“It was always junk food, junk food, junk food. I craved for it.”

Darren Parks

Darren and Anita Parks’ grocery trips to Corner Brook, Newfoundland, have changed a lot over the past few years. Their shopping bags used to carry chips, chocolate bars, and an assortment of junk food. But not anymore since Darren realized he could make a few small changes to live a better, healthier life.

“Eating junk food—bags of chips, chocolate bars, cans of pop—was how I filled myself up quick for the last 15 years,” the 50-year-old fishing, sightseeing and snowmobiling guide says. “Now, I grab a peach or an apple or banana and drink lots of water.”

Darren says his junk food habit was “taking a toll” on his body and often left him feeling bloated and sluggish.

“It tasted good, but on the inside, it was killing me. I love what I do, and I want to be able to do it for another 50 years.”

He also noticed poor nutrition taking a toll on some of his neighbours; a few of them were becoming sick as a result. In a remote place like Cox’s Cove, there’s one restaurant and two small convenience stores. “There’s a lot of times fresh food can’t get to us,” Darren points out.

“I realized that it just came down to making a few little changes in my lifestyle and eating habits,” Darren says. “Now I see those small changes making a big difference.”

Darren’s two 20-something sons, Christopher and Joshua, encouraged their dad to kick what he calls an “addiction” to junk food. “They both look after themselves. Christopher hasn’t had a glass of pop in 10 years. They’re the ones who say, ’Why are you having pop with supper? Why not have water?’ That’s been a big help.”

How Darren beat his “junk food addiction”

Darren parks eating healthy

Swap it

Now, instead of snacking on fatty chocolate bars or potato chips, Darren grabs a piece of fruit or fresh veggies. By making these easy snack swaps, he has more energy and has shed a few pounds. Just as constantly snacking on junk food can do a number on your health, flipping the script with healthier snacking can work wonders.

There’s also healthy meals-to-go common in Cox’s Cove. “We’ve always had a garden, and we have the snares, so we do a lot of preserves and bottling,” Darren says. “Those are great quick meals and healthy snacks too. I come home, grab a bottle of rabbit (yup, you read that right), and I’m gone.”

There are dozens of healthy, easy, and tasty swap options. An orange, for instance, can sub in for calorie-laden cookies or doughnuts, while peanuts, cashews, or almonds provide muscle-building protein instead of the unhealthy fat and salt found in potato and corn chips.

Stock it

Darren parks picking vegetables

The key to food swaps, Darren adds, is to have plenty of sweet fruits and crunchy veggies on hand—in the fridge at home, in your lunch bag, in the cab of your truck—you get the idea. This is especially important when junk food-heavy convenience stores are the only nearby options.

Drink it (water, that is)

Before he started snacking healthier, Darren went through five or six cans of sugary soda pop a day. Now, he stays hydrated by using a refillable water bottle. By drinking tap water instead of pop, he has drastically reduced his daily calorie intake and lost weight as a result. Plus, he saves hundreds of dollars a year!

The benefits of drinking water don’t stop there. For one thing, water fills up your stomach, making you feel less hungry. It’s so simple yet effective for losing weight. Another plus: your brain and body need water to work properly, so drinking lots of it will also help make you sharper and more energetic, as Darren himself has found.

Last but not least, scientists at Loma Linda University discovered that men who drink five tall glasses of water each day are 54 percent less likely to suffer a fatal heart attack than those who drink two glasses or less daily.

Get moving

Darren has increased the amount of exercise he gets by adding some extra walking into his day-to-day. The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week. “I’m always in the woods chopping logs or checking snares. I’m on the go a lot, and that helps keep my mind off eating the wrong thing.”

Not much physical activity involved in your job? Not a problem!

Here are some simple ways to get active wherever you work:

Take calls standing up

Simply rise from your chair every time you pick up the phone. Keeping your body moving like this can help prevent stiffness and joint pain.

Go for walking meetings

If your work phone is of the cellular variety, there’s little stopping you from taking calls while hoofing it. Walk and talk around your building or construction site, outside your local coffee shop, or along the roadside when you pull over to make or take a call.

When we eventually head back into the office for face-to-face meetings, invite the people you’re meeting with along for a stroll. “Let’s walk and talk” sounds pretty cool, right? You’ll ALL get some easy exercise while getting the job done.

Walk it off at lunch or after work

Darren parks going for a walk

Darren’s extra walking usually happens after work with Anita, his wife. Your lunch break can also be a great time to fit in 15 minutes of walking, which can be done just about anywhere. By getting active at the same time each day, your body will start reminding you to get moving. Forming this kind of easy, healthy routine can be your secret weapon for getting more active and shaking off the stress of the workday.

Small changes, big benefits

People around Darren are noticing his healthier, fitter physique. “They tell me, ‘you’ve lost weight, you look good.’ I tell them that if I can do it, then they can make these little changes too. Anybody can do it. It can be a struggle, but if you just take one step at a time, you can get there.”

What snack tips do you have? Share your find in the comments below!

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