We decided this year to become healthier as a family. We started eating a more balanced, lower-calorie diet with more fresh foods and especially more produce. We decreased both the volume and frequency of snacks. And we started exercising as a family.
We got a family gym membership—which was a big deal considering our strict budget. And we started using our bikes and our feet more often to get to the grocery store, the library, or to friends’ houses.
We didn’t take any extreme measures or insist on any extreme results. We just made small, sensible changes to the way we live. We also avoided all fad diets—which I abhor anyway. And we’ve left ample room for yummy foods we love and still thoroughly enjoy. If anything, we enjoy them more now than we ever did before!
Wendy and I still eat ice cream a few nights a week when we watch a little VidAngel before bed. But we’ve reduced the number of times per week and we’ve cut the calorie load down by more than 50% by changing from big bowls of scoop-able ice cream to Dove ice cream bars. These taste better anyway, and the portion size is pre-set for you, so you don’t accidentally double or triple your serving—which is easy to do when you have a bigger bowl or a bigger spoon or the ice cream is soft or you’re a big hungry guy who loves ice cream so much you want to eat three times as much as you should. And—as the ultimate tradeoff—we often walk to the grocery store to buy the ice cream so that at least some of it is burned off anyway. That always feels hypocritical. But don’t judge us.
Physical health is a tricky thing. It’s easy to get hung up on certain external markers, like a number on a scale or on a tape measure, which don’t really matter nearly so much as how you feel, how much you can do with your body, and how much quality and length you can add to your life. I’m not a svelte man and never will be. At my very healthiest, I actually don’t look very different than I do when I’m unhealthy. But I feel completely different in my thinking, working, sleeping, playing, and every other aspect of my life.
It’s also easy to get obsessed with physical health and disproportionately value it above all other things. Some aspects of it are so external, and people are so prone to notice and compliment it, that you can begin to think that your physical health matters a lot more than your emotional, intellectual or spiritual health. I was reminded recently in a history book I’m reading that, among all the excesses of Rome just before it fell, one was an over-emphasis on physical health: “Romans of the fourth century were obsessed by health, diet, and exercise. They spent more time in baths and health clubs than in churches, temples, libraries, and law courts.”
But, when channeled the right way, physical health is a wonderful thing that supports rather than supplants your whole-being health. This principle is at the very core of the Christian doctrine that Mormons believe: the spiritual and the physical are aspects of each other and are eternally bound together. So physical health, when pursued as a means to an end rather than as its own end, actually increases spiritual health rather than replacing it.
In one of the best talks ever given at an LDS General Conference, Jörg Klebingat spoke about this principle. He advised all faithful Mormons to “take responsibility for your own physical well-being”:
Your soul consists of your body and spirit (see D&C 88:15). Feeding the spirit while neglecting the body, which is a temple, usually leads to spiritual dissonance and lowered self-esteem. If you are out of shape, if you are uncomfortable in your own body and can do something about it, then do it! Elder Russell M. Nelson has taught that we should “regard our body as a temple of our very own” and that we should “control our diet and exercise for physical fitness.”
President Boyd K. Packer has taught “that our spirit and our body are combined in such a way that our body becomes an instrument of our mind and the foundation of our character.” Therefore, please use good judgment in what and especially how much you eat, and regularly give your body the exercise it needs and deserves. If you are physically able, decide today to be the master of your own house and begin a regular, long-term exercise program, suited to your abilities, combined with a healthier diet. Spiritual confidence increases when your spirit, with the help of the Savior, is truly in charge of your natural man or woman.
I’ve been in a slump for two weeks now. I’ve been feeling lousy. I’ve been incredibly self-critical. I’ve been eating emotionally. I’ve been a mess. But this week was better. I started getting more sleep again, which may have been the root of all the problems. And I had two awesome experiences during a work trip in California.
The first was that I got to run three miles before work and I absolutely obliterated my current best running time. The feeling of running at sea level after training (and living) at high elevation was just insane. I felt like I could run forever, and I cut a whopping 2.5 minutes per mile off my last recorded three-mile run.
The other awesome experience was my clown pants.
I have this old pair of pants I don’t wear any more. They were the pants I wore every day when I was at my heaviest, a few years ago. These are special pants that are basically sweat pants that are made to look like slacks. They are cut straight up and down with tons of room. And the waistline is an elastic band that can expand by several inches. Even when I wore the pants, we used to call them my “clown pants” because I could walk around pulling out the waistline while humming the universal circus tune that goes da da dada, dada da da da da.
Well, in my haste to pack for this trip to California, I’d grabbed my old clown pants on accident. I packed in such a hurry and my clothes were all disorganized and jumbled because I’d just barely gotten back home from another work trip the day before. And, since this trip was just overnight, I only had the one pair in my suitcase. So I had no choice but to wear the clown pants all day and look silly and feel uncomfortable and have my shirt keep coming untucked.
I called Wendy to complain. She consoled me. But what else could I do? I strapped on the baggy old pants and went to work. They totally irritated me all day and I was really glad I had a fairly early flight home that evening. But then, on the flight, I noticed something about the clown pants. There was a stray string poking out of the seam line on one leg. That’s a string I’ve seen several times before and always mean to cut but never get around to cutting.
The problem, though, is that the stray string is not on my old clown pants, it’s on my newer gray slacks that I just bought this year and that I think of as my “snug” pants.
Could it be? Was it possible?
The minute I got home, I ran upstairs and ransacked my closet. And, sure enough, my actual clown pants were folded neatly in the old pile of pants I don’t wear anymore.
It turns out that my new “snug” pants just aren’t snug anymore!
In the big scope of things going on in the world, that’s a really small success story. Even when you combine it with the great running experience from earlier in the day. But for me, it was a really big deal. It was one of those little landmarks that gives you a chance to look at all the work you’re doing and realize that—in the long view—it’s all paying off.
I’ve thought of that all this weekend as we work on other goals that are similarly difficult and similarly fraught with emotional ups and downs. I’ve been reflecting on our financial goals and all the work we have left to do there. I’ve especially meditated on my spiritual state and my ever-grappling faith.
Those are true challenges to me. They wear me out and I frequently want to give up in the same way that I sometimes give up on my health goals and binge eat Doritos at 2 AM.
But today I have a peaceful assurance that, someday soon, I’ll have some spiritual equivalent of my clown pants experience. Some gentle reminder that it’s all working out and my work is not in vain.
I think that’s the best gift my physical health could ever give me.