You want to exercise regularly, and now you have a program designed for you. You are working on how to organize your life to allow for training, recovery, and a social life! What’s left on the list to really improve your health..oh yeah, your nutrition! Let's talk about the two schools of thought when it comes to your nutrition.
The consistency camp: sustainable, repeatable habits you perform over months and years to dial in results...This is the school of thought that rewards doing the same thing over and over again to get optimal results. It doesn’t matter what program you are on this week or month. What matters is the sum total of your efforts over the years. You cannot ruin your diet in one day, just like you cannot fix yourself in one day, one week or even one month.
The aggressive periodic phase camp (the challenge mentality): A period of intense focus on your nutrition and every aspect of your lifestyle that contributes to your health. I like to call them the 4 Pillars of Health- (check out our webinar on the 4 Pillars of Health here) Nutrition, Movement, Sleep/Stress Reduction and Social Connections. This school of thought recognizes there are times in life that warrant a step outside the normal rhythms you are trying to establish to carry you through your years. That is the school in which you do things in a VERY intense and probably unsustainable way, but you do it with extreme precision and determination for a short period knowing full well that it’s for a finite amount of time, not forever. This method can be a great catalyst for developing long term habits and learning a tremendous amount about yourself in the process.
Ok, I know what you're thinking. Of course the first method is what I always preach because my coaching practice is built on long term habit change and developing a lifestyle around your nutrition. So why would I even suggest an unsustainable intense program that possibly doesn’t even develop any long term habits? Why? The purpose is forced GROWTH! Growth in your health, growth in your knowledge of the how, what, when and why of nutrition, and the personal growth of challenging yourself for 6 weeks. This is where we learn about ourselves, we see what dedication can result in, and we adjust our metrics of what is sustainable.
First of all, you are right. Nothing beats having basic habits in place with basic feedback loops to help correct your actions and perfect your habits over time. So I would like to give you some actionable items to get you started and dial in your current health practices. I'm choosing these four because I believe that these 4 points have been some of the most important things I've done from a consistency standpoint to maintain good health and nutrition practices in all 4 Pillars.
NUTRITION- This includes but is not limited to the quality and the quantity of the foods we put in our body. Think of nutrition as a zero sum game. If you are eating a variety of whole foods and preparing most of your meals with lots of vegetables, lean meats, healthy proteins, and sticking with your healthy fats, this will push out the processed foods because you simply won’t have room to eat those crappy foods. By virtue of following that diet, you will be covering any nutritional deficiencies you might have in your diet and giving your body all the building blocks it needs to stay healthy.
Strategy to make a change:
Track what you eat for a week. Write down everything you eat and drink at the time you eat/drink it. Don’t wait or you will forget. Ask yourself the question “why am I eating/drinking this food right now?” This builds off the awareness concept, now you know what you're eating, when you're eating it, and even why you are eating (stressed, bored,etc..) so you can see what is going on with your diet and bring awareness to your habits.
I would recommend a journal, hand written as well as using a tracking app such as MyFitnessPal (MFP) This will also bring awareness to how many calories you eat daily, the macronutrient content of each food, and the micronutrients in each food.
Now you have all this info...make one small change! Don’t change too much, too quickly….Make that change a habit before you make another change. Example: You realize you don’t drink enough water. Aim to drink ½ your body weight in water everyday. Go buy a nice water bottle that’s 20oz so you need to drink 4 of them a day (adjust for your size), set an alarm on your phone for every 60 minutes and when the alarm goes off take 2-3 big drinks. Put a little piece of tape on the side of your water bottle and make a mark on it every time you refill it to help you keep track.
MOVEMENT- Not only getting your heart rate up 4-5 days a week and sweating but also moving your joints through a full range of motion everyday. A big part of this one is resistance training to build and/or maintain muscle. Muscle is the most important tissue in our body for metabolic health and we naturally lose muscle as we age, therefore you have to do some regular resistance training just to maintain the same amount of muscle you had 5 or 10 years ago.
Strategy to make a change: Do what you like to do...if it’s riding a bike, do that, if it’s hiking, do that, but it has to be fun if you want to make it a part of your life. Having said that, push yourself every once in a while, lift some heavy weights, do a few sprints during your morning walk/run, challenge yourself with a new sport or activity.
Get a coach or personal trainer: This could even be a friend that knows a lot about fitness but my point is to have someone that knows what they are doing guide you! A coach, personal trainer, group fitness class like CrossFit, etc...save yourself from getting injured by moving wrong or starting too much too fast and really getting hurt. Start slow and allow your body time to adapt to the new stress of exercise and movement!
Take up a new sport or revisit a sport you used to love. Challenge yourself with sports. Sports help maintain muscle, neural connections, balance, and reaction time as you age.
SLEEP/STRESS REDUCTION- Striving for at least 7 hours and up to 9 hours of sleep a night is critical for health. When we are sleep deprived some of the following problems can result, Insulin insensitivity, lowered immune system function, and fluctuations in body composition. These are just a few of the effects of not getting enough sleep. How much and the quality of our sleep is directly affected by the 1st and 2nd pillars.
Strategy to make a change: Track your sleep! Yes awareness can bring about change so let’s become aware of our sleep quality and duration so we can make adjustments.
No electronic devices within 1 hour of sleep. This makes our body think it’s daytime and we stop producing hormones like melatonin to help us sleep.
Don’t eat within 2 hours of sleep. Let your body rest and digest.
SOCIAL CONNECTIONS- We are social creators and need love, friendship, and family to be psychologically and emotionally healthy. This pillar is the “glue” that holds us together and often is incorporated with nutrition and movement. It can also affect sleep significantly as life and family place greater demands on your time and energy.
Strategy to make a change:
Incorporate as many pillars together with friends and family: Go for a run or hike with a friend and then get coffee afterwards to catch up. Have your tennis buddies over for a bbq and make a really healthy balanced meal.
Have a family dinner without electronics for at least 30 minutes at least 5 nights a week. Just talk and get to know your family.
Call up an old friend you haven’t talked to in a while or even better set up a zoom call with them...catch up, talk about old times, and have a laugh.
I know that is a lot of info. I just gave you so hopefully it will be something you can add to your current lifestyle and habits.
Now let’s talk about the other camp, the challenge mentality. How does this fit into developing a healthy balanced life in every pillar? First of all it can be a catalyst to change. Sometimes we need a major change in order to maintain any amount of progress in certain areas of our lives. Let’s call it a swift kick in the pants. The only way I feel like this can be beneficial is when there is guidance and a specific structure to the program. It can be intense but it has to follow a scientifically proven and fundamentally sequential program. What I mean by that is it has to provide a clear starting point, have measurable metrics along the way, and align with the principles of nutrition, sleep/stress reduction and movement. What it can’t be is:
A fad diet that promises you’ll lose 30 lbs in 30 days.
Completely eliminate a macronutrient.
Involve severe calorie restriction.
Require purchasing hundreds of dollars of supplements and cleansing products.
Or cause a negative relationship with food.
The short duration, high intensity, forced growth nutrition “challenge”. As much as I don’t like this word, I think it’s appropriate here. By forcing yourself to adhere to a strict program for 6 weeks, you can make significant improvements in your body composition, digestion, sleep/stress reduction, and movement practice to take a large leap forward in your health. If you feel like you are in this place and ready to enter a growth phase, I have a program for you. This 6 week program will focus your energy to establish a baseline of healthy eating, work on your sleep quality and quantity and jumpstart your weight loss. The timing is ideal, summer is coming to an end and we are heading into the fall season. That means the holiday season is right around the corner.
Instead of counting on an annual derailment as the weather turns cold and the holiday treats start their endless march, you can arm yourself with nutritional strategies for your busy life along with multiple ways to keep improving your body composition. I’m not saying it will be easy. It will require 6 weeks of very focused and intentional work around your nutrition, movement, and sleep. Notice I said work because this isn’t just going to be about following a meal plan or starving your body. It’s going to be about focused work on your mindset around food and how you treat your body. If you’re ready for the challenge, then get signed up for the Fall 6 week Nutrition Reset.(can link to the sign up page) It starts Sept. 12th and the last day to sign up is Sept. 10th. Challenge, yes, and the end result will be GROWTH in multiple forms.
If you aren’t ready for the challenge then use the tools I gave you above to make a big impact in each pillar of your life. Choose at least one to try tomorrow and let me know how they work for you!
Nourish and Thrive,