09/04/2013 12:49 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2013

One KewlBite at a Time

Today, childhood obesity has never been a more formidable opponent, with roughly one in three kids labeled overweight or obese by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In my forthcoming cookbook, KewlBites: 100 Nutritious, Delicious, and Family-Friendly Dishes, I open up about my background as it relates to food and exercise, and hope that this will inspire a new generation to start learning healthy habits now.

Living well encompasses so many different aspects of our lives. Mental, physical and emotional health are all key elements to living happily and with balance. And isn't happiness the goal? We're all constantly trying to find that perfect middle ground that leads us to feeling and living our best life each day.

A balanced approach to healthy eating and exercise is pivotal. So often we veer in one direction or another when it comes to the latest "diet" obsession, like ships sailing on the rocky seas, tossed between the most recent guarantees for instant weight-loss success.

Several years ago, as an overweight teen myself, I struggled with a lack of self-confidence, poor eating habits, minimal energy, nominal exercise and a constantly-threatening family history of diabetes and heart disease. All of these challenges weighed me down physically and began to negatively affect my stamina and focus.

At the age of 14, I decided to pick up the reins and take my health into my own hands. I started researching what I should eat and how I should structure my new habits, but all I could find, which was very disheartening, was diet after diet. Who really wants to go on a diet anyway? Sounds dreary and isolating to me! I didn't want to give anything up, which is really what a diet boils down to. I wanted to develop a positive, long-lasting relationship with feeling good -- not a visit to a temporary place where deprivation was at the forefront.

I found that there was nothing out there from a youthful perspective, so I turned my kitchen into a science lab so that I could experiment with ways to make my favorite recipes better for me. By sampling different ingredients and using innovative techniques, I worked to find ways to keep both my nutritional requirements and my taste buds satisfied. Throughout the process, I discovered that making fitness not just a part of my daily routine but also an activity that I could look forward to would be crucial. And as I "blogged to myself" -- a captive audience of one! -- about everything I was learning, I eventually dropped 15 pounds and felt so much better on every level.

Compelled to share the tips and knowledge that I had learned, I launched my website, a digital lifestyle destination that puts a fun spin on a serious and very timely topic.

Here are some strategies that work for me:

Schedule times into your calendar to make wellness a priority. Then take action by making time to shop, prep and cook delicious and good-for-you dishes. Go one step further and freeze extra for grab-and-go days.

Avoid extremes at all costs -- don't allow yourself to get to the point of starvation or stuffed. Eat proper portions and stay fueled throughout the whole day. This helps to stave off the feeling of being hungry and deprived.

Equate fitness with fun. Choose an activity that you enjoy so your focus shifts to fun as opposed to another obligation. For me, it's swimming, biking and playing tennis.

Keep a checklist with you in your kitchen on your smart phone or in your car, with all the smart, nutritious choices you enjoy. There are times when you just need to have quick reminders of what you love.

I'm always mindful of what I eat, how I work out and the way I feel, and I constantly remind myself that I am a "work in progress." Along the way, I discovered the direct relationship between taking care of myself and feeling balanced. I realized intrinsically that if I felt my best each day, those days would be filled with more energy and confidence. This, in turn, lead to more of that same physical, mental and emotional happiness and balance that I was searching for -- an intersection connecting multiple avenues of "well-being."

Ultimately, my feeling is that in order to crack the code on wellness, we must remember that we are always learning and developing new strategies that will work for us. When you wake up in the morning and say goodbye to your bed sheets, the way you feel as you set sail into the busy outside world is a predictor for how you will navigate the day. From your routine coffee pickup to your response to the stressful moments that creep up throughout the day, your initial mindset plays a tremendous role in affecting your outlook during the hours ahead. Just like a car, your body needs fuel, and if you charge it up with premium gasoline, in this case rest, good nutrition, exercise and an upbeat mindset -- then in the words of one of my favorite childhood authors, "Oh, the places you'll go!"

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