You know people that are crazy extreme about their health. One minute they are eating at all-you-can-eat buffets, and then once their diet suddenly starts, they are down to rice cakes and field stone soup (look it up – it sucks). Maybe this describes you. The truth is that little changes can have big impacts. Today I am going to list five relatively small changes that can lead to some big health benefits. Obviously, there are more changes you can make, but I will add them later.
You may say “but I am just a teen! I don’t have to be healthy!” It pays to start young. Plus as more and more teens are becoming obese and suffering from serious diseases, taking charge of your health can make you look and feel better, and be more popular!
Replace Sugar in Drinks with Stevia
A teaspoon of sugar has roughly 17 calories and 4 carbs. There are roughly 9 teaspoons of sugar (150 calories) and 40 grams of carbs in a 12 ounce can of soda, and close to that in a highly sweetened cup of coffee. Two cups or cans a day increase your daily calories by 300.
Weight loss and gain are mathematical. For every 3500 extra calories you eat that you don’t burn, you gain a pound. See The Basic Math of Losing Weight for more details. So, using basic weight loss math, 300 extra calories per day will result in a pound of fat gained roughly every two weeks (if all else is equal).
Of course, the flip side is also true. Cut out 300 calories, and you will lose a pound every few weeks. That’s 25 pounds in a year just by eliminating sugar in your drinks!
I suggest using stevia as a replacement for sugar, because as a non-caloric sweetener, it seems to me to be the safest. I just am not comfortable consuming too much Aspartame and Sucralose because of potential side effects, although I believe in small quantities they are fine.
Monitor and Increase Your Fiber Content
We need about 30 grams of fiber per day for optimal digestive health, but the average American diet is horribly low in it. I estimated that my college diet of crap, crap, and more crap (occasionally with an extra side of crap) contained about 3 grams of fiber per day. It is no wonder after nights of hamburgers, fries, pizza, and coke, I constantly had digestive issues.
The first step is to monitor your fiber. I like Fitday, but there is myfitnesspal and others, where you can get a good idea of your fiber content. Fiber is abundant in whole grains, beans, and to a lesser extent vegetables, fruits, and nuts. It is not contained in meat or other animal products. While it may seem gross, I suggest supplementing with Metamucil if you fall short of 25-30 grams. It may be gritty, but your body will thank you.
Activity is important to health. While the most benefit is gained from intense physical activity, even walking is beneficial, and will help you look and feel great. You can move around more in different ways. One is to schedule exercise time, i.e. walking 30 minutes a night with a friend. Another way is to simply just be more active during your daily life. Park in spaces far from the store, pace when you talk on the phone, take the long way from your classroom to the restroom (which you probably do anyway to get out of class for more time!), etc. Being active doesn’t have to mean conditioning for softball, joining a gym, or hitting the treadmill.
What good is it to eat well, exercise like crazy, take supplements, and then stress out about everything? Many Americans are very skilled at shortening their life span by constant stress. One way to de-stress is to meditate. One of the points I will make again and again on this website is that external factors do not “make” you feel anything. Your reaction to external events is what makes you stressed or not. So, while difficult things will always come your way, you can choose how you deal with them, and meditation is one way to put them in perspective.
Most people associate meditation with religion, and certainly it can be, if you take that angle. But as a rule, meditation is entirely non-religious. The simplest form is called mindfulness, which is simply pausing to be aware of the present moment, non-judgmentally. I wrote an article on meditation for one of this site’s sister sites, and it explains the process in a little more detail.
Studies show that one way to develop and maintain brain health as you get older is to…gasp…use your brain! Reading, especially non-fiction, can help your brain stay young and sharp, from your teenage years and beyond. I suggest trying out some non-fiction. While fiction is great, non-fiction helps expand your practical abilities. Read a book on self-improvement, fitness, brain power, etc.