high school health teacher

All these hot health trends today – from the paleo and keto diets to Omega 3’s to taking power naps during the work day for improved efficiency – do you think those are recent discoveries? Nope. I learned how to live like that almost twenty years ago – in high school.

How? It’s all thanks to a health teacher who was ahead of his time…

The year was 1999. My high school health teacher was a gentleman named Rod Rishel. That man changed my life, and today, I’m going to tell you what I learned from him. Because what helped me can improve your life, too!

Here are the five lessons I learned:

  • Quit sugar.
  • Eat butter.
  • Swallow algae pills.
  • Go for walks.
  • Take naps.

Nowadays, you might not be at all surprised to see those as ‘health’ lessons.

But at the time, those tips weren’t even close to mainstream status. Remember, this was long before the Paleo diet got popular. Long before sugar was considered the big problem. A time when someone eating algae was considered a weirdo by most!

And it was unthinkable that a teacher would encourage mid-afternoon naps. But like I said – he was a man ahead of his time!

Seriously though, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a man who did pull ups on the door frame in between classes!

Without further ado, let’s learn…

1. Quit sugar.

Eliminate sugar from your diet. As much as possible, eliminate sugar.

This was his biggest thing, the point he tried to drive home consistently. This one step is how he lost over 100 pounds and changed his life!

No soda, no candy. Get rid of all that stuff. (His teachings were a big inspiration when I wrote this.)

At the time, sugar wasn’t the enemy. Parents were fine with their kids eating sugary breakfast cereals, and schools were filled with vending machines stocking whichever brand of soda wanted to be there.

Nowadays, sugar is evil. Tooth decay is just the beginning. A lot of people are looking for low-sugar food options. There are numerous artificial sweeteners available, to fill the void for people who want sweets, but don’t want the sugar. There are books and courses about quitting sugar (much like quitting smoking). People are doing studies that show sugar is more addictive than recreational drugs!

I’m not sure exactly when the tide changed, but it wasn’t until the 2015 meeting of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee where they made the recommendation that American consumers dramatically cut back on the amount of added sugars. (See the sugar timeline here.)

While I can’t give Mr. Rishel credit for the whole idea – the anti-sugar movement dates back to 1972 – I credit him for presenting the idea to me, the kid who was constantly carbo-loading for my bike races!

2. Eat butter.

Likely because the mainstream media was on an anti-butter crusade, Mr. Rishel frequently mentioned the health benefits of eating butter, olive oil, and other healthy fats.

This was not to the extent of adding butter to your morning coffee. He said this as a quick, simple way to make a point that you should eat balanced meals that include healthy fats. For example, a baked potato with butter.

He wasn’t pushing any extreme low-carb diet. Mr. Rishel was about balance. More along the lines of what Precision Nutrition is about. How there isn’t necessarily one best diet.

At the time, low-fat diets were still the popular choice. Conventional wisdom was that fat makes you fat. I had never heard of Crossfit, Paleo dieting, or Bulletproof Coffee.

Now, pretty much every grocer stocks Kerrygold butter, and so many people drink “butter coffee” that it’s known as a hipster trend.

3. Swallow algae pills.

The weirdest lesson for me to process was about algae. Mr. Rishel took algae pills, which just sounded so strange. I mean, seaweed? That stuff contains nutrients?! Are you sure?

This was 10 years before EnergyBits were invented. Long before I even took greens powder, which is now an almost daily thing for me.

It sounded funny at the time, but I now see what all is in there… and I’m doing the same thing. I keep spirulina powder in the fridge.

The fact that EnergyBits even exist is a testament to this lesson. Many people are wary of multi-vitamins and would rather get their vitamins from greens.

4. Go for walks.

Don’t just sit around. Even if you lift weights, you also need to be active throughout the day. Mr. Rishel frequently recommended going for walks and getting your steps in.

This was back before the days of activity trackers!

Not that anyone was opposed to the idea, but most people underestimated the importance. Well, science now says that too much sitting will increase your chance of death by heart disease or metabolic disease. It’s popular enough to be called “sitting disease” and it’s linked to death.

Is it any surprise that activity trackers are everywhere now?

5. Take naps.

In summer gym class with Mr. Rishel, we actually finished by taking naps. Talk about an easy way to earn course credits!

But in hindsight, it was absolutely brilliant. He knew teenagers would neglect sleep, and he realized that getting enough sleep was just as important as getting your physical activity in.

Now I know how important sleep is to proper post-workout recovery, fat loss, and maintaining energy levels, so I make it a point to get to bed early.

I don’t think there are yet classes in school reserved for napping, but some schools are starting later to allow more time for sleep. And power naps are frequently mentioned in articles titled something like “7 habits of super successful billionaires.”

I truly hope there are other students who took his advice!

His lessons helped me to live a healthier lifestyle, and now I’m trying to help others with my sports nutrition coaching practice and my Pn1 certification.

Rest in peace, Mr. Rishel.

Obituary Notice: Rodney Eugene Rishel Sr.

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