I met a 40-year-old woman yesterday whose husband used to go to the gym religiously and turned into quite a hunk, she told me. She knows what a fit body can look like and the work it takes to make one.

She is now 30 pounds heavier than she was 20 years ago, has a serious cholesterol problem and really intends to start exercising and cutting calories. She’d like to have her old, slimmer shape looking back at her in the mirror. Her only concrete effort so far is cut back her three-cokes-a-day habit (at 150 calories each) to one a day.At least it’s a start.

I told her how I gave up everyday cheese, my favorite source of protein, when my own cholesterol shot up. She said she loves cheese too, and can’t yet stop eating it regularly. Why is it so hard to take those steps to better health? Are we all just too busy? Or too lazy?

My son was impressed by the web site I found of a man who lost over 200 pounds. He found pictures of a different man who lost 400 pounds. Clearly those are horribly unhealthy cases of obesity. Those heavyweights can barely walk to the bathroom is my guess. It’s easy to see that they finally decided to alter their limited, immediate daily activities.

But if you are only 30 pounds heavier than you used to be, what’s the big deal? It’s not that bad, and the food tastes so good, and maybe you won’t continue to gain just a pound or two a year. And maybe the cholesterol won’t keep rising up and blocking arteries and lead to a heart attack. Just maybe.

Last night we went out to dinner, and I ordered the only soup—potato. I started to send it back after it arrived, because it was half cream. I need to avoid dairy products, because I want to keep my cholesterol down. My son said he would eat it, so it stayed.

Now here comes the silly part. With recent stories of two people dying of heart attacks, a friend who says he eats extra calories, because he could die in 10 minutes, and a woman telling me how much she likes cheese, I am sitting at the table wondering why I don’t have at least a taste, one spoonful, of this incredibly delicious-looking soup. After all, I rationalized, I just did 5+ hours of exercise in the last day—more than enough to offset the cholesterol damage that might result.

Absurd, right? No moderation here. Pretty extreme. One damn spoonful. Will I die on the court? If I am going to die, I may as well enjoy some potato soup. So I did. Had four spoonfuls. And swallowed each one so slowly and lovingly that you might have thought I was tasting fine wine or rare caviar. Swirling the juice around on my tongue. What a nutcase I am.

What is the goal, really? If it’s to have a body that is muscular, looks good in the mirror and on the beach, then you need the discipline. A few treats, some moderation. But being pretty strict is how you get the prize.

But if the aim is “just” to be “healthy,” what is the benefit in that? To add years to my life? Years that avoid heavy breathing, constant and scary doctor visits, hospitals, medicines and shots? Is it worth giving up all those great tastes and delectable meals? The candies, cookies and cakes? The highs from drinking and the mental orgasms from chocolate? How many more years of extra life will I get if I practice deprivation and denial? 10? 20?

So if I am 40, I can maybe live another 50 years without all that pleasure and constantly watching what I eat. My other choice is to live just 30 years with the medium-overweight body (say 30 to 50 pounds), eating what I want, smoking, drinking anything I like, moving a bit slower and being a tiny bit dissatisfied that my shape has changed and my clothes sizes are bigger than when I was a teenager. And maybe I will make it to 85 anyway. Both of those men who died of heart attacks had heart problems for years, but lived to their mid-80’s!

Hmmmmm…kinda makes some of us re-evaluate our priorities. Doesn’t it? Or does it not? What do you think?

So I just asked five young adults between 19 and 22 what they thought. Also a woman who’s 66 and still bikes, snow skis and water skis. What came back was that they feel better when they are healthy, they are more alive and even joyful.

One young man said he has family members who drink and smoke and love it. One even died sickly at 62, but was happy for all but the last few years when his unhealthy life caught up with him. “It’s all self interest,” he said. It depends a lot on what people learn growing up and around them. Values change as society changes.

Another 20 year old said he used to play basketball, weighed 200-220, but stopped when he went to college. He ate poorly and didn’t exercise. Then he started playing ball again and was very heavy, couldn’t move and finally stepped on the scale. WOW! He was setting personal bests at 250 pounds.

Next step was to go on a crash diet, give up the junk food, eat just non-fat yogurt with raisins for breakfast. Real bland food. He lost 8 pounds the first week, and he’s now back down to 225 and making more baskets. He’s also going to the gym and feels a hell of a lot better.

For some people, it’s a lot more than longevity. It’s enjoying the daily life much more while you are alive. “Obvious,” said another young man, even though he has had spurts of eating almost a pound of bacon at one sitting.

We are who we are. And who we are is changing all the time. When we see our reflection in the mirror and step on the scale, we can be honest and gauge how we are treating ourselves. Sometimes we are jarred, and we change to a different path…Now it’s time for me to go to the gym.