If you find yourself in “mid-life” (or even a little younger or a little older), maybe a little (or a lot) overweight, out of shape, lack of energy, weird symptoms you never used to have—like gut issues, reflux, migraines, joint pain, etc.— maybe overwhelmed with life, settling for status quo (or lower) in regards to taking care of yourself, maybe on some medications to manage problems like high blood pressure or high cholesterol (or your medical provider has told you to work on these issues) and in general a far cry from the vibrant and energetic teenager you used to be or even the twenty-something you used to be, THERE IS HOPE! Your body and your genes WANT to be healthy…. that’s how we are designed to be.
Society suggests otherwise. Society says its “normal” for these negative and degenerative things to occur. It’s part of “getting old”. And although it might be what happens to the majority of people due to the pressures of our Western lifestyle, it is far from “normal” in regards to what our bodies and genes expect or deserve.
See, everything in our modern lifestyle contradicts how we are genetically programmed to live. We are meant to move our bodies frequently and slowly, eat real food, do physical labor on a regular basis, have strong community, have low-levels of stress, go to bed when the sun sets and get up when the sun rises. These habits all lead to optimal gene expression. Basically, if you are doing these things your body will be the healthiest version of itself. If you are not doing these things you run the risk of turning on the not-so-favorable genes (this is a concept called epigenetics). Of course, it is impossible to live EXACTLY as our primitive hunter-gatherer ancestors but there are strategies we can implement in our modern-day lifestyles to help us live a bit more like they did for optimal gene expression
So how does one go about changing their lifestyle to focus on getting healthy?
- First and foremost, you have to make the decision to WANT to get healthy for the rest of your life. Without this first step, the goals tend to have a time limit. I don’t like when people’s focus is so narrow, such as, “I want to lose 30 pounds.” This suggests a temporary process and goal. What does losing 30 pounds actually mean? Does this mean you will start some temporary intervention like a fancy diet, extreme exercise program and expensive supplements only to reach the 30-pound mark and check it off the list? Does progress stop when the 30-pound mark hits? What does that mean exactly? When you lose those 30 pounds are you actually healthier? Or are you 30 pounds lighter but more tired and worn down because you are getting up at 4:30 am to workout 5 days a week and cutting calories drastically low in an unsustainable way? Are you actually going to be able to keep the weight off for the rest of your life? If like most people, the answer to that is an unfortunate “no”. If your focus is on improving your overall HEALTH for a lifetime, this changes the overall perspective to a BIG PICTURE goal, not a narrow, temporary one. If you work on getting healthy then the weight will eventually come off and your body composition will favorably change.
- Do the opposite of everybody else. What does “everybody else” do? Everybody else eats bad, sleeps too little, stresses too much, sits too much, over-commits, focuses too much on pleasing others, works too much, doesn’t take time to relax, fuels themselves or copes in an unhealthy or imbalanced way by using caffeine, sugar, alcohol, tobacco, sex, drugs (legal and illegal), etc. Getting healthy is going to mean coming up with a plan to go against the grain of what society is doing. Don’t eat the bagels and donuts people bring in to work. If pizza is ordered at your lunch meeting then make sure you bring your own lunch. People at work or in social circles may think you are weird but who cares? You are NOT missing out on anything. You are responsible for your own health and succumbing to societal pressures means you rob yourself of health, vibrancy and feeling awesome. Trust me, from experience, people in your work and social circles will get used to you being the “health nut” and won’t think much of your polite declination of the nutrient poor, “fake food” everyone else is eating to their own demise.
- Implement the 4 Key Elements. I’ve talked about the 4 Key Elements to health before: nutrition, sleep, movement and stress management. All 4 of these things have to be addressed for overall health and optimal gene expression. When on your journey you may focus on just one or two initially but eventually all of these will need optimized as much as possible. Most people focus on nutrition and/or movement but in the form of some fad diet or extreme exercise program. Optimally practicing these 4 key elements need to be part of your everyday life for the REST OF YOUR LIFE if you want to give yourself a chance at the best health possible. Take “movement” for example. The Primal lifestyle recommends lots of slow movement all day every day, lifting “heavy things” a couple of days a week, sprinting “once in a while”, and ample amounts of “play”. The conventional wisdom approach to movement is some regimented plan that may consist of excessive running, biking, high intensity workout program (think Body Pump, CrossFIt and other “boot camp” style programs). People start these programs with great intentions but these usually aren’t sustainable. Or for those people who do stick with it, oftentimes they aren’t seeing the results they expected to. Or maybe they did see results but then the results stopped. Or maybe they got injured, had a baby or some other major life change and they were unable to continue the workouts for a period of time—sometimes months or years. Well, most people are neglecting proper nutrition, sleep and stress management so when they stop the extreme exercise they tend to put the weight back on. If all 4 key elements are being addressed it provides more “cushion” for times of change. If you work out regularly and suffer an injury or have a baby there is no need to worry because your nutrition is dialed in, you are sleeping well and you are managing stress well so your overall health will not suffer much, if at all. If you are completely dependent upon exercise to maintain a healthy weight you are doing it wrong and setting yourself up for failure as this method is NOT sustainable and will eventually likely work against you!
- Gradually implement Primal principles. Ditch grains, especially wheat and anything with wheat in it. Eat real foods and avoid anything processed. Eat lots of plants, healthy animal products, healthy fats, some fruit, nuts, spices, herbs. Cut out sugar NOW! Avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Get out and move frequently at a slow pace. Lift some heavy things. Go to bed earlier. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Get some sunshine. Go and play with your kids. Find something that is fun and active. Say “no” more. Reduce your time on your smart phone and computer. Work on your relationships and maintain a good social life. Know when to relax when you should be relaxing. Sprint once in a while. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Continue to use your mind and educate yourself. Try some intermittent fasting. So on and so forth. The shift to living a Primal lifestyle is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. There are no shortcuts and any plan that promises a shortcut will not lead to lasting change! Read some of my earlier blog posts or click the hyperlinks in this post for more articles and more specifics on living a Primal lifestyle. If you want to delve further into this then contact me and we can discuss a coaching session and a personalized plan built specific to your needs!