Not so many years ago, I needed a reboot. I was waking up every morning, not fully rested and feeling lethargic. I certainly didn’t have a big reserve of energy — similar to the energy I had as a kid. Chronic stress and inflammation got the best of me.
In fact, I was so ACCUSTOMED to living life in a compromised state, I wasn’t even aware most days that anything was wrong.
It was only when my body started to exhibit more obvious symptoms of sickness, that I decided that I had to make some big alterations to my lifestyle. In other words, I learned first hand that “change only can happen when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.” And I was ready for a change…
Maybe you think you need a reboot too. Having been through it, I can tell you that the “pain of having to change” doesn’t have to be as difficult as you may think.
The key to success is not making too many sweeping changes all at the same time.
If you’ve tried to tackle big health-related lifestyle changes before and failed, realize that it’s probably not your fault. Too often we dive in, get fatigued, and hit a brick wall.
What’s this got to do with nutrition? Well, I’ve seen far too many clients that have gone on diets, and ended up only drained and frustrated. It’s imperative that you be in a positive, rested state before you even begin.
So, what’s the first thing to do in order to improve your nutrition? It’s got nothing to do with diet (at least not directly)…
1) GET YOUR SLEEP.
Aim for at least 7 hours per night (more if you can manage it).
The quality and duration of your sleep has a direct effect on your energy levels and your ability to cope with stress. If you’re making changes to your diet, you’ll want to be able to handle those changes in a restful and energetic state by keeping your cortisol down.
2) DRINK LOTS OF WATER.
Most of us don’t even realize when we’re dehydrated (mistaking hunger for thirst). Dehydration can stunt metabolism, accelerate the aging process and allow toxins to build up in the body. Certainly not an ideal state when you’re trying to improve your body composition.
Aim to drink at least 8 glasses per day, whether filtered or from a spring.
3) TAKE YOUR FISH-OIL
I mentioned that it’s impossible to initiate change in your lifestyle (including a nutritional overhaul) if you’re in a fatigued and depressed state. That’s why I highly recommend taking a good quality liquid fish-oil every day. It’s good for your brain health and cognitive functions, and can help you literally “turn on the fat-burning gene”. Don’t believe some of the media hype: fish-oils are still one of the best supplements you can take. Just ensure you go for quality.
4) REBOOT YOUR DIET.
How you choose to fuel your body has a tremendous impact on your health and the way in which you age. If you’ve struggled with this issue before, remember that the key is to be prepared. You will be removing a number of foods from your diet completely (i.e. they shouldn’t be found in your house), and stocking up on nutrient-rich whole foods that are easy to prepare.
One of the best ways to maximize nutrition is to choose unprocessed foods — eaten in their natural state or cooked and prepared by you at home. In a nutshell, that means eating loads of vegetables, some traditionally-raised meats and poultry, quality eggs, a bit of wild-caught fish and seafood, a selection of fresh fruit, and some nuts. Grains and legumes are not demon foods by any means (barring some underlying medical condition), but many people thrive by eliminating them — especially wheat.
Nobody likes “diets”. Food shouldn’t be thought of as restrictive, and counting calories or macronutrients isn’t really a lifestyle for the long term. But if you do a bit of preparation, shop regularly, and keep your kitchen full of healthy food choices — you’ll optimize your health. You’ll likely optimize your budget too. While many people think that whole foods are expensive, preparing your own food at home is far less expensive than eating out.
A few simple guidelines can go a long way for those who wish to improve body composition and physical performance:
Detox Your Kitchen:
Rid your house of sugary foods, cakes and cookies, snack and convenience foods, frozen “lean cuisine-type” meals, ice cream, all processed food products, soda pop, etc. Also ditch the cereals, pasta and other starchy processed grains. If you don’t have access to poor food choices, you won’t eat them.
Next, Become a Strategic Shopper
Plan to surround yourself with real, wholesome foods – focusing on quality. Choose organic if your budget allows it, or try and purchase things that are fresh and in-season.
A “typical” grocery list might look like this:
- 2 dozen free-run eggs
- berries in season (or frozen)
- 1 container green tea
- large container baby spinach
- 2 bags organic carrots
- 1 bunch celery
- miscellaneous fresh veggies (kale, red peppers, cucumber, cauliflower, etc)
- 1 squash (butternut or spaghetti)
- 1 can tomatoes
- frozen Brussels sprouts, broccoli (frozen vegetables are a great food strategy)
- 4 lbs grass-fed beef (top round, sirloin, ground, etc)
- 3 lbs free-range chicken (whole, breasts)
- 1 bag frozen wild shrimp
- 3 cans wild red Arctic salmon
- 2 avocados
- canned sardines, herring
- walnuts, almonds
- seeds (pumpkin, sunflower)
- grapefruit, apples, bananas
- 1 lemon
- onions, garlic, ginger
- apple cider vinegar
- flax oil or fish oil
- extra virgin olive oil
- virgin coconut oil
Once you have a well-stocked larder, you can focus on a few basic guidelines:
- Eat small meals, but don’t go hungry. Eating every 3-4 hours works well for many people. While intermittent fasting has benefits, it doesn’t work for everyone and is an advanced strategy. Try smaller, more frequent meals first.
- Eat protein with every meal, especially lean sources of protein. Eggs, chicken, beef, bison, pork, lamb, goat, elk, and fish are great sources. Look for wild caught fish if possible. Current farming options are not sustainable nor are they healthy. Fish lower on the food chain is best (sardines, herring, anchovies, etc).
- Eat vegetables every chance you get. Staples should include anything dark green and the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, spinach, dandelion greens, collards, cucumbers, kale, celery, swiss chard, cilantro and parsley). Also include lots of brightly coloured vegetables like red and orange peppers, red cabbage, red onions, tomatoes and carrots.
- Refrain from eating too many starchy carbs. When you do eat them, make it a post-workout meal. Better starchy choices are sweet potatoes and other tubers, squash and green beans.
- Eat good fats, especially those rich in omega-3s. Get a mixture of good saturated fats, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fats. Better saturated fat choices include virgin coconut oil, free-range eggs, and fats from naturally raised meats. Monounsaturated fats include the olive oils, nuts and nut butters (un-roasted and unsalted almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, etc), seeds (unsalted raw pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, et), and avocados. Polyunsaturated fats come from flax seeds (must be ground), flax oil, hemp seed hearts, fish oils, nuts and nut butters. Concentrate on adding more monounsaturated fats (olive oils, nuts, avocados, seeds) and include fish oil supplementation in your diet plan. Fish oil should be taken at least once per day (NutraSea is an excellent brand – get the liquid form and keep it in the fridge).
Finally, Plan and Prepare:
Always plan your meals ahead of time. Get a food strategy and resolve to stick with it. Whether that means shopping and preparing food once a week, or getting up 30 minutes earlier, do it.
One of the key problems for people who try and follow these “Nutrition 101” guidelines is that they get caught unprepared. Having fresh broccoli and some chicken sitting in the fridge doesn’t help when you’re at work. Take the time to prepare, prepare and prepare. It doesn’t take as much time as you might think — especially if you keep things simple. In the time it takes to drive to a restaurant, order a meal, wait for it and drive back, you could have prepared a wholesome meal yourself where you are in control of the ingredients.
Finally, eat sitting down and enjoy every bite. You deserve good food!