The four pillars of a healthy regimen: Food, Fitness, Sleep, Stress. All four pillars must be given equal attention and intentional planning. We’re going to deep dive each pillar with the goal of gaining more energy, more productivity, and (as always) a more sustainable lifestyle.
One cannot think well, sleep well, or love well if one hasn’t dined well.– Virginia Wolf
The problem: It’s common knowledge that a healthy diet is the foundation for feeling good, performing well, and living long. So why are 40% of American obese? If its common knowledge, why are three-quarters of Americans struggling with a weight issue (obese or overweight)? America has the highest percentage of obese adults. I can tell you why. Bigger portions, a boom in meat consumption, dieting (you heard me) and inactivity. Americans are eating a lot more, especially meat products, and moving less. They’re also confused on what to it and when. Conflicting diet guidelines are everywhere, and Americans want results fast. People are willing to try anything that works, especially if they saw their friend do it. We’re being pumped full of trans fats and artificial sweeteners while jumping on any fad diet we can get our hands on for fast results. Futile, at best.
The solution: Start by determining a specific, realistic long-term goal. Example: “I’d like to lose 10 pounds by November 2021, increase my muscle definition, and feel more energetic.” Introduce 1 daily ritual each month that will help you progress slowly towards this goal. Examples: Drink 2 liters of water each day. Eat 2 fresh fruits and 2 fresh vegetables each day. Eat 25-50% vegan or vegetarian. Refrain from drinking soda, alcohol, or smoking during the week. That’s a solid start if you can commit to it. From there, try cooking more at home. Eating out is expensive and generally unhealthy in terms of how the food is prepared and the portions you’re given. Not to mention, your far more likely to contract Covid-19 if you eat out (even if you pick up curbside). Lastly, do not be afraid of fat or carbohydrates. They have somehow gotten a bad rep in America. 50% of your diet should be carbohydrates. They’re linked to longevity and provide energy. My favorites are sweet potatoes, organic pasta and rice, and fresh fruit. Fat is also important for several reasons, but my favorite is they’re filling and satisfying. Avocados, olives, and almonds are fantastic foods that provide rich sources of vitamins and minerals. Don’t be duped into thinking protein equals skinny. Protein plays an important role in metabolism, but if you want the most balanced and sustainable nutrition plan, you need carbohydrates and fats too!
Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.– Jim Rohn
The problem: Inactivity, plain and simple. A lot of working Americans are sedentary, and technology has provided us with everything we need to be inactive. We can order online, take a vehicle anywhere, and eat all our meals without raising a finger to grow, prepare, and/or clean up. I’d like to cite a lack of patience, too. As previously stated, Americans want results fast. That just doesn’t happen in reality. Functional, realistic programs take time. There is no end point. Our bodies should constantly be on a path of self-improvement and growth, challenged with new stimuli and tested.
The solution: Start small. If you aren’t training regularly, start with walking for 30 minutes 3 times a week. If you stick to that, and work on your diet/sleep, you will slowly gain energy and lose weight. Try that for a month, and then think about slowly progressing. I have 70+ videos on YouTube for FREE you can try. They’re fantastic for all levels! If you’re already exercising consistently, good on you! I recommend increasing your intensity, or frequency (minutes per week), 10% each week to find improvements. This may mean adding intervals to your cardio or adding a little weight to your strength routines. A coach may be beneficial for this purpose. My training philosophy centers on balance, literally. All my athletes train to improve balance, then mobility, then muscular endurance. It’s essential to have a stable foundation before beginning a periodized overload program or you will just build strength on existing weaknesses and further imbalances. Training deep core muscles starts at the beginning, as I’ve learned to train from the inside out. Stability first! From a stable platform you can launch into a more aggressive program. Starting with stability is not only a wise and sustainable way to begin, it’s also approachable. If you’re overweight and just looking to make a change, beginning with walking a few times a week and some light balance/core training is a lot easier to stick to then getting crushed at bootcamp- which can be embarrassing. You’re far less likely to get injured this way, and far more likely to stick with it to see results.
Sleep is the best meditation.– Dali Lama
The problem: Americans are steadily averaging less sleep, an inverse relationship that directly correlates with a steady increase in weight gain. According to the Sleep Foundation, Americans get about 7.5 hours of sleep/night. Most people go to bed around 11 pm and wake up at 6:30 am during the week, and sleep about 40 minutes longer on the weekend. Ideally, we get between 8-10 hours of sleep each night. (Some people need more than others, mind you) Lack of sleep can lead to cravings and metabolic dysfunction, as hormones like ghrelin and leptin are affected by sleep deprivation. Then there’s the simple notion that staying awake longer presents more opportunities to eat. The more tired you are from missing out on sleep, the less energy you will have for physical fitness, too. Childhood and adolescent obesity are linked with sleep deprivation, the link likely being skipped meals like breakfast and increased sugar / salt consumption. As an athlete, you’re more likely to get injured if you get less than 8 hours of sleep.
The solution: GET. MORE. SLEEP. Make a plan on when to go to bed and wake up so you’re at your best. Keeping a regular sleep schedule is helpful, as big swings in your sleep regimen can reduce your insulin sensitivity (elevating blood sugar) and cause changes in your metabolism. iPhones have a setting in which you can program reminders on when to head to bed and when to wake up. Avoid snacking late, as this is can cause weight gain and instigate sleep issues. Good old-fashioned discipline is required to turn off the TV and stop scrolling on Instagram. Try reading for 30 minutes before your goal bedtime and sleeping in a dark room.
It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.– Hans Selye
The problem: According to The American Institute of Stress, 77% of Americans experience stress that affects their physical health, while 73% report experiencing stress that affects their mental health. Those experiencing the most stress are ethnic minorities, women, single parents, and people responsible for their family’s healthcare decisions. Top causes of stress are money, work, and the economy followed closely by family responsibilities, relationships, personal health issues, and housing costs. Side effects of stress are irritability, low energy/fatigue, lack of motivation/interest, anxiety, headaches, feeling sad or depressed, acid reflux, muscle tension, high blood pressure, and appetite changes. Many people also experience sexual problems, weight gain, GI issues like constipation or diarrhea, and forgetfulness. Whew.
The solution: Start by identifying the signs of stress listed above and/or any stress triggers. Getting plenty of sleep (as mentioned before 8-10 hours) and regular exercise (start with 3x 30-minute walks/week and some light stretching!). Practicing relaxation skills like meditation, journaling, or diaphragm breathing (nose inhalation to belly for 4 counts, hold 4 counts, exhale 4 counts). You may try setting 1-2 goals, defining your personal priorities, and forming 1-2 daily habits, like we’ve talked about. Spending time with people you love and doing activities you enjoy, like knitting, baking, painting, and reading, are important to minimize stress.
Putting it all together
- Set a long-term goal
- Form 1-2 daily rituals to exercise and eat well. Think sustainable and balanced. Progress 10% when you’re ready!
- Make sleeping 8-10 hours a priority.
- Identify stress and work to relieve it.
- Be patient. Nothing happens overnight.
There is probably nothing in this blog that you haven’t heard before. This is a friendly note to get back to the basics and invest in yourself. Fuel yourself well, treat your body like a temple, and rest the amount you deserve. There is no fad diet, sleeping pill, or hack that will do the work for you. You’re going to have to sacrifice some social media time to cook, set some boundaries in your personal or professional life to decrease your stress and/or make time for exercise. I know you can do it, and I promise you it will be worth it.