Every January 1st, it’s something new. A new diet, a new exercise routine, a new commitment to read more… you know what I’m talking about. None of these focus on BASICS.
And it’s ok.
I do it too. Maybe not on New Year’s, but I get caught up in finding the next best thing. The simple solution. The ONE supplement that will make my life easier, give me endless energy, calm my anxiety. The one food that makes all my dreams come true. The one workout that will make me 2 inches taller and 300x more toned.
I look at old pictures of myself and think “I want to get back to her! She was so fit! Her skin looked great!” And I tried to remember the exact blend of macronutrients I consumed to look that way.
When, in reality, there was no secret sauce. No magic ratio. Nothing like that.
Let me tell you what she did:
- Put self-care first.
- Ate what her body needed.
- Drank plenty of water (and enough coffee to keep her happy).
- Made fitness a priority.
She kept it basic, uncomplicated, and consistent.
My point here is that there are basic things we need to do to take care of ourselves. Think of it as laying the foundation for your health. If we aren’t knocking out the basics, we are leaving a lot on the table.
The Basics of Nutrition
1. Eat the Right Kind of Protein
Protein is an essential nutrient to humans. Our bodies use approximately 50,000 different proteins to form organs, nerves, muscles, and flesh.
When a protein is broken down, it gets to work helping our body function optimally:
- Enzymes- Protein molecules that are the managers and catalysts for ALL biochemical processes
- Antibodies- Proteins that help fight infection
- Hemoglobin- Specialized proteins in the form of red blood cells that carry oxygen
- Hormones- Proteins that regulate our metabolism, sex drive, fertility, blood sugar, etc.
Proteins are also made up of amino acids, which are also known as the building blocks of life. Neurotransmitters, hormones, and muscle are made up of amino acids. And proper RNA/DNA expression relies heavily on amino acids!
So what counts as the right kind of protein?
First off, it really needs to be animal based. Yes, plants have some protein in them. However, protein is most bio-available (meaning easiest for your body to process) through animal proteins. Plant foods also lack certain nutrients, such as Vitamin B12, Cholecalciferol (D3), and heme-iron.
Foods such as eggs, beef, pork, chicken, and fish are great examples. I like to say, “If it walks, swims, or flies, eat it!”
How much you’ll need will vary from person to person. But since this post is about the BASICS- let’s stick with the basic rule of thumb: One fist sized portion at every meal is a great place to start.
If you need some help with ideas, check out the recipes section of my blog!
2. Eat Good Fat
Let’s be honest, if your consciousness begins after 1960, you’ve probably been taught to fear fat. (Fat Free Snackwells, anyone?) But fat is our friend and contrary to what we’ve been taught, high quality real fat that can be found in nature will NOT make you fat. It WILL provide your body with much needed nutrients and help keep you fuller longer.
“Fat that can be found naturally occurring in nature.”
Fat is a naturally occurring macronutrient found in certain foods- coconuts, olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, and animals, to name a few. All of these fats contain a variety of saturated, mono-unsaturated, and poly-unsaturated fats. They all include key nutrients to our development and health.
To get oils from these naturally occurring fats, they can be cold pressed- meaning with enough pressure, the fat just kind of squeezes out (to put it simply). This is what labels such as “cold pressed” or “extra-virgin” come from.
Better living through processing?
But over the last several decades, we’ve seen an increase in fat and oil products that were never meant to be a food. For example, soybean oil is a very popular oil these days. But rather than cold pressing a soy bean, they are heated to temperatures that break down the molecular structure of the fat and then chemically extract it.
These fats are what we call Trans Fats, Hydrogenated Oils, and Partially Hydrogenated Oils. Make no mistake- these fats are toxic to our body. One of the best things we can do is eliminate these fats from our diet COMPLETELY.
There oils include:
- Soybean Oil
- Corn Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
- Canola Oil
- Peanut Oil
- Palm Kernel Oil
These oils are in almost every processed and packaged food in the supermarket, such as margarine, vegetable shortening, packaged snacks, salad dressings, sauces, baked goods, ready-to-use dough, fried foods, and coffee creamer (both dairy and non-dairy). They are so popular because they create a longer shelf life and have a more sustainable flavor and texture than other fats.
The problem with these fats is that they cause inflammation in our body, which leads to a variety of other problems. Personally, when I’ve been traveling or indulged in one too many store bought treats, my joints start to hurt. These oils will also keep our body from recovering after a hard workout or healing from injury.
What is a good fat?
Good fats are ones that are found naturally occurring in nature and luckily, there are a lot of options!
Avocados (and oil), butter, coconut (flakes, milk, and oil), egg yolks, olives, minimally processed cheese and yogurt, almonds (and milk), nuts and seeds, and (if you have access) fat from high quality, pasture raised meat.
The great thing about fat is that you don’t need to eat a ton to get some great benefits. And using a back to basics approach, we can keep it simple. A thumb sized portion of oils or a palm sized portion of nuts, seeds, avocados, and yogurt/cheese is a great place to start!
A quick note on dairy fats: not everyone can handle dairy. In fact, I would say that most people have to limit their dairy consumption or not consume it at all. I strongly recommend giving it up for 30 days to see how you feel without it, then slowly reintroduce it.
3. Eat Unprocessed Carbs
The processing of carbs, besides the processing of fats, is probably the biggest travesty to happen to our food system. Things like broccoli, apples, and potatoes were replaced with cookies, chips, and pasta.
Not only are these foods void of essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and enzymes, they are highly palatable. Meaning that they are designed specifically to ignite our palate and make us crave more. This is a huge problem, not only because they are the definition of empty calories but also because they cause blood sugar to spike. Over consumption of these foods and blood sugar spikes cause everything from sugar cravings in the short term to Type 2 Diabetes in the long term.
Eating unprocessed carbs is a very simple in theory, but hard in practice. Like I already pointed out, these foods are designed to be addicting. Does “Bectcha can’t have just one” ring a bell?
One of the best ways to help with this is the approach to eat the good fat we discussed earlier. Good fat helps curb blood sugar spikes and once your body is adapted to processing it, will help reduce cravings as well.
What unprocessed carbs are best?
Keep it simple! Get back to basics! Stick to the fruit and vegetable aisle! Eat non starchy veggies like a fiend (lettuces, peppers, onions, broccoli, etc). Keep starchy veggies and fruit to a fist sized portion at each meal.
You may be wondering about “healthy whole grains.” Well, most of what is being sold in stores as a healthy whole grain actually isn’t. Over processed to the point where nutrients are destroyed, dyed, and then textured to fool everyone involved is a better description.
So when it comes to grains, I have a few BASIC guidelines:
- Give them up for 30 days. As with dairy, some people just cannot tolerate grains. If you’ve never cut them out, do it to see how you feel.
- Oatmeal- Oatmeal can be great, but is highly processed a lot of the time. Stick to steel cut oats and let them soak overnight before preparing.
- Breads and pastas- Switch to sprouted grains. Sprouting makes these foods easier to digest and unlock nutrients.
- Eat sparingly. By sparingly, I mean no more than once per day, probably less. And they will take the place of starchy veggies on your plate (meaning if you’re having a sandwhich, you need to eat a side salad instead of fries).
4. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Dehydration is real, folks. So I’m going to keep it really simple – you should be drinking at LEAST half your body weight in ounces of water. More if you’re sweating a lot (fitness, being outside) and caffeinated or beverages with real or artificial sugars don’t count as water.
In fact, if you drink a lot of caffeine or real/artificial sugar, you should be drinking MORE water to compensate. Ideally you need to be replacing diuretic beverages with 1.5 ratio of water.
For example, if you weighed 200 lbs and drank 16 ounces of coffee with sugar every morning, you’ll need to drink 124 ounces of water that day. Here’s what that formula looks like:
If that formula is overwhelming, get back to basics. Get a minimum of 1/2 your body weight in ounces. When that is a solid habit, you can start to compensate for those diuretic beverages.
The Basics of Movement
5. Walk. A Lot.
Walking is a HUGE part of physical (and mental) health. If you’re just getting started in fitness, you should start with walking. If you’re a gym rat for an hour a day, but sit the other 23 hours, you need to walk more.
Humans walk.. We used to walk all the time and now we sit in chairs. This has a profoundly negative impact on our lives. From heart health, to weight gain, to muscle weakness, to tight hips and lower back pain, walking addresses all of it.
This does NOT mean you need to go out and “pound the pavement” for hours on end. In fact, if you’re not used to walking, this may cause more damage to knees and joints. Even though walking is simple, you may need to work up to it! And the walking I’m talking about doesn’t mean you need to hit a certain target heart rate. Just getting up and moving has benefits!
Maybe you have a job where you’re moving all day- waitress, teacher, construction worker, professional toddler wrangler. If that’s the case, you may not need to intentionally add walking to your day.
There are two ways to walk more: Adding steps in small increments and taking intentional walks.
Adding in small step increments- This is the advice you hear about parking farther away from the store, taking the stairs, and setting a timer to get up and walk around the office once per hour.
Creating time for intentional walking- take your dog, your spouse, or your favorite podcast and get to steppin’. It’s pretty simple!
Walking is the very definition of “back to basics.” To quote my friend Jason Seib, “The minimum amount of walking you should do in a day is as much as you can. The maximum amount of walking you should do in a day is as much as you can.”
Extra note: If you’re not able to walk very far or it causes you pain, I am a huge fan of getting into a pool and building strength slowly! And if this is the case, I would strongly recommend physical therapy or a competent trainer to get you back on your feet (literally).
6. Lift Heavy Things
Lifting heavy things is a close second to walking in terms of importance to overall health. Lifting weights builds muscle mass, which is a direct contributor to longevity, and will also help with any weight loss goals you may have.
While this is a BASIC approach to health, writing all you need to know about safely lifting in a short blurb isn’t possible. I strongly recommend investing in a personal trainer, even just for a short time, to teach you what you need to know.
And here’s what you need to know how to do safely:
- Deadlift (hip hinge)
- Core Specific Work
The best thing about movement is there are a LOT of strength building movement patterns. But the four above are the foundation to moving well and you can build off of those.
For a “basics” approach to functionality, I think 2-3 days of strength training is awesome. If you really get into it and create bigger goals, you may want to add more!
7. Break a Sweat
Most of us start with lots of cardio, maybe learn to lift later, and add in walking where we can. But really, it should be flipped! Cardio should be the icing on the cake of walking and lifting.
And here’s the good news: if you don’t like to run, you don’t need to. We can be in peak physical performance without being runner. I bring this up because I talk to a lot of people who HATE to run, but do it because they think they have to. I am here to set you free! (If you love to run, great! Just don’t forget about strength training!)
Doing some sort of cardio 1-3 days per week as a foundation is a good starting goal. You can add it with your strength training sessions and incorporate sprints, Tabatas, or MetCon style workouts. Or you could add classes or additional workouts and do something you really love, such as Zumba, dance, running, rowing, biking, swimming, etc. Keep it basic, keep it fun!
The Basics of Self Care
8. Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep is the very foundation of self care. Really, it’s the very foundation of health. And cannot be ignored as a part of our basics approach. But I understand it can be elusive. Here are some steps you can take to make sleep a priority:
- Block a 7-8 hour time span for sleep and protect it with your life.
- Put down your screen. The blue light from your screen wakes up your brain, making it harder to get into REM sleep. Most experts recommend turning off screens (phone, tablet, TV, computer) 2 hours before bed, but I challenge you to start with 15 minutes.
- Cut off the caffeine at lunch. Caffeine has a half life of 5-7 hours, so that means that you’ll still have half the amount of caffeine in your system within 5-7 hours of drinking it. You may be able to fall asleep ok, but you won’t be able to get into deep or sustained sleep.
- Keep your bed sacred. Beds are for sleeping or sex. Not for working, watching TV, or eating. If you train your body that when you crawl into bed it’s time to rest, you’ll create the habit of sleep.
- Do the stressful things earlier in the day. Try to make the few hours prior to bed for small tasks or relaxing.
9. Manage Your Stress
Notice how I said “manage”, not “reduce” or “get rid of.” Stress is a part of life and expecting anyone to just “get rid of it” is just unreasonable. I guess unless you’re a celebrity guru who can afford to wake up daily with sunrise Yoga on the beach. But for the rest of it, it takes work!
But just because we can’t get rid of our stress doesn’t mean we can’t control how we respond. Because REALLY, stress is our reaction to a situation. For example, let’s think about traffic as an example. If you’re late for a meeting, traffic is about the worst thing you can encounter. If you’re an overwhelmed mom who is enjoying her time alone in the car, jamming to TSwift, traffic is a welcome excuse to be late. (Been there, done that, to BOTH situations.) The only thing that changed is the perspective of the person in the situation.
So that means we need to be intentional about making the choice to let it go. Which is just as hard as it sounds. One of my favorite resources for this is Andrew Bernstein’s book “The Myth of Stress.” The book will challenge the way you view and respond to stress. Clearly this isn’t going to make the stress of a marriage separation or the death of a loved one go away over night, but it will start building that muscle.
Bottom Line: You control your response to stress. If you’re unsure of how to do that, 2019 is your year to learn!
I’m not Superwoman…. I can’t do it all.
I get it. We all have seasons to our lives. Some seasons we can knock it out of the park. Others we’re traveling for work with little to no downtime. And there are those when we have newborns and no spare hands or patience.
But every season, we can pick SOMETHING to be intentional about. Even if we just want to eat a vegetable at every meal and take a walk twice a week. It’s progress, and it’s better than falling into the trap of believing you have to hand over control of your health.
What about my specific scenario?
Everybody has specific needs. Maybe you’re healing an injury and can’t squat or you want a specific macro-nutrient prescription. Maybe you’ve tried everything you can, but just can’t fall asleep.
Well, build your house however you need to. What I’ve talked about here is the foundation (some would say the BASICS) we should all lay. Once we have a solid foundation, we can start tinkering and changing based on our own specific needs.
What area do you feel you need to be more intentional about? Or which area are you great at?
Share in the comments or join the Ignite. Nourish. Thrive. Facebook Community to discuss!