Quit Digging Your Grave With A Knife And Fork
A 12-Stop Program To End Bad Habits and Begin a Healthy Lifestyle
by Gov. Mike Huckabee
Copyright © 2005 by Center Street.
Provided with permission from Center Street.
It has been said that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," but unquestionably the road to obesity is paved with procrastination.
Remember the closing scene in the classic movie Gone With the Wind? Ever-so-thin Scarlett O'Hara declares, "I'll think about it tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day." We believe we can always start getting healthy tomorrow.
Most of us who have battled with weight issues can perhaps identify more readily with another of Scarlett O'Hara's memorable scenes-the one where she is digging up potatoes and saying, "I'll never be hungry again!" Indeed, we wouldn't be just digging up the potatoes but also eating them, preferably fried. Our goal is never to be hungry again!
One of the main reasons most of us yearn to get fit but never do is because we fail to STOP PROCRASTINATING. It is simply easier to plan on health and fitness but never to do it, by marking our intentions with a definite date in the future that we never seem to keep:
"I'm going to start my new diet right after the holidays." "I'm going to get some of this weight off in time for summer." "I'm getting ready to get back into a fitness routine so I'll look good for my daughter's wedding."
You've heard it all before. Heck, you've said it all before! The problem is most of us make sure that whenever it is we're going to start our new regimen, one thing's for sure-it won't be today.
A number of years ago, I produced some TV documentaries in Guatemala. Whenever I'd ask my local guide or translator when we'd have certain materials, he'd say, "Maana." I thought that meant "tomorrow." I'd ask the same question the next day and get the same answer - "Maana." I grew frustrated with the delays and angry that the promises were never kept. Finally one of the locals explained to me, "Maana doesn't mean 'tomorrow'- it means 'not today.' "
Are you on the maana diet? There is a good likelihood that if you procrastinate about health and fitness, you procrastinate about other things as well. Finally getting control of this unwieldy area of your life could mean a dramatic new opportunity to create personal discipline that extends far beyond your (hopefully shrinking) waistline.
If anyone has ever had an excuse for putting off a healthy lifestyle, I would claim that my excuse was as good as any could be. As a sitting governor, my life is about as complicated as anyone's, and the schedule I keep is more challenging than most people will ever comprehend. Several full-time employees in my office do nothing but work on scheduling my every waking moment - sometimes scheduling those moments when I'm not even awake! We receive literally hundreds of invitations for me to be a part of events ranging from ribbon cuttings to royal visits, and without a doubt this is the most challenging part of my job. Most of the places I go and things I do are reactions to other people's agendas and priorities. When people ask, "How do you find time to exercise?" I respond, "I don't find the time, I make the time!" If you wait until you "find" time, you will never - hear me - never find it. You must make time for taking care of your body just as you make time to go to work, to shower, to eat, or to take in a movie.
There are also a tremendous number of disruptions to my schedule that I must be prepared for: special legislative sessions; natural disasters (frankly, sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between a legislative session and a tornado); budget crises; managing more than fifty cabinet-level agencies; being responsible for more than 320 boards, agencies, and commissions; and managing fifty thousand employees, not to mention policies that touch issues ranging from police to prisons, education, health care, highways, environment, employment, and taxes.
Despite constant pleadings from my family, close friends, and doctor, I could always articulate a good reason why "this would not be a good time to make changes in my eating or exercise habits." Maana!
On several occasions, I even made specific plans to do something about my ever-expanding girth. But I prepared for the day by trying to eat my way through all the various stored junk foods I had accumulated, convincing myself it would be improper to let those good foods go to waste!
Putting a date on the calendar several weeks ahead, I would proceed to munch my way through closets or cabinets where a good stock of potato chips, candy, and other delicious items had been carefully hoarded for just such an occasion. Of course, by the time I had finished devouring all those items, the ever-vigilant staff at the Governor's Mansion would see to it that the supplies were replenished. By then I had arranged a whole new list of reasons to put off the project for another month or more. Maana!
Getting past an upcoming event was always one of my favorite excuses. "I'll start eating right as soon as Thanksgiving and Christmas are over." Oh, sure! Then comes the Super Bowl -"No use starting a diet until at least then!" Of course, by then it's another occasion, then another, then another, and then another. Between big holidays, birthdays, and special events such as church feasts and political fish-fry rallies, I could always find reasons to wait "one more week." I even became good at celebrating holidays for other people. How many Baptists do you know who observe all the Jewish feasts?
I also rationalized that as long as the cupboards were filled with expensive - albeit unhealthy - foods, it would be a shame to waste them. "I'll start eating right as soon as we finish off all this junk food once and for all." (Of course, we always found a way to replace that food with more just like it!)
Looking ahead to travel opportunities provided another great excuse. "I'll be in New Orleans in two weeks, and I won't be able to go there and not enjoy the wonderful Creole and Cajun foods. Next month, I'll be in Chicago, and what would a trip to Chicago be without Chicago-style pizza? And then there's the cruise we're going to take for our anniversary, and I'd be crazy not to enjoy all those midnight buffets!"
My wife carefully reminded me of a promise I had made to her on my fortieth birthday. In August 1995, I'd told Janet that I was getting to the age where I was increasingly vulnerable to a heart attack given the high stress I experienced on the job, genetic factors, and my sedentary lifestyle. I told her one of the key things to help me maintain my health would be a new bass boat, which would let me more effectively pursue a form of recreation that I found relaxing and therapeutic-bass fishing. For several months I regaled her with the virtues of my owning a new bass boat, most notably that its cost would certainly be much less than the cost of a heart attack. Amazingly, she believed it, and on my fortieth birthday she gave me a brand-new, fully equipped Bass Cat fishing boat with a 225-horsepower Mercury outboard motor.
Unfortunately, it would be several years before I would finally live up to my part of the deal by taking better care of myself. I will be the first to admit that changing a lifetime of bad habits isn't easy. But it won't be any easier tomorrow, next week, next year, or after one of those artificial milestones such as a graduation or special birthday. There are four basic principles that are essential to being able to STOP PROCRASTINATING:
1. Set a very specific and definite start time for your program within the next two weeks.
2. Share your start date with several trusted friends, family members, and perhaps your doctor.
3. Start! After you set it and share it, start it! Don't let anything keep you from this very important and hopefully life-changing appointment.
4. Stick to it!
Even more difficult than setting a very specific time to start changing your eating habits is to stop procrastinating your personal exercise routine. I will deal with the importance of physical activity a little later. But for now let me focus on how important it is to stop putting off some kind of activity. The easiest thing in the world for me was to justify exercising tomorrow rather than today. One of the most stressful aspects of my job is that it's never finished, no matter how many papers I sign, speeches I make, appointments I keep, or events I attend. There are multitudes more looming on the horizon. I enjoy cooking as a hobby, largely because the preparation of a meal has a very definite point of beginning and it has a point of completion, the results are obvious and immediate, and there is the potential of gratification when the recipe turns out well. Doing anything that draws to a conclusion and offers closure and finality is quite rewarding. So on any given day, when I was tempted to begin an exercise regime, I could always remind myself of other things yet undone on my "to-do" list and justify procrastinating an exercise routine until at least tomorrow.
One of my most thrilling accomplishments in my quest for regained health occurred during the first holiday season when I was taking care of myself and actually lost weight instead of gaining it for possibly the first time in my life. I was determined I would not ruin my many months of hard work to get fit by indulging in all the holiday treats that would inevitably be shoved at me and available around the clock. I knew it would be one of the great tests of whether I was simply going through a "phase" or if this was a serious change of lifestyle. Please understand that I define the holiday season as that period between Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl. I'm talking Thanksgiving, the days leading up to and through Christmas, and New Year's (with its vast amount of football watching and endless eating). My holiday season doesn't end until after Super Bowl weekend, which is best described as an event in which twenty-two athletes on a field who are desperate for rest are watched by seventy thousand in a stadium and millions more at home who are desperate for exercise!
More amazing than my ability to get through this two-month period without cheating and actually losing weight instead of gaining was the fact that I never really wanted to get off the wagon. Traditionally, "Christmas at the Capitol," in the governor's office as well as at the Governor's Mansion, is a neverending series of holiday events, all of which involve enormous amounts of delicious but decidedly fattening foods. Numerous deliveries are made daily to the office and mansion with holiday treats ranging from fruitcakes to cookies, candies, pies, glazed nuts, and fudge. Because of the STOPs I had made and the steps I had taken, for the first time in my life I not only was able to resist the temptation to indulge in those foods but actually got more pleasure from saying "no thank you" than I would have received from eating.
As you can imagine, there is an extraordinary level of satisfaction from having people notice the improved appearance of personal fitness. There's not a day that goes by in which I'm not approached by someone who says, "You look amazing." I'm thrilled, but also know it means that before I must have really looked awful!
Frank Broyles is the athletic director and former head football coach of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. He coached the 1964 Razorbacks team to the national championship and continues to serve as athletic director even though he is now in his seventies. He is still a remarkably fit man and a role model for living an active healthy life. I appeared with Coach Broyles at an event in Fayetteville in late 2003. It had been several months since he had seen me. In that period of time, I had dropped an extraordinary amount of weight, and he was quite effusive in congratulating me and commending me for my changes in lifestyle. He said something to me that day that I thought was very profound. I've used it again and again on days when I thought that maybe I should indulge myself in some of the guilty pleasures of cheesecake, pecan pie, or mashed potatoes with gravy. He said, "Governor, I found years ago that nothing ever tastes as good as it feels to be thin."
How true that is! As someone who has tried almost every kind of delicious food to be found on earth, I have to say that I can affirm Coach Broyles's statement. Nothing does taste as good as it feels to be thin, or - as I would put it - "Nothing tastes as good as it feels to be healthy."
So STOP number one on the road to forever fitness is
STOP PROCRASTINATING - DO IT NOW!
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