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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Willpower is the key to healthier living

By Ted Slowik

Hi, all! Some of you have asked, "Ted, how did you quit smoking?" or "Would you share details of your diet?" Gladly! It makes me happy to hear that some of you are inspired to live healthier lives and that my situation may have played some small role in your decision. But first, you have to understand two key principles to really appreciate how I was able to stop smoking cigarettes and lose 35 pounds in 12 weeks.

First, the most important idea you need to embrace is willpower. You have to REALLY WANT to stop smoking and/or lose weight. You've got to mentally commit yourself 100 percent. I've quit smoking lots of times before and always left the door open a crack to pick up the habit again. This time, thanks to the near-fatal heart attack, I'm committed to stopping for good. So I don't even consider the possibility of smoking. Sometimes I dream I fell off the wagon and I get so disappointed with myself until I wake up and realize it was just a dream and I didn't smoke any cigarettes after all.

In the past, I've tried nicotine gum, patches, medication, county-sponsored stop-smoking programs, e-cigs, other oral substitutes like mints and gum--you name it. This time I quit cold turkey. Smoking is behavioral, and social. When I first stopped I had to remove myself from situations where smoking was too great a temptation.

On my guitar teacher Kev Wright's birthday I went to a bar where his band The Righteous Hillbillies were playing. There were so many people smoking right outside the door I could only stay long enough to wish him a happy birthday before I had to leave. A few weeks later, as I got stronger, I went to hear his band again and I was able to stay and listen for a while. The temptation to smoke will probably always be there. I try to not dwell on it and instead occupy my mind with other things. But always I carry with me the absolute conviction that I will never smoke another cigarette. Ever.

The other key principal is to paraphrase Daniel Burnham and that is, "Think Big." I didn't just quit smoking. I'm trying to save my life. I had to go all in. I have to lose weight so my weak heart doesn't have to work so hard. So I exercise to lose weight. If I was still a smoker, I wouldn't be able to exercise because I'd be short of breath. I couldn't lose weight if I didn't exercise. When every choice is considered as part of a bigger, overall program I've found it's much easier to make smart choices.

That said, here's a few specifics about my diet and nutrition regime. For starters, I eat a lot less. Portion control is key. You just mentally need to convince yourself that you are not hungry. Drink some water.

For breakfast I have something light. Oatmeal is best though many times on the run I'll settle for a granola bar. It's not the best choice because there's a lot of sugar in it but it's quick and light and settles my stomach. Sugar is the first and easiest craving to give up. Cake, cookies, ice cream, chocolate, etc., those are just no longer options for me. Actually, many fruits and juices have a ton of sugar. They're not the healthiest choices for you. I was able to stop craving sugar rather easily.

I cut way down on coffee, from maybe 10 cups a day loaded with cream and sugar to two cups in the morning, black. Coffee was a nicotine trigger for me. Sometimes now I have a cup of hot tea with honey instead. They sell decaffeinated tea, you know. For cold drinks I stick with water, sometimes unsweetened iced tea. Avoid soda pop, even diet soda. That shit's bad for you. Lemonade and other non-carbonated drinks usually have too much sugar.

For lunch instead of cheeseburgers and french fries I eat a salad. There are awesome salad recipes out there. Spinach is the best. You can make it with hard-boiled eggs, turkey bacon bits, red onions, fresh mushrooms and raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Or you can make it with cranberries and walnuts or almonds and blue cheese. Or you can make a garden salad with lettuce, tomato, celery, carrot and other fresh vegetables. Salads can make hearty meals. If I mix a big one for a family supper and there are leftovers, that makes a great lunch the next day.

I avoid bread, and cut out a lot of carbs. Instead of sandwiches I'll eat tortilla wraps. You toast or microwave a tortilla, and you can buy pre-cooked and seasoned chicken for fajitas. It's great with lettuce, tomato, guacamole and a little light shredded Mexican cheese.

I avoid fried foods. Smart Balance has replaced butter, margarine and every other oil in my diet. That's a cardio diet thing, but I've gotta do it. I avoid red meat, and instead use ground turkey, a lot of chicken and some pork. Though no "real" bacon. Turkey bacon is OK.

Green vegetables are the best: broccoli, kale, fresh green beans, etc. There's too much salt in processed, canned vegetables and soup. Cardio dieters have to watch their sodium intake closely. So except in moments of extreme weakness, no more frozen pizzas or pot pies or chips or move-theater popcorn. Basically I cut out snacking altogether.

I've had the luxury of time these past 12 weeks, and don't know how well I'll keep up the good nutrition regime once I resume working. It takes time to prepare meals from scratch, and busy on-the-go people sometimes have to settle for less-heathy choices. Also, sometimes when I feel hungry between meals I go for a walk instead, and I may not be able to do that as often.

Finally, it's OK to allow yourself rewards once in a while. I had steak once, and another time a milkshake! You've got to treat yourself. What's the point in living if you can't enjoy life? Just be responsible about it.

Dieting and nutrition are a key part to healthier living. So is not smoking. And for many of us, taking medication for cholesterol is a big help, too. But you've got to also embrace exercise. Think about it. If you're sitting on the couch for four hours watching episodes of "Game of Thrones" or a million other shows, you're not moving. You're not losing weight. If you're watching TV you're more likely to be tempted to snack and drink soda. You've got to keep that to a minimum. Go for a walk. Work in the yard. Join a gym. Do something. Don't just sit there. Move.

I'll remain committed to making the healthiest possible choices with a goal of losing more weight so my heart doesn't have to work as hard.