09/11/2013 05:37 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2013

The Lessons I Learned From a Health Nut Father

Having a mom who never said no to treats and a dad to run with allowed me to find a harmonious balance of remaining healthy while never depriving myself.

I grew up in a house with parents who agreed on nearly everything (at least in front of me and my siblings). Their one point of disagreement manifested itself in health habits: my mom's philosophy was more indulgent, with instant gratification, while my dad surprisingly played the role of health nut. It's a disagreement I'm extremely thankful for.

Six mile runs every other morning, weight training the others and one blessed day of rest. Breakfast includes yogurt with flax seed and oat bran, with a side of egg whites, blueberries and a piece of whole-grain toast with peanut butter (even on vacation). No white flour allowed. Reading poolside on the weekends and reminding me and my siblings not to stress out in the most stressful of situations. He found a balance that suited him but also promoted mental and physical health for the rest of my family.

My dad has the self-control and discipline of a 17-year-old, straight-A student whose energy is solely spent on being accepted to Harvard, except for him, Harvard is the longest life he can possibly live. When the bread arrives at dinner, he ignores it. When I wake up at 10 a.m., he's been awake for nearly six hours and has gotten in an hour-long run, is updated on all the world news and has enjoyed his balanced breakfast. His one exception comes when the dessert menu is handed out, where he will reward himself with a piece of flourless chocolate cake or a few scoops of Edy's slow-churned chocolate ice cream (the man loves his chocolate, can't blame him there). They were habits I could not only get on board with, but ones that I've embraced as I've gotten older.

Growing up I have strong memories of "dessert for dinner" night, takeout nearly every evening and multiple desserts ordered when we ate out. My parents were never deprivers. They let us make our own decisions about food and exercise but stuck to their own personal routines. And my dad's continues to inspire me to lead a healthier life.

I arrived at college at 18 years old, blissfully unaware of the damage that could have been done, and that had been done to many of my friends, if my family had pressured me to remain in shape. Girlfriends of mine shared their secrets of mothers pushing them to be perfect, telling them they were never thin enough, buying them gym memberships for their birthdays and frequently asking, "Do you really want that second cookie?"

My mom is a fluctuator. Like many mothers, she's constantly dealing with college applications, nagging teenagers and interior design disasters. Her favorite form of exercise is walking with her friends and she doesn't deprive herself of her favorite foods.

Having a mom who never said no to treats and a dad to run with allowed me to find a harmonious balance of remaining healthy while never depriving myself. Learning new and scientific research about superfoods, weight training versus cardio, and the benefits of relaxing in stressful scenarios from my dad led me to set realistic goals, since I wasn't comparing myself to another woman. His mentality allowed me to avoid intimidation and instead want to follow in his footsteps... without giving up the simple pleasures I enjoyed.

Had my family dynamics been different, I may have been among the 91 percent of college women who attempt to control their weight through dieting or the 25 percent of college students who have eating disorders. Luckily, my parents' lifestyles promoted a fulfilling equilibrium that keeps my body and mind in shape.

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