As a gym owner and health coach I have learned that we have made looking and feeling amazing far more complicated than it really is. We have built an entire industry out of losing weight to the tune of over $60 billion in 2014 which is down from the year before due to declining diet soft drink sales. (Thank goodness some one is getting that message!)
My experience also tells me it’s not just weight loss people are seeking. I hear a lot of the following complaints.
- “I have trouble falling a sleep and/or staying asleep.”
- “I get a big energy slump in the afternoon.” This is sometimes accompanied by, ”But then I get a second wind right before I want to go to bed and can’t sleep.”
- “I find my brain feels foggy sometimes.” Or “ I just can’t seem to concentrate, I lose focus.” This is usually in the afternoon, but not always.
- “I feel overwhelmed a lot.” Or “I often feel stressed out and my heart starts to race.”
- “I crave junk food!” This again, is usually in the afternoon and usually for sugar or processed carbohydrates.
- “ I have trouble going to the bathroom.” This is all over the map from constipation to having to go all the time.
- “I often feel bloated after I eat.”
- “I MUST HAVE COFFEE!!!” The idea of functioning without it causes a panic.
- The above is sometimes associated with, ”I need a glass of wine to wind down at night so I can fall asleep.”
This list is longer but these are some of the most common. The medical industry is all too happy to provide us with one drug or another to help us sleep, feel calmer, and fix our digestive woes. There is also a long list of supplements that can help with many of these ailments that help enhance mental acuity, help us sleep, calm our nerves, fix tummy distress and so on. As a nation we have become too dependent on popping pills rather than focusing on the source of the issue and doing something about it. As a health coach one of my goals is to help my clients address not just the dietary culprits that are causing some of their complaints but also the lifestyle factors that in many cases are the real root of the problem.
Look, I have been known to rely on melatonin to help me fall a sleep, the most recent reason for this is due to recently having twins so my sleep cycle is all wonky. I need to get it back on a normal natural cycle. I know WHAT to do; I just have to do it.
I often find that fixing many of these complaints is not a matter of just one change. There is almost always a need to make multiple changes that you can maintain over the long term. For many people making all these changes at once can be too much to handle so I deploy the “one step at a time” method. Here are my top 5 recommendations that can either eliminate or greatly reduce the added stress we place on our bodies on a daily basis. My recommendation is to start with the easiest one for you to implement first then tackle the others one at a time as you have made each of the previous ones a habit.
Drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day.
For example a 180-pound person should try to drink 90 oz. of water a day. I also recommend you START your day with a big glass of filtered room temperature water. Before you ingest anything else. If you like something warm first thing in the morning like I do, start with a cup of hot water with lemon. It’s not just the obvious signs like dry mouth, dry skin, lack of urine output etc. that you need to look out for. Lack of hydration can cause:
- Lack of mental acuity
- Muscle cramps
- Racing heart rate doing simple tasks like walking up stairs
- Poor digestion
We are often dehydrated because we have replaced water intake with coffee, tea, soda, juice etc. Many of these beverages actually dehydrate you more than they hydrate you!
Start your day with protein and fat.
Save the carbs for after your workout. If you are not an active person the majority of your carbohydrates should come from vegetables rather than starches and sugars. For some of you this may go against other advice you have heard. I have read many sources that say that your tissues are most insulin sensitive in the morning and that you should eat your carbs for breakfast. In theory this makes total sense; in practice,well…..not so much, for a few reasons.
- Protein and fat are far more satiating than carbohydrates. They are slower to burn and digest so you stay fuller longer, making it more likely you will make it to lunch without needing a snack.
- Protein has a higher thermogenic effect on your body as it digests, meaning it takes more energy for your body to digest it providing a bit of a boost for your metabolism in the morning.
- While it’s true your cells are more insulin sensitive in the morning, this also includes your fat cells!! If you begin your day with a starchy, sugary breakfast the fat storage cycle begins first thing in the morning. And so does the blood sugar roller coaster!
Get 8 hours of sleep.
I know this is easier said than done but you must have a goal. Human adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep a night to function optimally. And who wants to function sub-optimally? Lack of sleep leads to:
- Sugar and junk food cravings. Your brain is fatigued. It thinks it needs energy so it sends the signal to eat fast burning energy sources, i.e. processed carbs and sugar.
- Chronic fatigue and lethargy. Lack of motivation.
- Anxiety and depression
- Suppressed immune system function. You go too many days without enough sleep, I promise you, YOU WILL GET SICK!
- Brain fog, inability to focus.
- Because of the above, lack of sleep has also been linked to higher risk of cancer, all metabolic diseases like type-2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and insulin and leptin resistance.
So, the harder it is to sleep, then the harder it is to sleep! I know, you’re thinking, huh? This is a cycle that perpetuates itself. When we compensate for not getting enough sleep, we tend to either over consume caffeine or processed carbs/sugar, or both. And both of these things make it hard to sleep later.
This then leads to needing something to help us fall asleep. Sometimes this is in the form of alcohol. While this may help us fall asleep initially it tends to degrade the quality of that sleep and often causes wakefulness later in the night. Sometimes it’s in the form of sleep aids (prescription or otherwise). Recent research now shows that with many of these drugs you’re not actually sleeping, you’re knocked out! Your brain is not getting the restorative real sleep it needs to function properly either.
Look, I’m not against caffeine or alcohol. I for one love a hot cup of Joe in the morning. I also enjoy a nice glass of wine sometimes too. But if you are using one as a stimulant to get going in the morning and the other as a depressant to go to sleep at night, then you have a real problem. I also believe that sometimes a sleep aid can become necessary under certain conditions where getting to sleep can be near impossible without help, I just caution you to be careful and try not to use them habitually. There are also more natural alternatives that can help calm your nervous system to help you get a more restful sleep. Valerian root, melatonin, magnesium, l-Theanine and 5-HTP can all be helpful and are far less habit forming. Please ask a naturopathic physician for advice on these.
Spend some time in the sun.
According to a 2009 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 77% of Americans have insufficient levels of vitamin D.
- Sun exposure is the most effective way for humans to absorb vitamin D.
- Regular moderate exposure is best. I’m not advocating spending hours out sunbathing everyday. But spending about half the amount of time it takes for you to sustain a sunburn a few times a week is sufficient. So if you are fair skinned and will burn within 30 minutes then 15 minutes at a time is best. If you have darker skin then you can stay out longer.
- Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to other health complaints like depression, fibromyalgia, and muscle and joint pain.
- Vitamin D helps your body metabolize calcium, strengthen your immune system, cardiac, and neurological function.
- It also improves your body’s absorption of vitamins A and C and ultimately aid in gene expression.
Cut your sugar consumption in half.
I’d say cut it out entirely, but I’m trying to give realistic advice here. I have written extensively on sugar in the past, and I will continue to beat that drum until its vibrating through humanity, but for the purpose of todays post I think we can all agree that sugar is bad for us. It goes way beyond the empty calories argument. Excess sugar is not just “not good for us”; it is BAD for us! Excess sugar is toxic to the brain and it speeds up the aging process all the way down to the cellular level. If you are a bit of a sugar junkie like I was start with these simple tips.
- Stop drinking your sweets. Cut the sugar from your beverages. That can cut down on sugar consumption a ton! Water (See #1 above) unsweetened coffee either black, with real cream or full fat coconut milk or bulletproof, tea of all varieties, unsweetened seltzer water (I like La Croix) are all great options.
- Crowd it out! Rather than depriving yourself, start by adopting the simple concept of eating your protein, fats and veggies first! If you’re STILL craving then have a treat. You will find that you start having smaller and smaller portions because you just aren’t hungry and eventually the habitual nature of wanting that sweet will subside.
- Never start your day with sugar! (See #2 above)
- If your sugar cravings are out of control, try supplementing with a mineral supplement containing chromium, vanadium, magnesium and zinc. All of these minerals play a role in glucose metabolism and deficiencies have been linked to sugar cravings. L-glutamine is an amino acid that is particularly helpful during times of stress both physical (surgeries, chemotherapy, recovery from injuries) and otherwise (stressful job, lifestyle, going through tough times etc.). It is great for the rebuilding/recovery process, but it is also supportive of your immune system and gut health. If stress is a trigger for your sugar cravings, L-Glutamine may be your answer. (From the research I have done and found helpful for myself, 500mg up to 3 times a day or as your cravings rear up is safe for most people, again ask a naturopathic physician for guidance)
So there you have it. If looking better and feeling better is a goal for you then these are 5 things you can start doing today without making a massive overhaul of your entire diet and lifestyle. (Although that may still be in order.)
To repeat my earlier strategy I suggest taking it one tip at a time. One of my biggest issues is I tend to take on way to many things at once. It is my biggest source of stress and it is a source of my own making. I find that if I can slow down and take on one task at a time then I get that one thing done really well rather than 4 things that get half done and half-assed! If this is you too focus first on water (or whichever of these are easiest for you to do now) for 3-4 weeks until it becomes a habit then take on the next tip that is the next easiest to implement for you. I’m a big advocate of taking down the lowest hanging fruit first!
So, no time like the present my friends, let’s get to work on being awesome! Which of these little tips will you tackle first?!
Until Next Time,
~ Laura, Mom Gone Paleo