Healthy Living Advice to 16-year-old Me

As my interest in healthy living has become apparent to my friends and family in the last few years, I’ve started to receive questions about the topic. I’ve been asked what I eat for meals, what I buy at the grocery store, what I think of certain foods, what I do for exercise, etc. And while I’m not an expert on any of those topics, I love discussing them and hearing others’ opinions.

One friend recently asked me a question that I hadn’t gotten before: if she only did one thing to start “being healthier,” what did I think she should do?

To this Chick-Fil-A loving friend, my answer was pretty quick. I said if I were here, I’d stop eating fast food and stop drinking sodas.

(You don’t want to be eating Chick-Fil-A)

I’ve thought about that question since then, however, and if she were to ask me again, I’d definitely change my answer.

This friend is tan all year long, and I’m pretty sure it’s from the tanning bed. I don’t know why I didn’t think to mention giving up the tan (probably because I, myself, still forget that diet and exercise aren’t the only elements of healthy living), but that would be my honest advice to almost anyone.

While a poor diet and lack of exercise can cause a host of health issues, it is still very possible for people at any stage of life to lose weight, lower their blood pressure, improve their cholesterol,  and undo much of their previous dietary damage. Skin damage, however, does not work that way. You can’t shed sun spots or moles the way you can shed weight, and your skin will forever reflect its tans and sunburns of the past.

And while I love to spout off facts about foods and ingredients that are linked to various types of cancer, I always fail to mention that skin cancer is the most common form of all cancers. It accounts for almost half of all cancers in the United States, yet it’s something that is often overlooked by me and the healthy living blog community.

American Cancer Society

When I look back on my childhood, I have no regrets about Pizza Hut pizza my brother and I loved to order, the Doritos and cream cheese snacks I ate in the middle school cafeteria, the chocolate cake I ate for breakfast most mornings in ninth grade, or the hung-over days in college when I decided to forgo exercise for TV watching with roommates.

What I do regret, however, are all the tennis matches I played with no hat, all the tan lines I got at summer camp, and all miles of road I ran with no thought of sunscreen.

Skin damage can be more dangerous than weight gain because it can sneak up on you. Gaining weight or getting out of shape are experiences not easily overlooked – you feel them and you can tell they are happening. Developing skin cancer, however, is gradual. It can go under the radar, and it’s often not apparent until it’s already a problem.

So, if I could go back and have that conversation with that friend again, I’d advise against the tan more than the chicken biscuits or the Cokes.

Heck, if I could go back in time and have that conversation with myself, I’d say the same thing.

This video puts it well:

Dear 16-year-old me,


Wear sunscreen!


A much lighter, hopefully wiser, 24-year-old me.


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