Throwback Thursday: To figure out what’s best for your health, be a mad scientist.

One of my favorite posts from this year – and among the most popular posts at Every48 – is this one: the story of how I dispensed with just about every “health expert’s” advice and figured out the playbook of tactics that was going to work for me to turn my health around.

I offer it to you on this Throwback Thursday as I pack my bags and prepare to head back to Seattle, which should be at least a few degrees cooler than Philadelphia. Right? Please? Hope so.

Oh, and I’m heading out for my run in hot Philly in just a few minutes with my water and my escape hatch (a 2-mile loop that I can either repeat, or not, depending on how hot it gets out there). So on the plane later today, I’ll be well-rested and well-exercised. Yummy.

And one little edit to the post below. Back in February, I thought I would just run one marathon in 2014. I’ve changed my mind. See? Gotta stay flexible with these things.

You are a laboratory of one. Be a mad scientist.

[Originally published at Every48 on February 19, 2014.]

Ever since I started to get my own health under control five years ago, I’ve considered myself a “laboratory of one.” Let me explain.

You are a laboratory of one. Experiment wisely and safely to figure out what works best for you.
You are a laboratory of one. Experiment wisely and safely to figure out what works best for you.

If I were to have started reading all of the legitimate-seeming scientific studies, the nutritional texts, the biology and chemistry and exercise physiology books, and the magazine articles that all advertise knowledge about how to get and stay healthy, say, five years ago this week – I would still be reading. It’s way TMI. Do I need to know which fruits have the highest levels of antioxidants? Do I really have to know how many calories are in each individual pomegranate seed, or how much lactic acid I produce after thirty minutes of fast running? Or slow running?

No. I do not need to know these things to get started. It might make for some interesting research at some point, but it is not required right now.

What is required right now…is starting. Here’s how I started, five years ago this week:

1. I figured out that I couldn’t lose weight on my own. I had tried. I really had. But the scale wasn’t budging, and I wasn’t getting any younger, either. So I decided to get some help.

2. I identified a program that I thought would work for me, to teach me decent nutrition. (Notice that I did not say “perfect.” There is no such thing.)

3. I joined that program and pledged to stick around until I was successful, trying out different experiments along the way. Such as, I can’t have milk chocolate in the house because I’ll eat it all. But can I have some really good dark chocolate and be happy with half an ounce, a few times a week? Answer: yes.

4. I got active and stayed that way. I started in the program inspired by the book I co-authored, Fit by Nature, and moved from there to a coached running program that eventually brought me to within two and a half minutes of a Boston Marathon qualifier. (I run for their charity program, but I’m still trying to qualify officially, on their time basis.)

5. I kept trying new things. Yoga (hot and “regular”), strength training classes, strength training books, hiking, mountaineering, swimming by myself, swimming in a triathlon group, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, even – yes! – curling. All to see what would stick.

6. I figured out which things stuck. I kept doing those things. I still mess with the equation now and then – and that’s how I keep figuring out what works.

Why did I choose “Every48” as the title of this blog? Because I feel it in my bones when I haven’t worked out for two days. There’s a tiredness, an inertia there. If I hit three days of not working out, that’s a turning point, and it becomes even harder to get out the door and maintain an active lifestyle. So I’m foisting my own scientific discoveries upon you. This is what works for me.

It’s more movement than the American College of Sports Medicine recommends as a baseline for health (they say 30 minutes, 5 times per week, of moderate activity; or 20 minutes, 3 times per week, of strenuous activity). But it’s less than a lot of really good marathoners I know. It’s somewhere in between. It works for me. It’s taken time to figure it all out.

My most recent discovery? I don’t like training for two marathons a year. So 2014 will be the year of one marathon, a bunch of half-marathons, and perhaps a triathlon or two (which will be my first toe-dips into that very nifty-seeming sport). [Editor’s note on 7/10/2014: Well, that decision didn’t last long – I’ll be running a marathon in October 2014. Can’t get away from ’em.]

Keep going, keep learning, keep experimenting. What works for you?

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