For many of us, January 1st means getting excited about New Year's weight-loss resolutions. Sadly, it often means being disappointed in ourselves later because we didn't follow through. This year I propose a different approach: Rather than resolving to lose weight, lets make the decision to improve our overall health!
Losing weight is great, but weighing less doesn't always mean being healthier. I want to show you some simple steps you can take that will actually improve your health instead of just making the number on the scale smaller. Rather than attacking your weight with some wacky diet and then seeing the boomerang effect on your scale a few months later, fix the problems in your body that cause weight gain in the first place. The best part of it is, one of many happy side effects of improved health is weight loss! So are self confidence boosts, improved attitude, more restful sleep, and lots more energy!
Make Realistic Goals and Be Committed to Change
Unfortunately, making resolutions is much easier than actually completing them. To improve your odds of success, only create a few goals, and set a time limit for when each goal should be completed. These two strategies can make achieving your goals easier and help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
To keep things simple, I'm going to suggest the least number of diet and lifestyle changes possible to make the greatest improvements in how you will feel every day. I promise you that once you get used to these changes, you'll never go back to your old unhealthy ways again!
Improve Your Diet
There seem to be many definitions of what a healthy diet is, making it hard to figure out exactly how to improve your diet. I've found that all effective diets have the following four things in common:
- Limit added refined sugar intake to no more than 20-30 grams per day (this does not include sugars found naturally in fresh fruits and vegetables). Constant over-consumption of refined added sugars like table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup (and regular corn syrup), honey, agave, and maple syrup can cause chronic stress and reactive hypoglycemia (a spike and crash of blood sugar levels). (1) Both chronic stress and low blood sugar can cause INTENSE cravings for more foods with added sugar (which will temporarily elevate blood sugar), causing a never-ending cycle of constant sugar consumption. (2)
The easiest way to reduce your intake of refined added sugars is to reduce or avoid soda, fruit juice, candy, and baked goods. Instead, try water and real food.
- Avoid all wheat products. For most people, wheat causes all kinds of havoc in the body. Most of its destructive capacity is due to two proteins found in wheat: Gluten and wheat germ agglutinin (WGA). Gluten can cause poor nutrient absorption and inflammation. (3) WGA--which is an insecticide produced by wheat--can also cause inflammation, (4) as well as insulin resistance/sensitivity, (5) leptin resistance, (6) and altered gene expression. (7) In other words, wheat (and anything made with wheat) is really bad for your health.
To avoid most of the wheat in your diet, remove all bread and pasta from your diet. If you like, you can replace these items with gluten-free versions (e.g., rice pasta).
- Replace industrial vegetable oils with healthy natural oils. Despite what health advocates say, industrial vegetable oils (soy, canola, corn, peanut) are not healthy for you. They are destructive in three major ways: They are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids (8); high in polyunsaturated fats, which are prone to oxidize (go rancid) easily (9); and include many of the natural toxins and anti-nutrients found in their source materials (10). When you consume industrial vegetable oils on a daily basis, they can make you overweight, tired, sick, and weak.
Instead, eat healthy natural oils like butter, beef tallow, coconut oil, and olive oil. Humans have been eating these oils for thousands of years with no ill effects (and they actually help protect your heart). These oils have also proven themselves to be much healthier than the supposedly "heart healthy" industrial vegetable oils. (10,11)
- Don’t be afraid of real foods that contain saturated fats and cholesterol. Despite what health advocates say, blood cholesterol DOES NOT cause coronary vascular disease (CVD)! Also, no clinical study has EVER shown that an intake of saturated fats or cholesterol has increased heart attacks or stroke. In fact, many of the supposedly “heart healthy” foods (e.g., whole grains, vegetable oils, margarine, low-fat foods) have been shown to INCREASE your odds of developing CVD (and many other degenerative diseases). (10,11)
As well as switching from industrial vegetable oils to natural oils (see above), also start eating more organic whole eggs, whole milk and yogurt, and animal organ and muscle meats (of all kinds, except for pork liver) and less pseudo-foods that come in a bag, box, or can. (Most pseudo foods reside in the center aisles of a grocery store; most real foods reside on the outer walls of a grocery store.)
Improve Your Lifestyle
Your diet isn't the only thing you should change to improve your health. Here are three simple but important changes that can also help you feel better every day:
- Walk at least 3 miles a day. There's no way to sugar coat this: Inactivity will kill you. (12) Fortunately, getting a bare minimum of healthful physical activity doesn't require you to suddenly exercise hard-core every day of the week. All you have to do is walk 3 miles a day--or about 10,000 steps--at a pace of about 3-4 mph.
Walking more is much easier than you may think. If you buy a pedometer (which measures how many steps you take), you can then choose to park in the farthest parking spots, walk up stairs instead of taking the elevator or escalator, or simply walk for about an hour at the end of every day. Once you get into the habit of walking, you can then start branching out into more difficult (and fun) exercise programs (e.g., P90X, Insanity, CrossFit). Just don’t consistently burn more than 4,000 extra calories per week (this is defined as excessive physical activity and is harmful to your health). (13)
- Get at least 8-9 hours of high-quality sleep every night. Sleep--especially lots of uninterrupted deep sleep--allows you to recover from the abuses of the previous day. (14) If you don't get enough sleep, this damage accumulates, causing chronic stress. (15) And chronic stress causes all kinds of mischief in the body (e.g., abdominal obesity, low energy, muscle loss, high blood pressure, high blood sugar). (16)
To start getting more sleep, stop watching TV about one hour before you go to bed. Start turning down the lights in your home (specifically removing sources of blue light). Just before bed, take a shower or read a little. Make your room completely dark. Also, avoid eating refined sugar or starch just before bed. If this doesn't completely help you, try supplementing with 3 mg of melatonin 30 minutes before you want to go to bed.
- Get outside more. Have you ever noticed how depressing window-less offices are? Or how sometimes just going outside has a calming effect? This isn't surprising since humans evolved being more outside than inside. It also isn't surprising that being outside is important to your health. Not convinced? Just spending more time outside has been shown to reduce a person’s anxiety, heart rate, and blood pressure. (17)
Going outside more is pretty easy: Go for a walk every day; read in the shade (when the weather is nice); exercise in your back yard or in a park. It really doesn't matter what you do so long as you just get outside more!
Brace for the Transition
For some, making these changes will not be fun. This is because the previously-mentioned destructive foods either hide poor blood sugar problems or are actually addictive. And the lifestyle changes may take a little while before you start to feel them work. Here are some tips to help you overcome problems sometimes associated with initially improving your diet and lifestyle:
- A lot of people crave foods containing refined sugar because of reactive hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar). (2) To prevent your sugar cravings from getting out of hand, try taking the herbal supplement gymnema sylvestre, which may help you maintain normal blood sugar without the need for sugary foods or drinks every 2-3 hours. It can also lower your desire for refined sugar.
- Wheat contains opiate-like molecules that may make it literally addictive. (18) This means for some people, when they remove wheat they may experience withdrawal symptoms (a.k.a., flu-like symptoms). The only way to overcome this problem is to persevere. I guarantee that once you get over any withdrawal symptoms, you'll feel much better!
- A temporary lack of energy. A normal consequence of eliminating sugar and wheat from your diet is a natural drop in carbohydrate intake and an increase in fat intake. Being used to a constant exposure to so many carbs, your body may not be very well adapted to burning fat and may take a couple of days or weeks to switch over to primarily burning fat for fuel. While your body relearns how to fat more efficiently you may feel like you’ve lost a bit of steam. To help with this transition, supplement with all the B-vitamins, magnesium, biotin, and CoQ10 for the first month or so. (19) You can use my optimal vitamin and mineral guide to figure out how much to supplement every day.
- It's okay to cheat once a week. You will likely have cravings for sweets or fast foods. These cravings are normal and will likely disappear as you reduce your consumption of refined sugar, wheat, and industrial vegetable oils. To keep you from falling off the wagon, you can cheat once a week. As long as you are sticking to your improved diet 90% of the time, then this meal should not derail your efforts to improve your health and should help to deal with the powerful craving that you may have as you start to make your dietary changes.
- At first, exercise will probably make you very sore. This happens to everyone who starts a new workout routine. And I’m not going to lie, it’s probably going to suck for the first couple of weeks. But, after you get used to working out, this soreness mostly goes away.
- Your sleep cycle may not fix itself as quickly as you like. If you have a problem sleeping, it could be due to the chronic stress of your current diet and/or lifestyle. As you remove the bad habits that cause this chronic stress, your wake/sleep cycle should normalize over a couple of days or weeks, allowing you to reliably get to sleep at a normal hour.
Enjoy the Ride to Better Health!
- Real foods like whole eggs, whole milk, and organic butter taste infinitely better than the artificial and purified ingredients dumped into pseudo-foods that come in a bag, box, or can. Real foods are also much less likely to give you heart burn, digestion problems, headaches, hypoglycemia, and/or sugar cravings.
- Maintaining a healthy weight will be effortless and won’t require calorie restriction or portion control.
- Waking up energized and staying awake all day--without the need for caffeine or sugar--will be an everyday occurrence.
- The aches and pains most think are associated with old age may attenuate or disappear altogether.
- You actually want to exercise.
- Your mind will likely seem more clear, focused, and alert.
And for my military friends, there is also an added benefit when you improve your health: A better PT score. Getting a better PT score is more than simply running more and doing a bunch of push-ups and sit-ups. If your body is sick, then it cannot perform well. However, if you make your New Year’s resolution to improve your health permanently, passing your PT test every year should be pretty easy (especially if you use my 42-Day Program)!