It was hard for me to tear my eyes from the image of two morbidly obese people jumping up and down in celebration of walking across a balance beam above a pool on “The Biggest Loser.” But as I watched many of them head back to the workout room, complaining the whole way, I had to change the channel. This show, along with many others, is essentially rewarding the obesity crisis by offering monetary reward for losing weight. Is getting your life back not enough?

I sit on the extreme opposite side of the spectrum from these people in terms of lifestyle. As a Division-I athlete, I work out five or six times a week, monitor what I eat and try to make the best possible health decisions to help me perform in my sport. What I’m learning is that playing a sport is less about the wins and losses and more about creating good lifestyle habits for my life after athletics.

Sports are of course an easy way for kids to begin healthy lifestyle choices. It forces them to exercise, interact with other kids and compete. Admittedly, sports certainly aren’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that exercise should simply be abandoned. It’s kind of like this: You may not be good at math, but you’re going to have to take it throughout your education because it’s still an important skill to have. The same goes for exercise.

Eating is another crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. Though I love pizza, hamburgers and candy, I have an understanding that they aren’t imperative parts of the food pyramid. We learn most of our eating habits from our families growing up. Whether you grew up with family sit-down dinners, eat fast food frequently or have home-packed vs. school lunches will ultimately influence the way you eat when you’re on your own.

The amount of information we see and hear every day about food and exercise is astounding. Buy this small ball and you’ll have abs of steel, don’t eat carbs and you’ll have the body of Britney Spears, buy this book and you’ll reach your weight goals. These products are successful because people are looking for a quick fix to their problems.

But when it comes to being a healthy person, there are no quick fixes. The vast majority of people already know what they they need to do. Just like we all know smoking is bad for you, we also know the difference between eating healthy and eating poorly and that exercising is important.

Being healthy isn’t for the faint of heart. Making excuses to avoid exercising and eating well takes discipline and hard work. I had to make lifestyle changes of my own last year. I made the commitment to eat healthier in order to help my athletic performance. What I found was that when I ate better, my athletic performance improved, I needed less sleep, my grades improved and I actually felt happier. While it took discipline and self-control to not polish off a package of Oreos or eat a bag of chips, I found that the way I felt from not eating them was better than the short-term satisfaction I got from eating them.

I learned that there is no such thing as “bad food” — there are simply healthier alternatives. It’s okay to have dessert occasionally or indulge in a Starbucks drink from time to time, but not every day. You can eat chocolate Graham crackers instead of Oreos and eat popcorn instead of chips. You get the same satisfaction for the same craving.

There are more excuses to not make these changes than there are to do them — you’ve got a huge exam, you’re running late, you’re tired or you simply don’t want to. All of these are excuses to pull through the McDonalds drive-through or sleep instead of working out. But the rewards of staying committed to it are well-worth the work.

You don’t have to be a size two or have abs of steel to be a healthy person. But it also shouldn’t take an extreme situation and an application to “The Biggest Loser” to get your life headed in the right direction. Eating right and exercising is about feeling good. And if you take the steps that lead to a healthy life, you’re setting yourself up for a longer, better and more enjoyable life.

Courtney Fletcher can be reached at

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