If you’re interested in improving or protecting your health, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by conflicting information:
- Eating organic is important.
- Eating organic doesn’t matter.
- Take supplements.
- Supplements are a waste of money.
- Eat kale; it’s a superfood.
- Don’t eat too much kale; it can suppress your thyroid.
- Eat raw.
- Eat paleo.
- Eat gluten free.
- Gluten free foods are junk.
- Saturated fat is killing you.
- Non-fat diets are killing you.
Yet this is where we are. When improving our diets, it’s important to keep our eyes on the big picture and refrain from hysteria every time a superfood makes headlines or Dr. Oz recommends a supplement to make you slim forever .
For those of you who feel peppered by the latest nutrition and health factoids, I humbly submit a list that can help you keep track of the forest despite the trees, sticks, pebbles and weeds.
BUT FIRST, a few basic assumptions to keep in mind:
- Your doctor is the exception if he/she has any kind of current nutrition education, even though doctors are among the most trusted sources for nutrition related information.
- The food industry’s job is to make money, not to nourish your body, no matter the message on the label. Really. If you find small companies you trust, keep in mind that if they’re successful, they’re often bought out by larger companies you shouldn’t trust.
- The FDA and EPA are influenced more by industry than regard for your health. Do not look to either to tell you what is safe and what is unsafe.
- When reading articles that cite studies, it’s important to look into who is funding the studies and the quality of the study.
- Each of our bodies is unique. This is bio-individuality. What works for your neighbor or sister is not necessarily ideal for you and vice versa.
- You are the captain of your own health ship and your health care practitioners are your crew. As my mother-in-law always says, no one will care as much about your health as you do. Be your own advocate. Be a pain-in-the-neck kind of patient. Ask questions, do your own research, get second and third opinions, keep copies of your records and do not give your power away to your practitioners or their prognoses for your health outcomes.
Oh Captain,My Captain!
So given those assumptions, how do you figure out how to steer your own ship? If you want to get/stay healthy, start with the easy and the general and the obvious. Although not nearly as sexy as the latest supplement or fad diet, devote yourself to the obvious first. These are always within the locus of your control.
- Sit down for your meal. If you’re eating in the car or standing at the counter, there’s a good chance you’re not relaxed enough for your parasympathetic system to kick in and properly digest, absorb and assimilate the nutrients you’re taking in. Sit down. Take a deep breath. Give thanks for the miracle of food on your plate. Participate mindfully in the nourishment of your mind, body and spirit.
- Chew your food. Chewing is a fundamental part of our digestive system. No chewing = compromised digestion. Compromised digestion = compromised health (including mental health).
- Be honest with yourself: Are you eating food or products? This is a huge one and requires effort and time in the kitchen. Eat food. If you’re eating something with a label, identify what’s in it that isn’t food. Generally, those ingredients are there to make the product more addictive or extend the shelf-life. Learn how to eat without labels and in the meantime, learn how to read a label.
- Address your stress level. Stress diminishes your body’s capability to heal and break down and absorb the nutrients you need to stay healthy. Your brain, cardiovascular system, digestive system and endocrine system are counting on you. Broccoli alone will not save you. Relieving stress is not a luxury, but an inexpensive life saver.
- Balance your blood sugar. Erratic blood sugar puts tremendous stress on your body. To balance, make sure you have meals that include fat, protein and plants. Track how long you are sustained. You want to eat before your mood, energy and attention tank. Ideally, we want to eat enough and enough fat that we are sustained for 4+ hours. That said, everyone is different, and so you may function better with a blood sugar balancing snack in between your meals. Fat, protein, plant. Every time.
- Take a good look at your sugar intake. Work to reduce. Huge deal. On a label, 4g = 1 teaspoon. Refined grains and fruit really count toward overall sugar content. Stress can exacerbate sugar cravings, so when you reach for something sweet, check in to see what you need: Sleep? A break? Movement? Comfort?
- Eat fat. Disregard what you learned about fats and oils from commercials and the food pyramid in the 1970s-2000s. Use only fats that have stood the test of time from cultures around the world. Dump the canola, the Wesson, the soybean oil, safflower oil. Use butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, fats naturally occurring in foods (like avos, olives, nuts, seeds) and yes, even lard. Fried food still isn’t good for you. Sorry.
- Work to eliminate toxins as best you can. Organic foods. Cleaning and hygiene products that aren’t laden with chemicals. Mattresses and sofas that aren’t off-gassing.
- Eat more vegetables. Then eat some more. Focus much more on non-starchy than starchy.
- Move your body. Sitting is the new smoking. Move throughout the day. Sweat. Get your heart pumping. Build muscles. Play.
- Get a good night’s sleep. All of the above are more doable on a good night’s sleep.
Chart a reasonable course
You can’t cross the sea in a day, so set reasonable expectations for yourself. Again, start with the easy, the general, and/or the obvious. Make your changes measurable and don’t set the bar too high. For example, start by adding in one more serving of veggies a day. Or clean out your oil collection. Or commit to sitting down for breakfast twice a week.
Hire a crew
If you cannot get there by yourself, I’m happy to support you along the way. If you’d like, let’s chat about the kind of support that would make your journey more successful and fun. I’d be honored to be one of your health crew members.
Wishing you smooth sailing,
P.S. If you want to read more about habit building, check out my review of BetterThan Before by Gretchen Rubin. It would be a great support.