Ever since I was a kid, I have always loved eating. Dumplings or hamburgers - if it tastes good, it would go into my mouth.
My personal mantra as a kid was: If it makes my mouth happy, it must make me happy. This led to many a problem when I was left to fend for myself at home, afterschool. My parents let me make my own decisions on what I should or shouldn't eat pretty early on. What did I eat, you might ask? Let's just say that my American palette loved combining Kraft Cheese, white bread and butter into one delicious, melty package of cheesy warm-you-up goodness.
Yes, comfort food is named just so for a reason.
This obviously didn't do me any favors when it came to my weight. I went from being a rail-thin child, to a very plump teenager. But my weight, and even how I looked in the mirror while I was growing up, never convinced me to change the way I ate. I was simply too happy with all the wonderful foods that I had access to.
Of all things, what happened to my brother was what finally convinced me I had to make a change.
What Lifelong Inflammation Can Do to a Body
My brother has a very similar diet to what I had growing up. It makes perfect sense when you consider that we grew up in the same household. BBQ is his greatest vice. I like joking that as a child, I was convinced that if a rack of ribs was fall-off-the-bones tender, my brother would have traded me for just one slice of it in a heartbeat.
So, it shouldn't have been surprising to any one in our family that he was diagnosed with gout at the age of 40.
Talk about a horrible way to ring in middle age.
When I looked at the "why" of his diagnosis, his doctor explained how gout works - essentially a lot of meat and alcohol are the primary reasons why it was known as the "disease of kings" in the middle ages. He's managed to learn how to manage it, but his way of thinking and eating has been a major wake up call for me, even up until today.
Gout is an obvious form of inflammation, but what surprised me is that chronic inflammation can lead to cancer. Three of my four grandparents died of cancer - two from gastrointestinal cancers. My father has high blood pressure. My mom is a fantastic cook. These things may not all be related, but I am a firm believer that if there is smoke, there is a fire.
Who Wants to Live Forever?
When my brother was first diagnosed with gout, it was a wake up call to me. I couldn't see the path I was walking on myself, but when it presented itself in someone I love and respect, my choices and lifestyle became crystal clear to me. At 30, I lost 30 pounds and I've fluctuated quite a bit, especially when my kids were young, but I've always managed to lose the weight again and I've kept most of it off since.
I still don't think I have the kind of physique that I would flaunt at the pool or on Instagram. However, I am proud of what I've been able to finally achieve, but not for the reasons you might think.
I have people asking me all the time: "How'd you do it?" or "What's your trick?" Unfortunately, I don't have an easy trick. On the other hand, I do believe it's easy to do, but only if you are motivated.
First, I'd like to tell you what doesn't work.
In my heart, I believe looks and youth are fleeting. I know I am not able to run as fast or bench-press as much as I was able to in my 20s. But I don't expect or even want to. I've lived my life and I'm mostly happy with all the decisions I made. I always knew that I could never keep a six-pack or have the types of muscles that would make girls swoon. I just don't have the discipline or care enough to make that something I always want to strive for.
What convinced me to make a change is that I don't want others to do for me, what I should be doing for myself.
I've had friends and family die of diabetes and cancer. I've watched them waste away and be unable to perform the most simple of tasks for themselves. Whether it's from pain or muscle atrophy, it has been some of the most painful and sorrowful things I've ever had to see or endure.
I don't want to live forever, but I do want to face death living on my two feet, knowing that I've lived a full life.
I want my kids to look at me and be proud of who I am, what I meant to them and the part I took in their lives. I don't want them to have to worry about me in my old age, because of poor choices I made in my life. I especially don't want them to ever learn that I kept making the same mistakes, doing the things I tell them not to do every day, that I knew in my heart I shouldn't be knowingly inflicted on myself.
And that is the simple motivation that keeps me going and helps me lose weight again, whenever I lose focus.