The REAL hard work of healthy living

By Kiley Owen, PA-C

I love fresh cherries. They're so good. And as an added bonus, they're a great source of vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants.

healthy cherries in a bowl and ready to eatIf only they didn't have those darn pits ... . When I'm at home I just eat around the pits and spit them out. But I thought this might be a little gross to do at work, so I decided to pit some cherries beforehand and prepare small containers to take to work. 

Turns out this wasn't the best idea. The juice from the cherries stained the tips of my fingers a dirty brown color, and despite scrubbing them multiple times, the stains remained.

I was scheduled to work the next two days. While stained fingers is a good look on a handsome auto mechanic, it doesn't exactly work in health care. Patients kinda expect clean hands. So I basically spent two days explaining and apologizing to patients for my brown-stained cuticles and nails.

Thankfully my patients were understanding.  

Despite this minor setback, I did enjoy my snack of fresh cherries and almonds at work. As I picked them up (with my fingers that looked like I had been working hard on car engines), I got to thinking about "hard work."  

The REAL Hard Work of Healthy Living

When people think about leading a healthier life, they often think about the "hard work" of exercising on a regular basis.  

Sure, it takes some self-discipline and physical effort to exercise regularly. But in my opinion, that's not the hard part

Once you've found the right kind of exercise for you, it becomes a treat to get your body moving. There are so many benefits to be enjoyed — stress relief, invigoration, mental clarity, increased energy level, improved mood, sense of accomplishment, etc.

You get "hooked" and definitely notice the difference when you don't exercise. Exercise starts to feel more like an indulgence than an obligation. 

 Wanna know what really takes discipline? 

  • Planning healthy meals for the week.
  • Shopping for nutritious whole food ingredients.
  • Preparing healthy meals and snacks.
  • Cleaning the multiple messes this involves. 

That's what really takes discipline. Healthy meal preparation takes me WAY more time and effort than exercising. 

child with cherries in mouth looking at cameraIt's so much easier to grab convenience food on the run. After all, it tastes good and saves us a ton of time. But as we know, it's not optimal "fuel" for our bodies. And when we fail to fuel our bodies with nutritious foods, we're limiting ourselves. Regardless of how much we exercise, if we continue to consume large quantities of junk, we're not going to see the kind of health benefits we hope for.

So if we're serious about leading a healthier life (and if we don't have the luxury of a personal chef), we need to prioritize some time in the kitchen, preparing nutritious meals from whole food ingredients. 

The Good News

The good news is that it doesn't have to feel like a jail sentence. Just like with exercise, if we have the right mindset, preparing healthy meals at home can be a great opportunity. It offers:   

  • Connection. Cooking is a great opportunity to come together as a family. We can turn off the TV and put down the phones and devices for a while. Get everyone involved! In my family some of our best conversations take place in the kitchen and at the dinner table. 
  • Comfort. There's something so comforting about a home-cooked meal. It makes a house feel like home. 
  • Creativity. Have fun with it. Try new recipes. Make it your art! Life is short -- experiment with the turmeric and chia seeds! :)
  • Efficiency. Although home cooking will never be as quick and easy as drive-thru and delivery, there are ways to make it more efficient. Get more bang for your buck by preparing large quantities of food. Turn tonight's dinner leftovers into tomorrow's lunches. Or make enough for an easy freezer meal down the road. If you've got the mess out, why not make several meals out of it?  
  • Quality. When you are the one doing the cooking, you can control the quality of the ingredients you use. 
  • Gratitude. Take time to slow down, be present in the moment, and be thankful for the nutritious food you have access to, as well as the loved ones you have the opportunity to share it with. 

You've Got This

Yes, healthy eating takes some discipline and work. But the benefits are well worth it. I hope this post serves as a nice reminder and encourages you in your efforts. 

So the next time you pack some raw almonds and fresh cherries (on second thought, make it blueberries... best to skip the stained fingers drama:), or some other nutritious meal or snack, give yourself a pat on the back. Be proud that you are tackling the real hard work of healthy living.

Kiley Owen is a physician assistant, blogger and preventive health enthusiast. This post — along with helpful links to other resources — originally appeared on her blog, makinghealthapriority.com.