Recently I gave a presentation to a massive crowd at my job, on the basics of Meal Prep. I began by stating my case for WHY I believe people should meal prep. I’ve even written an article on the subject, which you can find HERE. But I feel like it’s time to expand on the concept, because I don’t think we’re getting it right.
In fact, I know we’re not getting it right because our country has a higher incidence of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome than it ever has. Profits from pharmaceutical companies are soaring to record levels. People are spending a higher percentage of their income on healthcare than they ever have, yet the general public is continuing to prioritize dozens of other things over their health, including money.
And frankly, it’s pissing me off.
Now, I understand that I am a little biased. I’ve spent most of my adult life studying human health, fitness, and performance, and as a bit of a perfectionist, when I know that one behavior or habit is better than another, I do my very best to incorporate it into my life. Especially when it comes to my health. So, health is absolutely the number one priority in MY life. But I understand that other people that have children and families and different responsibilities DON’T have health as their number one priority.
But I’m going to argue that everyone else is wrong.
Not only is that point of view short-sighted, but it discounts how much better the present AND the future can and WILL be if a person puts their health first.To distill it as simply as I can – you CANNOT have anything else in your life without your health. It’s obvious to say that you can’t take care of your family if you’re dead. The problem is that people are able to survive in poor and failing health (or even, in better-case scenarios, in sub-optimal health), for sometimes decades, without dying. And they take this as evidence that the other stuff DESERVES to be a higher priority than their personal health.
The two most common reasons people don’t meal prep (even though nearly EVERY single person knows and admits the benefits of doing it) are: I don’t have time & I can’t afford it.
In my recent meal prep presentation, I showed how meal prepping can actually save a person $10,000 PER YEAR over eating out at restaurants and fast-food chains. So, not only does it actually take LESS time over the course of a week than eating out, it SAVES money, IMPROVES your health, and GIVES YOU CONTROL in a world where so many things are outside of our control. Oh, and if you spend that $10,000 you saved on something like a family vacation, it can give you lifelong memories and quality time with the people you love the most – which can reduce your stress levels, improve your mental health, and increase your enjoyment of life.
Look, meal prep is basically magic, and I’m astonished and disappointed that every person in our country isn’t doing it. I understand there are extenuating circumstances for SOME people. But the vast majority of people that AREN’T doing it COULD be doing it, and they’re just not.
Let me call a quick time out, because I’m getting a little upset.
I want to explain WHY I’m so passionate about people prioritizing their health.
You see, I’m an intensely logical and rational person, while simultaneously being rather emotional and empathetic.
To say it more simply: I care deeply about people living happy lives. When I was a teenager, I was extremely depressed. I was small, pasty white, unpopular, un-athletic, and I had absolutely no self-esteem. My mental health was in a VERY bad place. I was unfamiliar with good eating habits, or working out, and I was honestly just filled with a lot of hate. I hated that everything seemed to come so easily to everyone else when I struggled so badly.
Fast forward a decade, and I learned about healthy eating, working out, and the importance of sleep, stress management, and gut health. Improving my diet and starting to work out improved my physique, gave me confidence I never had, and taught me that I could change the trajectory of my life.
It changed my life so much that I began to be filled with BLISS for life. I’m talking that eyes-filled-with-tears kind of happy from enjoying my life so much. That feeling was INCREDIBLE, and such a far cry from what I’d felt just a few years before. With that came the realization that I wanted EVERYONE to be able to enjoy life as much as I did. But for years, I had no idea how to get people to feel that way, too.
After another decade of working with people as a personal trainer, and years spent researching and earning my Master’s Degree in Exercise and Nutrition Science, I finally understood how to build the foundation: Give people control of their health, and their lives. Give them the confidence that comes with going through the same kind of transformation. Give them hope by showing them they have the ABILITY to change anything they don’t like about their current lifestyle.
And the foundation of all of THAT is meal prep.
See, there’s nothing magic about meal prep in and of itself. It’s just a simple habit to cook your food for the week all on one day. But that simple act – rehearsing a behavior before you have to EXPRESS that behavior, is the crux of any successful habit in the world. KNOWING what to do in a certain situation increases the likelihood of you actually doing it when the time comes. It’s the entire reason why sports teams practice, why actors rehearse, and why we study for tests. Having a PLAN causes a simple cascade of behaviors that makes you much more likely to stick to that plan.
To put it simply: having a plan makes it easier to DO the habit than to not do it. Imagine prepping all of your meals, but then deciding to go out for lunch with co-workers. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Because you’ve LOWERED the barrier to the good habit, and RAISED the barrier to the bad habit.
And here’s where my mind takes this: As you eat healthier, you’re going to improve your gut health. As your gut health improves, it’s likely that your levels of inflammation and mental health will improve, too. And possibly even your body composition. That may be the catalyst for you starting to work out more often. Working out helps you to start sleeping better, which decreases the odds of many diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cardiovascular disease. Because you’re sleeping well, you’re better able to deal with stress. Eventually, there comes a tipping point where these healthy habits start to pile up, and suddenly you start getting all of these compliments from your friends and co-workers. The compliments boost your confidence and self-esteem, which makes you happier. Maybe your spouse has even noticed and your sex life has improved. Maybe you’ve inspired them to start living healthier as well. Because your health has improved, your quality of life stays high as you age, and instead of spending $300,000 on out-of-pocket medical costs like the average couple does in their retirement, you’re spending less than half that, and you can travel more, and enjoy your life and your family more.
So, you see, good health is the core of a happy life. I’ve worked with thousands of clients over the past 13 years, and too often I’ve seen people realizing for the first time in their 50’s and 60’s that their health truly does decide their quality of life. But the time to improve health isn’t in your 50’s and 60’s - just like the time to start saving for retirement isn’t in your 50’s or 60’s.
In fact, that’s a point I made in my recent presentation as well. Nearly EVERYONE has a retirement savings account. Why? Because we recognize the importance of planning for the future, and we recognize the power of compound interest (aka how small contributions over a long period of time pay huge dividends). Well, your health is ABSOLUTELY THE SAME. Every day is a chance for you to deposit into your health “retirement account.” And no, you don’t have to deposit every day. But the more you deposit now, and the more CONSISTENTLY you deposit over the course of the next 5, 10, 20, 30 years will ONE HUNDRED PERCENT decide what kind of health and quality of life you have as you age. Ironically, the average retirement planner makes something like $150,000 per year, while the average personal trainer makes something like $30-40,000 per year. This means that people value their MONEY 5x MORE than they value their HEALTH. But as I like to point out to people – your money can be recovered if it’s lost. Your health cannot.
Look, I got it – you're busy and you want to relax on weekends. Me too. And sometimes it’s just EASIER to order out, especially when you’re tired after a long day. But as I explained to one of my clients – you would never tell your spouse or family, “I don’t care if you’re healthy or happy, or if you die of a preventable disease 15 years earlier than you should have.” But every time you say yes to allowing poor eating habits, or poor sleeping habits, or skipping workouts – that is essentially what you’re saying to them.
We live in a world today where there’s just TOO MUCH stuff to think about: new phones and work and friends and families and self-care and entertainment and politics and a million other things.
Just remember that you can’t enjoy any of those things if you’re not alive and healthy.
So, do yourself and your loved ones a favor – start prioritizing your health above everything else. Say no to unnecessary late nights, pointless drinking, and unfulfilling fast food meals. By all means, cheat when you want to cheat and celebrate when and how you want to celebrate. Just pick your spots. Try it for a year and see how you feel. If it’s awful, give it up and go back to prioritizing the other stuff. You’re certainly not going to be worse off for it. And who knows, maybe your health, fitness, and happiness will improve, and like me, your life will have been changed for the better.
And remember: use your powers for good!