. Anyways, looking forward to your next post as always!

David October 6, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Mental health is still number one, IMHO! I’m learning that there is no chance of adopting a healthy lifestyle if I don’t take care of my mind. That means getting enough sleep, addressing the worst of my thinking habits, and more.

Do what you can with what you have.

Brenda (betaphi) October 5, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Of course, genetics plays a role in size as do diet and exercise, but for me thought plays the most significant role in the shape we take. In my twenties I read a book entitled Think Thin, which persuaded me to hold in mind at all times the size and shape I wanted to be. At 60 I still have the body I had in my twenties, minus a small infraction caused by two C-sections. The flat chest I so despised in my youth has proved to be a great asset as I’ve aged. If we are in fact more spirit than flesh, more thought than thing, then thought must see its fleshly counterpart as something beautiful, not something to be condemned. Hold this thought: I am thin, healthy, and beautiful.

David October 6, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Yes, I agree. This has been an emerging theme in the comments: mental and physical health reflect and determine each other. For me it is not so much about my shape (thought it is partly) but rather about how healthy I feel.

Daily Success Place October 5, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I definitely agree that physical health improves every other part of health and life.

I have my parents to thank for many of my physical activity habits. Sports was something our parents always encouraged and enrolled my brother, sister and I into doing when we were young. Because of the habits I formed (thanks to them) early in my life, it’s been easier to maintain a lifestyle of physical activity since.

David October 6, 2010 at 8:38 pm

That’s how I’m thinking of it: physical health makes everything else easier. It’s offers an unbeatable ROI — I can’t pass it up.

mike October 5, 2010 at 7:41 pm

… enterprise capitalism can often have collateral damage …Food advertising and the promotion of excess consumption have had a direct impact on your eating/drinking habits..after all..that WAS the intention…in other words we’ve been programed..programed to eat when we’re not hungry and programed to eat in excess when we are hungry..we are targeted daily with these signals through every concievable channel..overt techniques of thought “inception” designed to make you want food regardless of being hungry or not..in truth most of us are losing touch with our body’s hunger response because STAYING full in some degree is the new normal thanks to marketing. $$

Astrid October 6, 2010 at 5:49 am

Hi Mike, I agree with much of you point here. But marketing is only marketing. We still have good sense, free will and determination. The marketing of processed food is bad, bad, bad in many ways, but ultimately we have the choice and (almost universally in western society) we have access to so many wonderful fresh ingredients. There is a lot of good information out there too – I feel you might be giving those marketeers too much credit, they only have an effect if we let them. And you seem too intelligent to let that happen. In the end it’s always up to the indivdual.

David October 6, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I think you are right on the money, and I believe marketing is the primary driving force behind the unhealthy culture we live in. It is not profitable to have people take care of themselves. When people feel down and needy, they buy. I believe it is all very calculated, and isn’t just a side-effect of capitalism.

Aaron October 5, 2010 at 10:35 pm

I did p90x and got good results. It changed my body and how I exercise. However, the work it took to do it was unreasonable. I wake up too early every day as it is to get to work, work all day, and come how and workout to physical failure. I did this for 3 months and followed the diet to the tee. But what kind of life is that? It’s no life at all. I did not have time to do any of my other hobbies at all. Preparing the proper meals and grocery shopping is time consuming. I noticed by the end that my mental clarity was decreased, probably from over training. For me, working out that hard ALL the time is what it would take to get chiseled, and for me it isn’t worth it at all. If I didn’t have to work, sure I would put more into it. The people who do those videos for a living literally do not work all day like most people. They are wealthy millionaires who get taped exercising before they go sailing or whatever the hell they do all day.

So now it is just moderation for me. 20 minutes of intense exercise using a stopwatch. If I need a break I stop the watch. I can’t build much muscle this way. But P90x was about an hour twenty minutes a day. Then cooking, cleaning and being a pile of exhausted uselessness for the rest of the evening until the next day when it all started over again. As long as you have to go to work all day, forget it. Just exercise moderately.

David October 6, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Happy middle ground is the key I guess. Since I’ve discovered kettlebells I can no longer cite time shortages as an excuse not to exercise. Twelve minutes of intense kettlebell work can destroy me. I never need to do much more than that.

Adam October 6, 2010 at 2:21 pm

I guess much of our plans revolve around feelings we’re unwilling to experience.

Nate October 6, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Great post. I was expecting common blog fluff drivel after reading the headline and was reminded of the quality of your writing. I’m in that same place too. 32, look healthy to most people, but know I am not. In high school I was 150lbs and running 17 minute 5k’s. Now I’m happy if I can break 21minutes at 180lbs. This would be acceptable only if I didn’t know that I’ve buried my potential under fat, laziness, and lowered standards. I had a lot simpler life back then and more free time to work out but it is still no excuse for choosing lethargic activities and fattening foods. Thanks for the kick in the rear.

Meg October 6, 2010 at 5:48 pm

A thoughtful post, and the topic is one I deal with all the time. Like Drew I am 55 and eating much differently in the past few years than what is commonly done by most Americans.

David, look to your family members to see what problems they developed over the years. Many problems are hereditary, such as cholesterol, heart disease, and arthritis. You can take measures now to either prevent such problems or to at least make them less severe if they should occur. 30 is the perfect age because you’re finally old enough to believe you won’t live forever.

Processed food spoils our taste for natural foods, especially vegetables. The nose-dive our blood sugar takes at the end of the working day after having had a lousy lunch makes it hard to bother with proper cooking at home, which in turn makes us even more vulnerable to fast food and pizza. It’s a hard trap to break out of.

But you can do it!

David October 6, 2010 at 8:46 pm

There seems to be something of a food-consciousness movement going on, and I’m glad. More people want to know where their food comes from, and what it does to them. The more “normal” that gets, the more support there will be for it and the easier it will be.

Thanks Meg.

gustavo October 7, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Hi David,

This is still a very good quality article. I’m saying this because I suspected your writings were going to suffer since you took that corporation job, but Na. You’re still good.


Drew Tkac October 7, 2010 at 12:31 pm

You may find this article interesting. It is about France vs US food.


Nitpicker October 8, 2010 at 1:57 am

Not quite, David. It ain’t NORMAL to be obese. not at all. What it is is (unfortunately) USUAL. And the two aren’t the same at all. Normal ain’t usual, and usual ain’t normal.

Nitpicking, amn’t I?

Not really. These small semantics make a HUGE difference in how we think. NORMAL to us generally reads acceptable, right, fine (perhaps not the best one can be, but it’s fine). USUAL, on the other hand, carries no such connotation — or at least, perhaps it does a bit, but far less than NORMAL.

And this small difference can be HUGELY important.

Back in 1940, Hans Gottimhimmel may have found it very usual to pack away four Js to Gott im Himmel in a week. However, unless his moral compass was totally awry, he would surely not have found it remotely normal.

See where I’m leading?

[Actually I realize you used that word in jest, David, as a sort of straw man, but I logged in to say this nevertheless because this — if taken at the face value of the sentence (“Fat is normal.”) — gives us a perfect example how lazy thinking about apparently unimportant things like hair-splitting semantics sometimes can have a really HUGE impact on how we act and lead our leaves.]

Another example, this time on the heavy side (but readers of this blog should by now be at home with that): it’s USUAL to identify ourselves with our ego, but it ain’t NORMAL it all. It’s only apparently normal. In actual fact, it’s psychotic. Just because every Dick, Nick and Rick seems to think that way doesn’t make it normal at all. (;-))

Picking my own nits October 8, 2010 at 2:36 am

On second thoughts…

Normal comes from norm (or at least, they’re related I’m sure), and norm simply means norm. So am I wrong?

I don’t know, to me Normal carries the connotation of being “right”, or being “natural”, as well as being the norm.

The obvious way out is to look at a dictionary. But I’m too lazy for that! And I hate dictionaries!

David October 8, 2010 at 7:04 am

Yeah I have to agree with where you disagreed with yourself. Being fat is normal. Normal is what’s normal, not what’s good or bad.

Back picking nits October 11, 2010 at 9:44 am


You’re health-conscious, in fact you’re fairly (if not overly) healthy too. And that means, my friend, that you are abnormal, while I, admittedly obese though I am, am normal. Somehow that does not sound right, does it? You see what I mean? I’m sure you like being called healthy and fit, but I doubt very much you enjoy being called abnormal. Which means that word MUST have value connotations. And if Abnormal does, so much Normal.

If the next couple of days or so doesn’t clear this up (I log in on your column around twice a week on average, ain’t that cool), I swear, perfectly normal person though I am, I’ll go b*** f*** abnormal, and go check out a dictionary after all (if only online).

Emily October 12, 2010 at 3:55 am

Hi David! Great post. I’m not quite where you’re at in life, but this post came at a great time in mine.
I just started college a couple months ago- and of course you know what that means: the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen”. I thought it wouldn’t get to me, but reading your post, I stopped. Here I am, at four in the morning, and I am drinking my second Coke in as many hours. Why? Surely I could have written this speech at a healthy time of day, right? Or at least skipped the second (if not the first) soda?
Ugh. I’m fully aware that I’ve already put on the first two pounds; I guess it’s time to fix my habits. It was sort of the punch in the face that I needed.

Paramjit October 12, 2010 at 9:54 am

If you have been exercising and taking care of your self, there does come a point in life where everyone seems to be aging at an accelerated rate before your eyes. I feel that now. But the standard is so low. As you have said, we are comparing ourselves with bad. When the standard is that low, there could be a tendency to slacken. We need greater benchmarks to compare against. One such benchmark could be Jack Lalanne.

David October 13, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Jack Lalanne blows my mind. He’s 96 and almost certainly in better shape than I am.

G October 19, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Bleh, it makes sense to not become obese and sick if you can help it but it’s not necessary to fuss like this David – you will get old and die sooner or later. Can you not just be satisfied that you’re not one of the fatties? Do you have to be an athlete on top of everything else? A little extra fat doesn’t really mean you are unattractive and unhealthy – that sounds like body dysmorphia or something. I used to be ripped like a Marine and I still wasn’t happy with my body – you can develop an unhealthy ‘healthy obssession’.

Exercise is just like brushing your teeth and sweeping your floor – it’s no big deal; you do it while you’re alive and able and age WILL steal away your capabilities eventually. We can’t all be Jack Lalanne, and Jack is not what he used to be anyway. He’s certainly an inspiring model of what is possible though. I do a short, intense weekly workout and don’t obssess like I used to; I appreciate that I am no longer totally out of shape like I was for a while there, and I am not desperate for every extra ounce of muscle like I was in my early 20s.

Sometimes Americans appeal to this ‘Paleo’ ideal of what ‘natural’ man ought to look like, but ‘natural’ people in ancient cultures everywhere have a variety of builds both as individuals and as ethnic groups. And it is common for these ‘natural’ men to run to fat in middle-age. They are not fit like the young men, but they are still physically active and skilled. They are married fathers and less concerned with vanity than preening Westerners who seek some kind of perfection or immortality.

Tristan November 22, 2010 at 7:12 pm

David, based on this website thing you’ve got going on here, I’m going to say that you’re into deep thinking. Maybe you should approach exercise and diet with this in mind. It is clearly one of your greatest strengths. I believe that exercise is, if approached properly, a form of meditation. When you pay close attention to your body and the way that it interacts with the terrain below and the foods you eat, you might find some things obvious that were not at all clear before.

I think the best place to start is by taking off the headphones, taking off your shoes and running around the block a couple of times (Yes, barefoot. Yes, there might be glass. Don’t step on it, thats why you’ve got eyes…). From there it is a very personal journey that essentially boils down to learning to communicate with your body. How can you tell what your body wants from you? How can you get what you want from your body? These are two of the most challenging and rewarding questions one can ever ask. Unfortunately, most people in our culture never put much effort into asking them.

Two must-read books if you’re looking for a place to get started in rebuilding your relationship with food and exercise:

1. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall – I know this one is getting awfully trendy right now and that might make it seem like useless entertainment. Its not useless. It is entertaining. Running, in my opinion, is central to all human athletic endeavors. It requires strength, quickness, balance and even intelligence. Furthermore, it is extremely enjoyable and good for you. This book will, at the very least, get you excited about running. It may also shatter your beliefs about modern Western running philosophy and all the products that go along with it. Spoiler alert: our bodies are actually quite well adapted to running at it and it shouldn’t hurt.

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, PhD – If this book doesn’t make you not want the eggs and bacon, you will at least finish it with a clear idea of what food you should be eating as a human being who, presumably, does not want a bunch of diseases or a lack of energy. I really think that one of the most difficult parts of eating well is the lack of a clear picture of what eating well even means. By now you can probably think of a reason not to eat just about anything, so how can you even begin to change your diet? How should it even be changed? I don’t think that there is a better source of information about how different foods affect your body. It is based on extensive, reputable scientific research, presented as honestly and thoughtfully as the general public will find it. Coincidentally, “Veganomican” is a fantastic vegan cookbook ;)

With this book as a foundation, you can begin to take the same thoughtful approach to eating. Once your diet is relatively clean, identifying the foods your body wants comes naturally. You eat something, then you spend some time listening to your body, honestly analyzing how the food made it feel. Again, you will likely be learning a new language here. I suggest this approach specifically because I think you might turn out to be quite good at it.

Mateus Caruccio January 27, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I’m from south america, and here we are going straight to the same place you from north are right now. I see tons of fat and bad food habits taking control on all society. In Brazil, food is cheap. Really cheap. Nobody takes it’s own lunch to work. We eat in restaurants. What is expensive is fast-food, until now. Fast-food is spreading everywhere. And it’s becoming cheaper. For you to have an idea, the money spent on a McDonalds #1 combo (bic mac, big fries and soda) one could lunch twice (rice, black beans, fries, meat, egg and salad, a common menu choice).

People always complain about healthy food is expensive, but it is not! Is much more expensive to treat all acquired diseases than eat right.

Like you said, this leads me to a simple conclusion: we are getting unhealthier so we can be controllable. That is it, we are dead meat.

*Sorry my poor english. This post makes me hungry, and I can’t clearly think on low glucose :)

David January 28, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Hi Mateus. It sounds like here in Canada the trend has been growing for a lot longer than in Brazil. We have a very strong American influence here. But there is a noticeable difference when you go from Canada to the states.

People do often say healthy food is too expensive, and I think that’s a lame excuse. I think people are just used to paying so little for crappy food that when they consider buying real food, they are surprised that it costs money.

Chris Williams January 27, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Funny that you mention your age (30) and how you feel like you’re normal, yet normal is now stretched so far out of whack that normal no longer equals physically healthy. I’m coming up on my 30th this year and in anticipation I decided to take stock and start doing something about it. I joined a gym and started tracking what I eat, my weight, and my body fat last year and I’ve been keeping it up so far. I even created a website to track it: http://betterfitterhappier.com
Hopefully other people will find it a useful (free) tool to keep their health as a priority as well.

Evgeny January 27, 2011 at 6:42 pm

To whoever has mentioned “The China Study” earlier, you may be interested to see the different sides of the story. There was a brilliant critique of the book based on the raw data gathered by the Dr. Colin Campbell himself.

Here’s the url

It’s a long read and it has a lot of numbers, but even if you just skip the numbers and only look at the graphs, you’ll see the idea. As a quick spoiler, I’ll quote part of the conclusion:

“In sum, “The China Study” is a compelling collection of carefully chosen data. Unfortunately for both health seekers and the scientific community, Campbell appears to exclude relevant information when it indicts plant foods as causative of disease, or when it shows potential benefits for animal products. This presents readers with a strongly misleading interpretation of the original China Study data, as well as a slanted perspective of nutritional research from other arenas (including some that Campbell himself conducted).

In rebuttals to previous criticism on “The China Study,” Campbell seems to use his curriculum vitae as reason his word should be trusted above that of his critics. […]

It’s no surprise “The China Study” has been so widely embraced within the vegan and vegetarian community: It says point-blank what any vegan wants to hear—that there’s scientific rationale for avoiding all animal foods. That even small amounts of animal protein are harmful. […] Hopefully this critique has shed some light on the book’s problems and will lead others to examine the data for themselves.”

Take it with the grain of salt, though.

Tobi February 21, 2011 at 7:33 pm

My grandma is a wonderful role model for this kind of thing. She took care of herself all her life and at 89 she acts like she’s in her 60’s (maybe early 70’s). She gets around, she drives, she goes out and doesn’t seem to be anywhere near a retirement home despite being about 10 years short of living a century. And it’s been so amazing having her around all this time and seeing her around in the future. That’s how I want to be at 89!

B H Ingalls February 24, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Recommend reading (and then following the advice) “Younger Next Year” byChris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge

Steph Mario June 8, 2012 at 1:16 am

The increasing variety of greasy but very tasty food make most people opt for unhealthier choices. Nowadays it really takes a lot of effort, determination, and consistency to live healthily.

John February 5, 2013 at 7:00 am

Excellent post, thanks for your hard work in putting together the articles on this site!

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