Often, when I share my thoughts on health and lifestyle, people deflect my opinion by saying, "Yeah, but you work as an athlete for a living."
I try not to push my point in those moments, though I really believe living a healthy lifestyle isn't the same as living as an Olympic athlete. Actually, it's far from that. Many career athletes wind up damaging themselves by working too hard to stay competitive.
What I'm talking about is the day-to-day – the average amount of good diet and exercise that suits a person's lifestyle. Case in point is my good friend and housemate, Adrien Sala. Adrien, a writer, has a lot going on and I see him as an example of how someone who isn't a career athlete can take control of his or her health.
We were chatting the other day and Adrien joked about how he got fat a couple of years ago – a full 20 pounds (9 kilograms) more than he is now. At the time, he was dealing with some different stresses that contributed to his weight gain. He'd never been that heavy and it bothered him, so he worked to take control.
But instead of me, an athlete, telling you how he did it, let's let him explain.
What contributed to you falling out of shape?
I think it was mostly professional and personal stress. I work independently and I was struggling for money at the time and that was causing stresses in all aspects of my life. As a result, I started eating crappy and drinking too much. I wasn't being active and wasn't getting any sleep. It sucked and it resulted in me becoming 195 pounds for the first time in my life at 34 years old, which was about 20 pound more than I'd ever been.
So what did you do about it?
The first thing was to recognize the fact that I had gained weight. A couple pounds here and there over the space of a year can easily go unnoticed. And once I recognized it and owned it, I had to make the decision to get back in shape. I made a simple bet with a few buddies that we wouldn't drink beer for three months. Without having any money, it was the easiest bet I ever made – there was no way I could not follow through. Then I started playing soccer once a week with friends.
Was it difficult to get motivated?
Of course. But that's why I found ways like soccer and beer bets to get started. Then I joined a gym near my office called the Body Dynamic Headquarters. I knew that by going to somewhere like the YMCA on my own, I'd wind up just farting around and not get results. BDHQ provides classes that use your time efficiently (they kick your ass, basically). There are a variety of classes and it's super close to my office so I didn't have any excuse for not going – and once I had momentum, things got easier. I love going there now and get bummed when I can't make it. As a result of being more active, my stress levels also dropped, so it got easier to stay active.
One of the big things for people is diet. I know you always make breakfast at home and love to cook, so was that something?
Definitely. I'm a food guy, but that doesn't mean I'm irresponsible. Eating out is great, but the sodium and fat in restaurant food is usually off the charts. I used to go out and eat breakfast bagels with bacon all the time – until I realized how many calories were in just one. Now I am addicted to overnight oats for breakfast, which I make at home in a Mason jar so I can take them with me in the morning. My diet suits my lifestyle, which is important.
What do you think is the most important factor that contributed to you getting healthy and fit again?
Honestly, I think it's really about perspective. People will say "life is short" as an excuse for indulging or overeating all the time, when in fact it's exactly the opposite. Life is long – it's actually the longest thing you'll ever do – so why not take care of yourself as you go through it? That's not to say I'm perfect. I'm 175 pounds now. I probably still drink more beer than I should and have another few pounds I could lose, but I'm active and I eat pretty healthy. My feeling is that if you take the long view and realize that you can forgive yourself for a lazy day or eat badly once in a while, you'll be able to better enjoy both the healthy and not so healthy things you do. I once wrote a tag line for a health and wellness company that read, "Life is long. Live it well." I still think it was one of the best things I ever wrote.
Olympic medalist Simon Whitfield is the director of sports with the Fantan Group in Victoria.