Everyone wants a magic pill to make them skinny. Or a magic protein shake to make them swoll. Or a magic exercise to firm their butt for bikini season.
Don’t misunderstand me, I think there are some great products and workouts available that can help. But no such pill, shake, or exercise exists. Although most infomercials would have you believe otherwise, the path to long term sustainable health is usually not found in a bottle.
I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade. It’s just that I get asked this question A LOT:
“Tell me exactly what to eat and when to eat it to get skinny/strong/happy.”
Were I less scrupulous, I would have a ready made solution for only $19.99. But the thing is that the answer isn’t sexy, flashy, or gimmicky. It’s nothing that I could ever sell in an infomercial. And it’s not available in a nicely packaged bottle.
The answer is to make long term, sustainable changes in key areas of your life. Maybe you’re the type of person who likes dive in head first and do a total life detox. Maybe you need to make small changes here and there. It’s up to you, but truly, there is no secret or magic.
After some careful consideration, working with clients, reading every blog/article I come across, and research of scientific literature, I’ve put together my list- my Five Principles of Health.
I would hypothesize that if you improved all of these areas of your life, you would start to notice a lift in your butt, you belly leaning out, or your muscles getting bigger. But more importantly, your risk of chronic illnesses would lower, you will live longer, and you would start to enjoy life.
If you chase health and functionality, aesthetics follow.
Eat Real Food Nothing new here, right? We’re all pretty familiar with terms such as real, whole, organic, raw, etc. But the food industry is very good at capitalizing on nutritional buzzwords- using terms such as “all natural” to fool the consumer into thinking that the product they are eating is a real food. So let me provide some clarity on what Real Food means to me:
- Real Food has an expiration date.
- Real Food usually needs some sort of cooking or prep by the end consumer.
- Real Food is representative of the source it came from. Meaning you can usually tell what your food was before it was prepped.
- Real Food does not need to make the case that it is “all natural” or has “no sugar added.” It just is what it is.
Sleep Well “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Have you heard that? Have you said that? Well, I have good news for you- the less you sleep, the quicker that day will come.
Lack of sleep is associated with a host of health issues, including obesity, diabetes, cancer, migraines, heat disease, loss of libido, and even premature death. Most of these issues were found in people who consistently got less than 7 hours of sleep. Nowadays, 40% of us do not get 7 hours or more, compared to 1942 where 89% of people got over 7 hours of sleep. So what is so important that you’re sacrificing your health? Certainly not Facebook, Jimmy Fallon, or your relentless boss. In fact, I would argue that unless you are a new parent, you need to seriously consider the importance of whatever is causing you to sacrifice your sleep.
Move Often Most of us are sedentary, even if we workout 4 or 5 times a week. So at best, you may be spending less than 5% of your time being active. You may have even heard the saying that sitting is the new smoking.
Most, if not all, of us would benefit from decreasing our time spent in a chair. If you have a dog or a child, you have the perfect opportunity to add regular walks or bike rides. Park farther away. Take the stairs. Buy a pedometer and add 10% more steps per day until you reach 10,000 per day. These seem simple, but ohmygosh, regular movement will make a difference- for mobility, stress management, and fat loss.
Manage Stress Let’s think about all the stress in our lives:
- The blaring of the alarm
- Getting everyone out the door in the morning
- Your boss
- Picking the kids up on time
- Making a healthy dinner
- Getting to the gym/practice/evening meetings on time
- Finding time for your significant other
- Finding time for yourself.
I’m stressed just thinking of all of this. Excessive and chronic stress can cause issues similar to what is seen when there is a lack of sleep. There are multiple natural ways to manage stress, from breathing, to prayer, to meditation, and so on. I know it’s easier said than done, but I think you have to be real with yourself. If the stress is not beneficial and it is avoidable- pull a Joey Gladstone and Cut. It. Out. (of your life)
Play Every Day Let me ask you this- how many times do you crawl into bed and you cannot think of one thing you did that day that made you happy? Maybe never or maybe it’s more times than you’d care to admit. Finding a way to bring joy to your life every day, even in small ways, is critical to health and longevity. And Play looks different to everyone. My everyday play activities are usually lifting heavy things, taking my dogs for a walk, cooking, and watching cute goat videos. But they can be date night with my husband, lunch with a friend, a nap, or even binge watching The Good Wife. It really doesn’t matter what you do as long as you love it.
So what happens when you start to dial in these five areas of you life?
Making positive changes in all of these areas will create hormonal changes in your body that will cause long term changes. Simply stated, increasing quality sleep, moving often, reducing stress, and playing every day will reduce cortisol in your body, which is linked to belly fat and inhibits recovery (the enemy of muscle gain). Eating real foods will inherently reduce the amount of insulin produced by overly processed carbohydrates- and insulin causes fat storage.
You might be reading this and are skeptical about the effectiveness of my Principles of Health. That’s ok. And I’ll admit, this is way harder than a magic pill, shake, or exercise. But when is the last time you’ve found one of those magic solutions worked long term?
So try it out- make one change every week in a different area of your life. And in five weeks, take a look at your quality of life and report back to me.
There ain’t nothin’ to do but to do it.