Despite your age, we all remember those days when we were a bit younger. As a child, we played in the dirt and ran through the woods. As you grew up, your evenings may have been spent working toward success with sports teams, or simply getting out and doing fun things. Finally, when you first started the various jobs and professions in your life, you likely started out motivated and fast-moving. Over time, repetition and sheer exhaustion can wear us down. Often, we find ourselves looking toward goals as a “light” at the end of a proverbial work tunnel. In many cases, especially the dive world, these “lights” are found in tropical or adventurous locations.
When you work as a dive professional, you often live a mystic and imaginary lifestyle in the eyes of your clients.
The weather may be frosty and white all year long, but everyone knows your world is filled with palm trees, crystal clear waters, and island music. Once you become a dive professional, you discover the realities of carrying equipment around, teaching the same course in a cyclic repetition, and the extreme lack of palm trees. Despite this, you still have to keep up the tropical façade.
As I grew up in life I always played sports, lifted weights, and enjoyed my time outdoors. As I got older, I spent more time in classrooms, offices, and generally accomplishing tasks that led to a sedentary lifestyle. Over time, I gained weight here and there until the image my mind saw of myself was not a reality. Like any guy, I knew I was amazing, but physically I was just not in quality shape. As a dive professional, this lack of proper fitness can set a bad example. After all, we tell our divers to watch their health, be careful with medication, and avoid unhealthy food and drink around periods of diving. In the technical realm, we even preach that the effects of physical problems may be amplified under increasing pressure.
Like many people, I had tried every type of diet over the years.
Just before Christmas of 2016, my business partner, Josh Norris, called to tell me that he was going to go see the doctor and then start a new dieting program. It was something different in comparison to anything we had ever tried. Like many people, I had tried every type of diet over the years. Some had a positive effect while others failed. No matter which way the results fell, I always stayed heavier than I should have. Very quickly I decided that giving this new approach could not hurt. When the new year started I was off to the doctor.
When I sat to discuss the new diet and my physical condition at the time of my visit to the doctor, I was floored. This person was telling me to go against everything I had always heard. I was supposed to up my fat intake, decrease my carb intake, and avoid sugars when possible. Essentially, I was supposed to toss out the whole grains and focus on the bacon. In my mind this whole concept was crazy. Over a few days, I wrapped my brain around this concept. Apparently, if I reduced the carbohydrate energy source available in my body, I would begin to break down fat stores that could then be used to replace the role previously filled by carbohydrates. Within a few more days I found myself in North Florida diving the lovely cave systems and discovered that waddling around with doubles in dry suit was not as much fun as it used to be. I found myself breathing hard, sweating profusely, and exhausted before I had even submerged. I knew I had to make a change of some type, if for no other reason than to set a decent example for students.
For about a week I lived on boiled eggs and broccoli until it dawned on me that cheese, meats, and other foods were perfect for my diet. Similarly, I realized that if I did not supplement salt into my diet, I would begin to feel bad due to mineral loss. For about a week I suffered until I began taking in more water and pink Himalayan salt. The doctor had warned that this type of diet would cause me to dehydrate much quicker than normal, and she was correct.
Following a few more weeks of dieting, I could see a major change around the dive shop.
I could physically recognize that I was losing body fat. My pants were getting smaller, and from day to day, Josh and I were both documenting weight reduction. Each month we returned to the doctor to get checked and make sure we remained safe in our dieting practices. We also began to post what we were doing on social media sites and suddenly our students and customers responded. We had divers of all types going to see the doctor, and watching their diets. Honestly, it became a contest in which everyone was competing to achieve a healthy lifestyle. Our divers were seeing others get healthier and a trend was forming that focused around the dive shop. Physical health was driving business and bringing in both new and old customers.
I also discovered that technical diving was much easier as my health improved.
Strapping on multiple cylinders (in any configuration) was much easier. I could reach places on my equipment that I did not even know existed. Buckles, snaps, D-rings, and all types of things could be manipulated on the fly. Simultaneously, I was no longer exhausted when I walked to the water and my dry suit was not getting flooded standing on dry land. Things were improving for me and technical diving was becoming a more sensible and safe activity to enjoy and to teach. Oddly, even my mental clarity was improving. I had an easier time planning and following decompression than ever before. This does not even touch on the fact that hanging out in trim during decompression obligations was much easier as the sheer size of my physical mass decreased in open currents.
As I began to make a physical change, I wondered where I would eventually settle.
From the beginning of the diet, I had exercised hard. Each day I was running, swimming, lifting weights, integrating high-intensity interval training, or some mixed variation of these activities. Fitness grew harder but physical barriers were falling and I simply had to discover how best to fuel and utilize my body for specific types of activities. I was happy with where I was headed but also knew that my mind would never reach a point of absolute mental success. Mentally, seeing my own change was hard for me to recognize, but people were telling me how great I was doing every day. I also knew that Josh and I had started to establish a healthier change in our own little sector of the dive community. We were making healthier divers simply by taking the first step and showing a positive example.
As we move forward through this series, we will continue to discuss fitness and diving and how it ultimately related to recreational, technical, and public safety diving. Despite this, I challenge every dive professional and shop owner reading this post. What have you done to help guide your students and other professionals toward improved health? We have discovered that healthy divers shop, dive, and socialize more often. This increases the number of courses that must be taught, elevates the number of people coming in and out of dive businesses, and drives business. Whether you are continuing something you have already done, trying something new, or simply reaching out to support your area in the dive community, I urge you to take that first step and show your divers a new “light.” You can create competitions, help set goals, or simply add one more value factor to what you provide your customers. Take that next step forward. After all, the healthier we become, the more often we may find ourselves capable of performing more safe dives.
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