Growing up, our home was always filled with lots of activity and action. My father is an avid workout fanatic. He still finds the time to exercise twice a day, even as the governor, with a crazy work schedule! My mom exercises religiously every day too. Their active lifestyle was passed on to my two younger brothers, Patrick and Christopher, my sister, Christina, and me. We were never allowed to sit around and veg out in front of the television or play video games all day. If the sun was out, we were outside playing a game or doing something active. Growing up in Southern California had certain advantages, such as the weather, which allowed us to spend the majority of our free time after school and on the weekends doing things outdoors. We played tennis, biked, hiked, and I got to ride horses.
Summer vacations were no exception to the rule. My parents always made sure we did something useful with our time. According to my parents, summer was not a time to relax or take a break from the everyday routine of going to school; it was a time to get ahead and do something useful and meaningful with our time. When I was younger, I played sports and went to camp. As I got older, my parents began to instill in us the importance of giving back to the community, especially those places around the world that are less fortunate than my very privileged life growing up in Los Angeles.
At the end of ninth grade, my parents agreed to send me to Costa Rica to participate in a community service exchange program, where we would live with a family, learn Spanish, and do work in the community. This was my first trip out of the country on my own. The home-stay family I lived with owned a dairy farm. The father often pointed over to a cow and told me in Spanish, "You see that one over there? She will be good for dinner tonight." The thought of eating that cow later on freaked me out. If they served hamburgers, I couldn't eat, because all I could see on my plate was the face of that poor cow, which had been a living, breathing animal in the pasture just a few hours earlier. The only other thing left on the dinner table to eat was bread, so I'd fill up on that before anyone could notice I wasn't eating the meat, which might have been taken as rude or disrespectful.
During my three weeks there, my diet was mainly warm, fresh baked homemade bread and tortillas. I couldn't resist the temptation every time a new loaf came out of the oven. My carefree eating brought me home, give or take, fifteen to twenty pounds heavier than when I left. I wasn't immediately aware of my rapid and drastic weight gain because I mostly wore baggy sweats with an elastic waist or drawstring tie and big T-shirts while I was there. Since I primarily wore loose-fitting workout clothes, it was easy to be oblivious to my quickly expanding waistline. Plus, my height of five feet eight inches gives me the added advantage of being able to carry around a few extra pounds, which someone else who is shorter simply can't pull off as well.
It wasn't until I came home and tried to slip into my favorite pair of jeans that my changed body became obvious and appalling all at once. Although I wanted to believe that someone must have shrunk my jeans while I was away, the harsh reality was that my pants didn't get smaller—I had gotten bigger!