Charlie Harper: Good Health Is About The Diet And Exercise Long Game

Charlie Harper

Friday, April 28th, 2023

I sometimes like to run experiments in real time on social media.  Some are to get reactions to single posts. Sometimes I play the long game.

Three years ago this month I wrote a column about a habit I had established a year earlier.  Taking a cue from former UGA football standout turned ESPN star announcer David Pollack, I had decided to commit to his 30-day “Every Day Counts” challenge.  While at the gym for the first time in… too long, I committed to doing 30 minutes of exercise a day for 30 consecutive days.

A year later, I hadn’t missed a day.  Now four years later, the streak is still intact.  This includes the Covid shutdown, my own case of Covid, a surgery, and countless numbers of “routine” sinus infections.  Daily exercise is now a firmly established habit and priority.

One of the bargains I made with myself when realizing I was actually committing to this journey was that -  as a lover of good food in both quantity and quality – if I wanted to continue to eat well then exercise had to be part of the deal.  While my weight has had its ups and downs over the past four years, I’m down a net of about 45 pounds. 

Still, there are ebbs and flows.  At times the exercise intensity has diminished, and the good food habits constantly battle the urge for burgers and fried foods.  

While my last few physicals have been quite positive, one checkup showed my cholesterol had crept up to the borderline level.  Having had one especially bad reading almost 20 years ago which was corrected with a specific diet, I decided that the first few months of this year should be used for a tune up with specific focus on what I was eating.  

Starting mid-January, the rules were fairly simple.  I found a few articles to refresh my memory of “foods that lower cholesterol”, and built a diet incorporating as many of them as possible into my weekly menu.  Fried foods were almost completely eliminated.  Red meat was as well.  

Losing weight wasn’t a primary concern, but I knew that the last year’s coastal diet of fried seafood and cheeseburgers in paradise had added a few pounds.  I was fairly confident that I could lose the ten pounds I wanted to over this timeframe without restricting the quantity of my food.  I just needed to upgrade the quality.

It began by switching my daily breakfast to oatmeal.  There’s nothing exciting there, but to quote the late Wilford Brimley, it was “the right thing to do.”

Lunch often became salads, but they needed to be salads I wanted to eat.  Taco salads were made with ground turkey as a leaner substitute for beef.  Trust me, even though you know you can tell the difference, once you’ve covered the meat in spices and buried it under taco sauce, you’re not really going to care.  Avocados were added, as they’re especially good to battle the cholesterol demons.

Another salad replicated one from one of my favorite St. Simons restaurants, The Half Shell.  A crab cake or two sautéed in olive oil is served on a salad made with fresh strawberries, mandarin oranges, and pecans over greens with balsamic dressing.  If you see the pattern here, this hopefully doesn’t sound like “health food”.

Most of this was during cold weather, so pasta dishes became comfort food.  One featured eggplant added to the marinara sauce, and again, with proper spices, I didn’t really miss the meat that would normally have been in there.  Another included seared scallops in pesto sauce over baked spaghetti squash – for anyone that needs a lower carb solution.

Fish featured prominently, including trout al la Meniere and sautéed cod over rosemary garlic white beans.  Over several experiments I’ve honed in on a recipe for a honey-sriracha marinade that works perfectly over salmon and chicken.

After three months of focused eating, I had my physical and had one of the most pleasant and quickest visits with my doctor ever.  All tests were great, no recommendations or changes needed.  My weight goal also was met.

The fun part of this was bringing my Facebook friends along for the journey without telling them what journey I was on.  They were spared any pics of oatmeal, but when I would cook something new for dinner, I usually shared a pic or two along with a description.  None of them noted the health benefits, or that I had curated the menu with a goal in mind.

The reactions were about the food.  Some wanted recipes. A few even thought I was over-indulging rather than eating healthy.

And that was, after all, the point.  “Diet” has horrible connotations.  Doing what you need to do for your health does not have to be punishment. With a little planning and some direct focus on the quality of the menu, there are plenty of ways to do what must be done while enjoying the journey.

Good health, sustained over time, is the journey.  It’s also the best way to enjoy playing the long game.