The Healthier Living Game: How to Be Healthy Without All the Stress and Hard Work

Jason Gutierrez
Nov 10 · 10 min read

Most people strive to be healthier, but for many of them, it’s pretty damn hard. I’ve realized that it’s because people’s view of what “being healthy” means is dead wrong.

I used to think being healthy was an achievable goal — a one-time deal like an actor’s big break or a writer who starts making money for a living.

But it’s not.

I used to think being healthy meant following a strict diet and exercise routine, as if torturing yourself to achieve the body of a Greek God was the epitome of health.

But that’s not true either.

I also used to think being healthy meant sacrificing things you love — pizza, In-and-Out burgers, and banana cream pie — for the sake of your well-being.

But yep, I was wrong about that too.

Because all of that would suck. And I don’t blame anyone who can’t live by those rules.

What Being Healthy Actually Means

My view of being healthy was extremely short-sighted. I was looking at it as a sprint instead of a marathon. It turns out that being healthy is a lifestyle — a way of living. It’s not a prescription that you follow to achieve a desired result and maintain forever. It’s a lifetime’s worth of decisions made each and every day.

Sure, you might be able to achieve the level of health and fitness you’ve always dreamed of after a few grueling months of diet and exercise, but unless you’re a freak or someone destined for the Olympics, I’d bet you’d burn out shortly after.

Sooner or later, something happens (looking at you, life) that puts a wrinkle in your plans, launching you back into old, unhealthy behaviors.

Instead, I’ve learned a far better way of living from years of research, personal experimentation, and a whole lot of failure.

Most of what I learned can be boiled down to one simple practice. And here’s the cool part…

  • You don’t have to do anything drastic.
  • You don’t have to dive into anything grueling, hoping for a change that will stick.
  • You don’t have to go full keto (unless that’s your thing).

All you have to do is play the Healthier Living Game.

Let me explain.

What Is the Healthier Living Game?

It’s a simple game I made up to solve the problem of worrying about making healthy decisions.

I started playing it to eat as healthy as possible while traveling, which happens to be extremely hard. Unless you’re OK with fasting 90% of the time, you’re bound to run into a situation where a less than ideal option is the only one you’ve got.

Even though eating healthy was important to me, I’d been wanting to find the right balance between being a health nut and enjoying life. I got sick of beating myself up over poor diet decisions when good options either weren’t available or were inconvenient.

I wanted a way to maintain my health-conscious eating habits (aka not going off the rails) regardless of where I chose to eat. I knew if I could do that, then I could eat anywhere, anytime, and still feel like I was doing my body some good.

Hence the healthier living game was born.

After using it with a good bit of success, I quickly realized the game works for more than just diet and travel — it can actually become a way of life. It can be used with just about anything in order to make an “unhealthy” situation just a little bit better.

It works perfectly for people who’ve been trying to become healthier individuals but have struggled to stick to a plan that works.

It’s only got one rule, so it’s super easy to play, and it promotes healthy, non-judgmental decision-making.

How Do You Play?

The Healthier Living Game is simple. All you have to do is ask yourself one simple question:

“What can I do to make this decision a little bit healthier?”

For example, the first time I played the game I was at the airport with only a few spare minutes before my flight. My options were Chik-Fil-A or starve. I decided to grab something from Chik-Fil-A, but instead of ordering my usual off-the-rails meal (a Spicy Chicken Deluxe Meal with pepper jack cheese, waffle fries, and a lemonade), I opted for the same sandwich but with a fruit cup and water.

I didn’t starve and I still got to enjoy the hell out of my sandwich, but I also spared myself some calories and grease while managing to add some nutrition into the mix.

I felt pretty damn good about my decision.

Since there are quite a few of these decisions to make on any given day, I began using the Healthier Living Game to start making each one just a little bit healthier. You can do the same. And each time you do, you take one small step in the right direction.

Habit expert James Clear talks about the 1% rule for improvement, and I’ve written about it on my site as well. Basically, you don’t need to make drastic improvements with the snap of your fingers — you just need to make small, consistent progress every day, which is exactly what the Healthier Living Game does.

Now, let’s walk through what a person’s progression through the game might look like.

This game, much like life, has levels to it. Not everyone will start playing the game at Level 0 — some people (such as myself) are already fairly good at healthy eating and just need a different, healthier way of viewing their diet choices.

Regardless of the starting point, some folks will go on to Levels 1, 2, or far beyond. Others will stay at the very beginning.

Note that not everyone’s levels look exactly the same, but as a general rule, each level is slightly harder than the previous.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you’re just now beginning your journey to a healthier life, meaning you’re at Level 0. None of your meals are home-cooked and most come from the window of a fast-food restaurant.

Speaking of which, you’re about to pull up to the McDonald’s drive-through. But, instead of going home and mindlessly shoveling a few Big mac’s down your throat, you decide it’s time to play the Healthier Living Game.

You ask yourself…

“What can I do to make this decision a little bit healthier?”

You don’t have to swear off McDonald’s and drive away — at least not at Level 0. But what can you do?

You could…

  • Eat your burger(s) with one less bun
  • Order a small fry instead of a medium (which is like a large anyways)
  • Eat just ONE less fry
  • Ask for fountain water instead of a Coke

By doing just one of these things, you’ve made a conscious decision to live a healthier life. And while you — or whoever’s with you — might not think that’s a big deal, it is. Sure, you’re still eating fast food. But, now you’ve made one small step in the right direction.

Ask yourself this simple question before every meal and soon enough, you’re out of Level 0 and onto Level 1.

At this point you’ve gotten good at eating healthier at your favorite fast food joints. Now that you’ve mastered the traditional fast food game, you’re inspired to make a slightly bigger change.

It’s lunch time and you again ask yourself:

“What can I do to make this decision a little bit healthier?”

Instead of McDonald’s, you decide to go to Subway. Instead of loading up on trans fats and frozen burgers, you get a delicious sandwich and a bag of chips. While certainly not the epitome of a “healthy” meal, you’re crushing it compared to last week.

Your meal has a whopping 300 fewer calories than your go-to fast food burger joint! And you don’t feel like your arteries are clogged while digesting. Win.

For the last couple weeks, you’ve been continuing to make your Subway trips healthier and healthier. You’re over the moon with joy, but you’ve got the itch to do even better. You feel like you’re finally ready to start making your own food.

So you go to the store and grab some deli meat, mayonnaise, sliced cheese and bread to make sandwiches. Then, you grab a bag of chips to eat on the side.

You make your sandwich, eat it, and celebrate your next milestone in the Healthier Living Game. After continuing to do this for the next few weeks, you’ve officially completed Level 2.

Now, looking to go even further, you ask yourself…

“What can I do to make this decision a little bit healthier?”

You could:

  • Switch from bread to a lettuce wrap
  • Add some vegetables onto your sandwich
  • Replace the chips with fruit or a side of carrots

One by one, you start doing these things, and by continuing to ask yourself this question, you keep increasing your level.

Eventually, you’re eating homemade veggie omelets, lettuce wraps with hummus and fruit, chicken with rice and broccoli, and snacking on things like protein bars, fruit, nuts, and Greek yogurt.

You’ve blasted through the ranks like it’s your job and without realizing it, you’ve been living a healthier life for the past 6 months.

You go Glen Coco.

The Best Part About Playing the Game

I’ll be the first to say that this game is rather awesome, and it can be REALLY awesome if you keep making progress unimpeded. But let’s be honest, life doesn’t work that way.

If you remember at the beginning of this article, I said that I made up this game to make healthy decisions without feeling guilty about what I chose to eat.

I fully expect to have to choose some “unhealthy” options from time to time. But that’s OK. That’s where the Healthier Living Game shines.

The whole point of the game is to make healthier decisions, no matter what the scenario.

It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, who you’re with, or what level you’re on, you can always keep a health-conscious mindset by asking yourself…

“What can I do to make this decision a little bit healthier?”

So when you’re like me and rushing through the Atlanta airport trying to catch your ridiculously short connection, you can still stop at McDonald’s and make the best out of a bad situation. Instead of feeling like shit for settling for fast food, you could:

  • Embrace the cheeseburger but take off the buns
  • Skip the fries

You know the drill.

It’s OK to go back a few levels because in reality, you might not have a choice. Don’t hate yourself for indulging in a quick, tasty meal just because it doesn’t mesh with your new lifestyle. Everything meshes with your new lifestyle if you’re willing to bend the rules.

This is how you become healthier for life.

By playing this game, you develop a healthy relationship with your diet — one in which you’re OK not being perfect all the time. And that’s how life is meant to be lived.

This Works With Everything, Not Just Food

Like I mentioned earlier, this game isn’t just for helping your diet. Living a healthier life is so much more than that.

The super awesome thing about this game is that it can be played anywhere, with just about anything.

For example…

While slaving away in your cubicle at work, what can you do to make that a little bit healthier?

You could…

  • Set a timer to stand up and stretch every so often
  • Get up and walk around every hour
  • Walk to the farthest bathroom instead of the one nearest you
  • Ask your boss for a standing desk

While watching TV at home, what can you do to make that a little bit healthier?

You could…

  • Do push-ups during commercial breaks
  • Watch while standing up
  • Watch while running on a treadmill

When out with your friends at the bar, what can you do to make that a little bit healthier?

You could…

  • Order light beer instead of something heavy (Michelob Ultra is my go-to)
  • Opt for vodka sodas over sugary mixed drinks or cocktails
  • Have 1 less drink than you normally would

When winding down for bed at night, what could you do to make that a little bit healthier?

You could…

  • Floss instead of just brushing your teeth
  • Use an aloe vera-based mouthwash
  • Put the electronics away and let your mind relax

When stuck in traffic, you could use that time to practice deep breathing.

When walking around in public, you can take the stairs instead of the escalator.

When cooking, you could use extra virgin olive oil instead of vegetable or canola oil.

At night, you can still use your phone, but dim it so that it doesn’t disrupt your sleep as poorly.

When cleaning, you could use tea tree oil and other natural products over items with toxic chemicals.

The list goes on. There are opportunities for improvement in everything that you do. But don’t freak out — you don’t have to take them all at once. All you have to do is play the game as often as you can and look to improve a little each day.

And when life throws you a curveball, be OK with it. Play the Healthier Living Game with the cards you’re dealt.

No matter where you are right now, what level you’re on, or what you do, you’re always free to play. And I hope it makes you a healthier and happier person like it did for me.

Now You Try

I finished writing this article while on an airplane flying back to the United States from a 2-week stint in Europe. So, let’s end this with a little exercise based on a scenario I just dealt with a few minutes prior.

The Delta flight attendant asks if you want a snack. You’re given the option of cookies (those delicious Biscoffs), Cheese-Itz, almonds, or starvation. What do you do and why?

Share your answers in the comments and let’s see if you get the gist of playing the game. Enjoy!


Originally published at https://www.themonklife.net on November 10, 2019.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.

Jason Gutierrez

Written by

Writer. Engineer. Health nerd. Sharing the knowledge I’ve gained through my tiny lens of the world. www.themonklife.net

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment.

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