Finding things that bring you joy will also bring good health.
Over the years of childbearing and the inevitable battle-of-the-baby-bulge, I’ve learned one key thing about people who seem effortlessly healthy: what I often perceive as lack of effort is actually lack of stress. Simply put, healthy people stress way less about being healthy than unhealthy people do.
I’ll never forget the text I got from my husband from a taekwondo tournament a few months after we joined MAFA, the Martial Arts Fitness Academy of Ave Maria. Sienna had a 9 a.m. staging time, so they were there at 8 with the rest of the under-12-year-olds. Two other MAFA parents and members, hands-down the fittest and healthiest of all, were sitting right in front, chowing down on donuts and watching a couple of 6-year-olds spar. My husband thought it was hilarious. I thought it was instructive.
See, being obsessive about optimizing your health doesn’t usually lead to good health … it usually leads to neuroticism. Good health is surprisingly easy to enjoy when you keep in mind the keyword: “enjoy.” Livestrong’s slideshow on the “6 Secrets of Skinny People” might have missed the mark on a lot, but it got that part right:
Don’t overwhelm yourself with impractical fitness goals. Think simple. Or rather, think “doable” and “consistent.” Committing to just 30 minutes of cardio a day creates powerful habits that can keep you feeling and looking your healthiest. “Find an activity that actually brings you joy and you’ll have a much greater chance of sticking to it,” says nutritionist Alyse Levine.
No one ever got in shape by doing something they hate, as my wasted years of at-home exercise videos can attest. When it comes to exercise, the secret is finding something that brings you joy. Good health can be built on four other secrets that all come down to that same thing — enjoying life.
Eat food you love
Rice cakes and spirulina sprouts are not a long-term plan for happy and healthy eating, y’all. They’re a punishment — at least for me. Eating well involves eating food that you enjoy. For me, that’s goat cheese and avocado toast or roast chicken with sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts, and maybe some dark chocolate after dinner.
Eat food that makes you feel good
That would be some dark chocolate, though, not entire bags of it. I might love chocolate, but excessive amounts make me feel terrible. Excessive amounts of anything, actually, make me feel terrible. No one enjoys that overstuffed feeling, no matter how much we might think we enjoy the eating it takes to get us there.
Eat three meals a day
The worst trendy nutritional advice ever is to “snack when you’re hungry.” The problem with this is that even if you’re snacking on healthy food, it’s too easy to slip into a state of constant snacking. I don’t know about you, but I easily mistake feeling “snacky” for genuine hunger. If I allowed myself to snack when the urge struck me, I would probably eat all day long.
That’s not a healthy or a happy way to live. There’s a kind of tyranny involved in constant snacking where you can end up feeling ruled by food rather than vice-versa. The best way to moderate your food intake and focus on enjoying the food you eat is to take your mama’s advice and eat three square meals a day. Make them good meals full of nutrient-dense food you love eating, then be done with it until the next meal. This will help you enjoy your meals more and liberate you from the pull of the pantry.
(Please note that this advice is my own and not appropriate for diabetics or anyone with hypo- or hyperthyroidism or other diseases. It is intended only for adults with no underlying health problems.)
Go play outside
I can’t quite stress how important sunlight is for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Is it a beautiful day outside your window? Then go out there and enjoy it! Take your laptop if you’re working, or make your phone calls outside. When your kids get home from school, don’t watch them play in the backyard through the kitchen window — get out there and play with them! Take walks, go for runs, open the windows … find some way to get outside in the sunshine every single day. You’re not just getting a dose of Vitamin D — sunlight increases production of serotonin, which boosts your mood and lowers your stress level. Sunlight can also help treat skin conditions like psoriasis and in moderation, can even help prevent certain types of cancer.
But the bottom line is that being outside in the sun will bring you joy, and learning to truly enjoy life will help you enjoy good health, too. So whatever you do, whether it’s eating or sleeping or exercising or playing, enjoy it.