“I was just thinking, we ought to go on a cleanse,” says the septuagenarian sitting across from me with her decade older husband.

I blink. Really? This human has survived seventy years without contracting deathly illness, developing heart disease, or getting run over by a reindeer. I figured when we make it that far, we get to just live on cinnamon rolls and anything in the pastry family while we play bridge on Thursdays.

Her husband looks surprisingly supportive, like he’s maybe done every diet ever with her already. I bet he secret eats at Cinnabons when she’s getting her hair done.

Upon further inquiry, I discover they have wintered in Arizona where they had a diet of mostly bread and margarita mix. “I don’t put any tequila in it,” he says. Suddenly the whole aging thing is less appealing. They’ve gained a considerable amount of “belly fat” over the last few months and have read how unhealthy that extra roll around the midsection can be.

In and of itself, the tire is not unhealthy as much as it is an indicator of other unhealthy habits, such as a sedentary lifestyle with a dramatic increase of refined carbohydrates. Or margarita mix.

It reminded me of when my grandmother made margaritas and we’d find two little single-shot bottles of Cuervo in the trash. We’d add a fifth or so of tequila when she wasn’t looking and then kick her ass at bridge for a change. Nothing is as funny as a drunken Granny losing nickels while bragging about her golf game.

The truth is, this dear couple doesn’t need to go on a cleanse or start a diet at all. They have just developed a few unhealthy habits that have gradually had an impact on their weight and other health concerns. Health does not require drastic deprivation or self-punishing diets or regular coffee enemas (although, if I were going to get an enema…).

Health, like many things in life, requires balance. It requires that we objectively observe what might have contributed to an imbalance, and merely shift a few small things to allow the balance to be re-established.

These people have a small farm most of the year. They are outside chasing chickens and picking up fainting goats, repairing fences, and gardening. They drink a glass of wine in the evening and have a couple of squares of dark chocolate after dinner. This is balanced: For those nine months, their bodies are leaner and more flexible, they sleep better, they have more energy.

There are ways to maintain balance even when we travel or get out of our normal rhythm—unless you’re going on a cruise. I’ve never known anyone who has the super human powers of self-control on a cruise ship. Sure, we might get a little gluttonous, the cocktails (or straight up grenadine syrup perhaps) might flow a little more, but there’s no need to panic, order swimming-pool sized drinks, or make promises to yourself that you will never eat a carbohydrate again after this last piece of pie.

Just like our homes are familiar and safe places, if we can make our healthy habits familiar and safe places, simply returning to them regularly will sustain our health. The small things make a big difference: Having some vegetables in all of your meals, choosing to have water instead of wine some days, moving your body regularly, or establishing real breakfast routines instead of coffee and an energy bar.

If you have a moment while you’re driving or pedaling to work today, think about the daily habits that contribute to or distract you from your optimal health. Could you have a quick veggie omelet instead of a Kind bar? What if you did not hit the taco truck for lunch every day but just some days?

Little changes make a big difference over time. And they are far less intimidating than going Ketogenic, trust me. Also, you don’t have to scrape the barbecue sauce off your chicken all summer. //

 

When Ammi Midstokke is not chasing her first love (trails), she is preaching her second (food) as a Nutritional Therapist. She wrote about carbo-loading in April.

 

Originally published in the May 2018 print edition of Out There Outdoors under the title “The Small Changes Make a Big Difference.”