This column begins a series of lessons on health and reaching your optimum you!
Do you possess anything more valuable than your health?
For too long, I regarded my health as a given. I treated my body with disregard and was inconsistent with what I put into it and what I required of it. In return, it was threatening to derail me.
By 1994, I had been president of Baptist Children’s Homes for 11 years. The work was relentless, and I seldom took a break of long enough duration ever to relax.
I ate my way through both stress and celebration and desperately needed the three-month sabbatical my trustees offered me.
I retreated to Episcopal Seminary in Virginia, a sojourn that included days of quietude and meditation. The enforced silence squeezed like shackles around a voluble person like me. But too seldom do any of us come to a halt long enough to listen, to close our mouths and open our ears, and then to meditate on “what is.”
It was a pivotal experience.
The following year, I was to return as an alumnus to share with the current participants any epiphany of my own retreat. I took up the offer of BCH benefactor Paul Broyhill for time at his house to cogitate, think, pray, and meditate about what I’d learned.
From those days in the Broyhill home I defined the three prongs of my new healthful lifestyle: diet, exercise and meditation. In this part, we will focus on diet.
Diet: You are what you eat
No single factor determines your health more than what you put into your mouth.
Plain and simple, you are what you eat.
Nutritionist Victor Lindlahr believed that food controls health and wrote in 1923, “Ninety percent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat.”
I’ve known this most of my life, kind of in the way I knew Mount Everest is a mountain. It’s a fact, but a tidbit that somehow was never taken seriously by me.
I grew up with three basic food groups: sugar, salt and fat.
My mother was overweight, and I was her only child. She was a good cook in that she made tasty dishes. She believed in clean plates.
Unlike Mom and me, when my dad was full he could slide his chair away from the dinner table with a word of appreciation – “Enjoyed it.”
My young and impressionable mind believed my only option was a clean plate, and Mom was a good cook. Draw your own conclusions.
But I kept active and at six-feet tall, 190 pounds at high school graduation was not out of bounds.
Still, I was already conscious of my weight, and, I actually popped my first diet pill in high school. They didn’t become a habit, but looking back I understand the pressure even then to conform to a certain body image.
I didn’t have the same pressures to eat everything while in college at Chapel Hill.
In fact, I lost 20 pounds. Besides being active in campus life, I worked at the dining hall to get a free meal. I wanted to be a journalist and worked hard on the Daily Tar Heel staff. I worked harder there than in the classroom and loved it.
I loved the beautiful University of North Carolina campus, too. And I walked everywhere, always aware that walking was good for me. No doubt I did my share of moaning and groaning having to cross the large campus on foot, especially when I was scurrying to meet a deadline. But the walking kept me healthy and feeling good.
Real world stress hit me once I graduated and started working two jobs. My response? Comfort food.
Fifty pounds piled onto my frame and took me up to 240 pounds before I knew what was happening. And I hadn’t gotten any taller.
This was real life now. It all counted, and I felt driven to conquer every mountain. Lack of sleep, demands of school and work while trying to be a good husband and feeling like I was “on stage” in every area of life raised my stress quotient to dangerous levels.
My prescription was comfort food. Under stress, I ate. It didn’t matter what – anything to put into my mouth. The sensation of food and the taste of something sweet or salty would calm me.
When I was my most careless self, I could eat a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts at one sitting. Once during a vacation week in a period of high stress, I ate a quart of ice cream every day and tablespoon after tablespoon of peanut butter.
When I was pastor in Carthage, graduated from seminary, and down to one job, I caught on to the running craze. I ran every day, sometimes twice a day. I knew all about the runner’s high, and I craved a daily fix.
Then one night, I stepped into a hole and sprained my ankle. My running days were over and my eating days returned.
I had the good fortune to meet Gerard Musante in 1975. He was a healthy- lifestyle guru and diet expert. He recognized that a diet is not something you’re “on” but something you “have.”
He ran a program at Duke University to which I faithfully went every week for a group session. It cost $20 each week (lunch included), and he designed a healthy, weight loss diet for me on which I dropped 52 pounds. I was never happier than at that time.
A structured lifestyle and diet felt good!