A Tale of Two Parents: A Personal Story

by | Oct 13, 2014
Dad, Mom and Baby

Dad, Mom and Baby

If she were alive, my mom would have turned 62 years old this week. No matter how hard I try I can’t picture her looking older, and not just because it’s been 10 years since I’ve seen her.

Even on her 52nd birthday she hardly had a wrinkle on her face, nor did I ever see her with a single gray hair. She spent hours in the gym each week, had legs most 30-year olds would kill for, and felt perfectly at home in spandex and bikinis––the smaller the better. She loved organic vegetables, avoided the drive-thru and always took her multivitamins. Although my mom and I really didn’t have much in common, I definitely got my penchant for health from her.

My mom lived like she was in this for the long haul, and in that way she was the complete opposite of my dad. When they were young my dad lived his life like the future would never come. He took big risks, had a fabulous time, and threw caution to the wind with things like health and money. As he has reflected back over the past several years the most common thing I’ve heard him utter is, “I never thought I’d live this long.” (I know, straight out of The Simpsons).

The irony, of course, is that he did. And she didn’t.

My dad has only recently started coming to terms with this disappointment, but as their first child this life lesson wasn’t lost on me. Much of my philosophy on food and health comes from seeing first hand that life is short and precious, and that we cannot rely on our own vision of the future. Young, healthy people die every day from things outside their control, while the wild and reckless may live into their 80s.

Always the scientist, my tactic is to optimize. As I explain in Foodist, “My philosophy on food has nothing to do with fat, carbs or calories. I approach food and health with only one unshakable belief: that life should be awesome.”

An awesome life requires understanding what is important now. This includes eating amazing food and sharing it with the people you love. It means exploring the world and delighting in new experiences. It means eating in a way that fills you with energy and satisfaction, and doesn’t leave you feeling deprived. One of my biggest beefs (pun intended) with the paleo diet, despite its many health merits, is that restricting all grains, beans and dairy isolates you from virtually all cuisines on earth. Eating Chinese food without rice and Mexican food without corn may be possible, but something about it feels inauthentic and sad. Since you can also be very healthy while continuing to eat these foods, why be so restrictive? Life is too short.

On the flip side, an awesome life also includes the possibility that you’ll become a centenarian (don’t confuse this with centurion). Having a long life can be a wonderful gift, but only if you remain active, alert and free of pain. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer detract tremendously from your quality of life, and are all associated with your eating and exercise habits.

Striking this balance requires some soul searching, since what makes your life awesome isn’t necessarily the same as what makes my life awesome. I doubt my mother would have done much differently, since she seemed to genuinely enjoy her workouts and veggie garden. My dad, on the other hand, wishes he had started eating better much earlier, especially now that he knows how much he enjoys it and how hard his ailing health has been on him.

If long term health and quality of life are important to you, as I hope they are, building a set of rewarding home court habits is the key. Choose the easiest habits for you to implement that have the biggest impact on your health, like eating a nutritious breakfast, eating more vegetables and walking 10,000 steps per day. No one needs to eat like a saint 100% of the time to live a long, healthy life.

Finding healthy things you enjoy now is the secret to ensuring your future health and happiness.

What does an awesome life mean to you?

Originally published Oct 7, 2013.

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35 Responses to “A Tale of Two Parents: A Personal Story”

  1. Wow, this post sure puts things into perspective. I love your thoughts on this. We have to live each day to the fullest because we truly do not know what tomorrow brings. This means sticking to the things that keep you healthy and happy. My life is made awesome by the great people that I have to share it with and the experiences that we have. Enjoying my time with friends and finding a balance in all things makes life amazing!

  2. Gary Parker says:

    An awesome life to me is a life filled with purpose. As a society we seem to be placing more importance on how long we live our lives rather than how we live our lives. But as you pointed out longevity can help us have more fulfilling lives. So nutrition should not be ignored. Enjoyed the article.

  3. Tiago Neves says:

    I really appreciate the balance you consistently strike between the love of food and the love of life. Wish you a happy, long one!

  4. Kate says:

    An awesome life to me means not having any health challenges that are serious enough to keep you from doing what you want to do, or might want to do, if at all possible.

    Of course, many people have illnesses, conditions, and disabilities that have nothing to do with their healthstyle, that are genetic or have to do with advanced age. I understand that.

    But as I’m getting older, I see close friends and family members struggle with obesity, high cholesterol, and a brand-new diabetes diagnosis. Some of these people are so heavy and out of shape that they are unable to walk 20 minutes to go to my local farmer’s market with me; or take a hike in nature; or even climb up the bleachers at a sporting event without huffing and puffing and being in serious discomfort.

    Now, I’m not a perfect paragon of health, I’m still struggling to solidify an exercise routine and I have 9-10 very stubborn pounds between me and my goal weight.

    BUT: I walk to work every day; I can enjoy a weekend hike, even a hilly one; I can contemplate traveling anywhere I want because I’ll be able to walk around anywhere; I don’t have to take any medications; and I can enjoy my life with no restrictions.

    That, to me, is an awesome life.

  5. Roommate says:

    All my admiration for finding a way to reference centurions.

    xoNolan

      • Rhonda Gauthier says:

        Darya,
        I knew your Mom very well. She was quite a lady. Grew up with her during
        our tender teenage years and after. She would be so proud of you and is surely watching over you every minute. Your Dad saved my little boys life who fell into Grandma Pino’s pool one morning about 27 years ago. I’ve never forgotten this. Haven’t seen your Dad in years, but so happy to hear and see he is doing well. You surely received the best from both sides!!
        Best of luck to you and Kevin and “bon continuation”
        Rhonda

      • Darya Rose says:

        Thanks Rhonda! I remember my dad saving a few kids from that pool. He has always cared about other people more than himself.

        I hope to see you soon!

  6. Yoshi says:

    You could be the Last Centurion and live a lot longer than a hundred years… :D

    http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Rory_Williams

  7. Misty says:

    Loved reading this. Great perspective on balance. For me…having a flex-time job that I am passionate about, a home that I have creatively rehab’d and decorated with things that I made, plenty of free time to enjoy my hobbies, spending quality time with my 2 children everyday, spending alone time with my husband (even a kidfree trip to the grocery store), daily exercise – even if it is just walking, learning something new everyday, amazing food on a regular basis. Travel, copious time spent with others and extraneous “stuff” don’t really add much to my life.

  8. Hilary says:

    Loved this post! I think an awesome life is just being happy.

    Hilary x thehealthycollective.com

  9. Beautiful post Darya. To me, an awesome life means finding a way to live with purpose, and to be able to say that something is better in the world because I was here. As a Mom myself, I am reminded that the life I live every day is rich with the most important messages I am broadcasting to my children. As you so clearly pointed out, kids are watching and learning from our actions, more than our words. If parents want to raise children who embrace a healthy lifestyle and beautiful, real food then the simplest way to do that is to lead by example and embrace it themselves. Sending you a hug and images of vibrant purple vegetables today!

  10. Ghhutch says:

    Great article. My father in law was a lot like your mom. He was a great person, in great shape, ate well but lost his life to cancer at a relatively young age. I like the idea of optimizing our lives and enjoying authentic foods instead of restricting these joys away. YOLO!

  11. What a beautiful post. You eloquently captured so many of my thoughts and beliefs about eating healthfully. This morning I was sucked into a hole of trashy celebrity gossip sites and I read where Tom Hanks was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. One of his comments was “We’ve all got to die from something.” As much as I love him, I wanted to take the next flight out to LA to smack him across the head! Sure, we’ve all got to die from something, but these chronic diseases keep you from truly living.

  12. Dr. Matt says:

    Love this article. I couldn’t agree with you more. One of the things that I try to get people to understand is that they don’t have to be perfect in what they eat, how they exercise, etc. And, if it comes to a place where they are stressing over it, then it takes away from the benefits of eating well, exercising, etc. Yes, we need to take care of ourselves, but you are so right. Life is made to be enjoyed.

  13. Pam says:

    Somewhere you mentioned a food-based multi-vitamin that you take. Now I can’t find it. I’m curious how it compares to the one that I take which I like (And also like that it is made right here in Oakland-hurray!).

    It’s from Super Nutrition and it’s called Simply One. I take the Women Triple Power. It’s vegetarian, gluten-free, has an organic herb and greenfood blend and an antioxidant blend. It’s also affordable which is important to me.

    (I have nothing to do with the company except that I live in the same town.) :)

  14. Marie says:

    I am very curious what your mother died from, if you don’t mind sharing.

    Marie

  15. Kelly says:

    Darya, thank you for this! Your story is amazing. I’m a long time fan of your blog, and recently finished Foodist. You’ve given me the tools/knowledge I need to achieve healthiness and happiness.

    I’ve been going through a rough patch lately. Instead of the typical urge to starve myself with a juice cleanse or overexercise, I’ve started small with things that are actually enjoyable. Been going for jogs and walking my dog around my very hilly neighborhood. It’s a quick stop at the local organic market to grab fresh produce/meats for dinner instead of the usual takeout. It costs about the same or less and you’re right, tastes SO MUCH BETTER.

    So, the other night when I was walking my dog I saw you and you smiled at me (well, my Frenchie is pretty darn cute). Perhaps we’re neighbors…Just want to say Hi and that you’re awesome for helping others have an awesome life :)

  16. Kelly says:

    Over the span of several months — a job loss, a breakup, a move. Life change overload, happens to the best of us. But I’m not proud of the way I’ve coped. In the process abandoned all prior healthy habits. It only took about 4 months of binge drinking and cheap takeout to undo years of dedicated work at the gym. I’ve been through this before, I’m no stranger to the yo-yo, and I’m tired of it!

    We all face difficulties but it’s how we find strength to positively cope that matters. As such, you’re an inspiration Darya.

    Keeping up with your blog and finally pulling Foodist out of a box and reading it last month gave me the push I needed. For that I’m grateful. I’m confident in this new approach as opposed to the typical quick fix.

    I already feel amazing after a few short weeks, but look forward to updating you on my long-term progress :)

  17. Amy R. says:

    An awesome life for me right now is eating healthy and exercising because I love my body instead of doing it because I hate my body.

    (Plus a million other blessings :) )

  18. Mary D says:

    Darya,

    Thank you for sharing this touching post. I don’t mind a bit that you’re re-posting this piece. Sometimes posts are so good that they bear re-posting. A number of the “newbies” here probably missed it the first time around (like me!).

  19. Anne Ricci says:

    Hi Darya,
    you don’t know how much I agree with you about healthy eating. I have lived and traveled in 40+ countries, and people manage to be healthy (or sick) with all kinds of foods, including meat, fish, grains, legumes, and even insects.
    I enjoy all kinds of healthy foods and have no taboo. I have found that many people who have taboos around food often lack joy and happiness deep inside.
    Thanks for this great post!
    Anne

    • Rhonda Gauthier says:

      I agree. Eating fresh, healthy, home cooked foods, no matter what, fish, chicken, meat, veggies, cheeses, in “reasonable portions”, and physical activity, is the best “diet” I know. As they say in France “dans toutes le mesure, rien de trop”.(All in good measure, never to much of anything) The word diet gives me a hot flash…..couldn’t imagine following a piece of paper daily telling me what I can or can not eat! Bon appétit et bonne santé a tous! Darya’s book is written with common sense and intellectual knowledge. I enjoyed it very much.
      Rhonda

  20. Redha says:

    Hi Darya

    I found out about your blog just last night. Reading your article remember me about my father, who passed away in Summer 2010 at an age of 91 years and a half. He started smoking and using a chick tobacco at an earlier age and quiet them both when he was in his sixties. He never had any chronic disease and he died naturally at home. I remember he used to eat only home made foods(Mediterranean), no processing foods or fast foods…

    I agree with you about food restriction. I think we should enjoy foods as long as they are authentic, natural and whole. As a Mediterranean who lives in North America, I love enjoying new foods. I make Biryani with brown and white rice, North African Couscous made white and whole wheat semoulina,I eat Samosa sometimes even it’s a fried food, Baklawa even too sweet… I only restrict foods when is processed and have preservatives. Same things goes with drinks,cosmetic products, plastics using…

    Besides the healthy conscious living, there is the spiritual(religious)living that is very important in our life, which it let us know our real purpose in this life and then it comes the emotional feeling, happiness, less stress…

    Our life is a destiny that has something to do with our decisions.
    Thank you

  21. Lonnie says:

    Thank you Darya for sharing such a personal story. You’re story brought tears to my eyes. I’m a little emotional right now since my own mom is struggling with her health (pancreatic cancer).

    Also, thank you for such a balanced approach. For me an awesome life mean having the energy to keep up with my children and my grandson. At work we have trekdesks, a treadmill with a desk top attached to it. I walk 6 miles in a day on it plus I get outside and do a little walking as well. My goal is to still be walking at least 5 miles a day when I’m 90. I’ll set a new goal when I get to be 90. I’m still more than 30 years away. :)

    Keep up the good work Darya!

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