Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Scott's Road to Healthier: Part One

One of my favorite quotations is a Ghandi quote, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I'm a firm believer that by doing things and acting in a certain way, you can motivate people more strongly than any speech could. I'm an actions speak louder than words kinda gal. I've known Scott since my sophomore year in college. We've always gotten along well, despite Scott's pen tapping problems during tests. When he sent me this "wall of text" in an email that I received and read while sitting in the Phoenix airport, I was so happy and proud of him for taking control and amazed that the quote does have truth to it.  Enjoy part one, part two comes out tomorrow.
I'm posting this story here because I've known Sarah since before she started her quest for health and her story has always put a smile on my face. The second reason is that I don't want to start my own blog. I've tried it, and let's just say I'm a bit too lazy and narcissistic to have a blog that's not terrible.
My story is in reverse of Sarah's. I didn't start out that unhealthy, and it took me getting worse to realize where my problems have always lain. If you were to look at me as a teenager you'd assume I was healthy, though perhaps a bit of a twig. I played lots of soccer, running endlessly. I was healthier when compared to my peers but I wasn’t truly healthy. I drank lots of Coke (maybe 3-6 cans a day), and though I would cut it for soccer season in high school, the "addiction" came back. I obviously hesitate to call it a real addiction as I don't want to offend someone who is, for instance, addicted to cigarettes.

But healthy is a lifestyle and therefore a mindset, and the reality of this hadn't hit home yet. I went to college, and though I occasionally played soccer in club form at school, I didn't run or keep up with any form of exercise. But that's fine for someone whose metabolism is great, right? I also ate poorly. My diet has always been pretty limited diet, eating only the foods I like. Taste, I’ve come to realize, is texture based for me, and for a long time I abused the extra energy that youth (though I'm still young) and a good baseline of health can provide.

Oddly enough, it was my teeth that made me realize I wasn't healthy. I rarely brushed my teeth, something that's hard to admit in public and pretty appalling if you think about it, but there it is. I never liked the taste of toothpaste. A fact that simple caused me to lie about my habits and make excuses to everyone about my "weak teeth", which might be true but that doesn't matter. I always had lots of cavities, and I walked a thin line of keeping them maintained, but throughout my childhood (and college) while I was on my parents' dental plan, I would always have regular checkups and keep them OK. 3-4 cavities a year or checkup was normal.

But we all grow up, and I graduated, got my own job with my own dental plan, and didn’t see a dentist for three years. Why? I didn't revolt against dentistry, I simply never thought of it. The few times it did cross my mind, I said "I'll do that later." If someone had made me go to the dentist during those years I would have gone. But since it was my job now and it never came to mind that it was a job I should have been doing, I didn’t go.

Then one day I got a cavity so bad it gave me a week of constant pain. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think straight at work, and my whole head hurt. Since I'll never have to give birth, I'm going to hope that it was the worst pain I'll ever experience though I know better in reality. I finally made an appointment with the dentist, and lo and behold, I had 12 cavities, one tooth that needed to come out, one that needed a crown and one that needed a root canal and a crown. Over the next year and a half, I slowly had them all fixed up, and that was when I knew I had to change.

But here's the important part of the story, not my life story, but my road to change. How could I actually get better after so many failures? Every time I had come home from the dentist before, I'd use a stopgap method. I'd brush and sometimes even floss for a week or a month, but then I'd regress, because I wasn't willing to make the change. I only tried to fix the problem in front of me. It was just like quitting soda for a two month soccer season, only replacing it with just as much Gatorade. Surprise, surprise, when the season was over, it was Coke by the bucketful. I never brushed in the morning because I'm so terrible at getting up that I have zero extra minutes to spare. I didn’t brush at night because I stay up so late (eating junk food the whole time) that when I go to bed it's from exhaustion. I didn’t brush at lunch because brushing at work feels weird and I have little time at work. These sound like excuses but that's all in how you view the information.

I finally said "I know I can't change overnight." I needed to admit my flaws and work to change in my own way. I didn't start by brushing three times a day, I started by buying toothpicks. My dentist didn't recommend this to me (though she has been very helpful). Of course she said start with brushing well and flossing when you can. But a good schedule for brushing was my worst problem. So, I kept toothpicks at my desk at work and home, and I started to use them.

Next I tackled brushing, but when I brushed made no sense. Why brush at home right before you have a snack? Well, you have to get the old junk off sometime. Sometimes, I stopped wanting to have a snack after I got my teeth all clean. Then that sometimes turned into most of the time. My goals weren't goals. Every time I've heard someone say "set maintainable goals" my brain has ignored it and said "the word goal means something that's hard to attain, probably even too hard most of the time." Now I was working with my lifestyle to change it for the better. Eventually, I started flossing. Again it wasn't when I was supposed to, it was whenever I felt like it, and I kept floss at my desk at home. If we fast forward a bit, and while I'm still not the dentist's ideal patient, but I'm always better than I was the last visit. I've had my first visit with zero new cavities, and the hygienist remarks on how much progress I've made. The best part is I know I'm never going to regress now. I can feel it.

Regressing at this point wouldn't just be disappointing; it's now against my nature. A skeptic to my pattern of change might claim that I never hit my goal. I don't take perfect care of my teeth, but that was never the goal. The goal was to improve, because improvement is addictive and fun. When you actually improve yourself, not just do a hard change (like giving up an addiction and replacing the behavior elsewhere, even if it is a healthier addictive lifestyle), but really make yourself better in a way that you like, you start to enjoy it. It's like the difference between finding a game you really like and improving at it, as opposed to studying really hard to get a better score on a test.