Health awareness and a desire to be in the best health I could be began at an early age for me. I can recall being six or seven-years-old and eating the crust on my bread -- not because I liked it, but because I was told it was good for me. I would choke down green peas or iceberg lettuce in order to satisfy the arbitrary requirement for something "green" with dinner. Last at the dinner table, I sat slowly chewing gristly, lean meat until every morsel was gone. Then, and only then, could I indulge in some ice cream.
A craving for real food seemed to permeate my childhood. Lean, well-cooked meat, cereal, 2% milk, enriched wheat bread and pasta, and the occasional cookie (or two or three) didn't seem to satisfy this craving. I often found myself nibbling on margarine when clearing the dinner table or spreading some other butter substitute on bread so thick that it would leave teeth marks. Naturally, I desired something fatty and rich and nutrients, but since no such thing was available (besides cheese), I went for the trans-fat laden, unreal goop that was as close to real butter as I could find in the refrigerator.
All that being said, I'd like to believe that I ate better than most kids growing up in America in the 80s and 90s. Or maybe I just ate less junk food than most kids. It seemed to be rare in my friends' households to limit soda and candy as my family did, or to only have dessert when dinner was finished. My family also emphasized exercise, and my brother and I were engaged in sports by age 4. Also, as much as I hated it as a kid, I have to give lots of credit to my dad for insisting that I play outside during the day and only watch a maximum of 2 hours of television daily. This certainly kept me active and physically fit growing up.
At the tail end of elementary school, it was time for that orthodontist-assisted rites-of-passage we call "braces." Pictures of me before the procedure reveal that I was your typical crooked-teeth, pinched nostrils, narrow-faced kid.
When middle school approached and I began to have more responsibility for my health, I would frequently spend some of my lunch money on the soda machines on school grounds. I was up to a 3 soda per day habit, and I felt guilty because I knew soft drinks were "bad" for me in any amount besides moderation. Fast forward to Freshman year in high school when I began abstaining from sodas completely after making a deal with my mom that if I stopped, she would stop, too. From then on, it was mostly water, orange juice, and occasionally gatorade as my beverages of choice. To this day, I haven't taken up drinking sodas again.
High school was a time of pumping iron, playing sports, building muscle, and trying my best to eat "right" according to what the bodybuilders at the gym were recommending: egg whites, protein powders, and lean meat -- essentially an emphasis on protein as the ultimate food and keeping fat as low as possible. Yes, I was attempting to adhere to a low-fat diet. That's probably why I ate so many fructose-fueled Power Bars. I was compensating for the lack of fat in my diet. Looking back, it's astonishing to see how "puffy" my face and overall musculature was. It was also during this time that I had my wisdom teeth removed, a "necessary" procedure (according to the orthodontist) if I was to prevent future dental disasters.
Following high school graduation, I thought, "Time to start being realistic." The expensive protein shakes and Power Bars were not economically viable options if I was to survive in the real world. Nor was a gym membership. I drastically changed my diet and lifestyle to appeal to my economic sensibilities. I stopped lifting weights and pounding protein shakes and began experimenting with hiking for exercise and eating cheap staple foods like beans and rice, pasta and tortillas. A month later, my muscles deflated.