People are more conscious and health focused than ever before. But they are focusing on the wrong things. And usually that’s because of the wellness news cycle churning out more breaking stories about health and fitness, keeping us distracted by the latest superfoods and bro-science instead of just living our lives and focusing on the basics.
Because the things you actually need to focus on are old news. Boring. Imagine trying to sell magazines with a big headline saying Vegetables! Still good for you after all these years!
Instead, it’s much more profitable to headline some breaking news about Ice cream is low on the glycemic index! (This is true, by the way—the protein and fat slow down the absorption of sugar.)
But investing your health efforts in the relatively low glycemic index of ice cream would be an example of focusing on the wrong thing.
Sure, there are a gazillion healthy habits that are worth cultivating. Taking a multivitamin probably isn’t a bad idea. Good posture never hurt anyone. Want to chew your food ninety-nine times before you swallow? Knock yourself out.
But keep in mind that we have a limited amount of fucks to give about this—so we distribute those fucks in the smartest way possible, and that is keystone habits.
HABIT #1: FILL HALF OF EVERY PLATE WITH VEGETABLES
Want a new diet that actually works?
Fill half of every plate with vegetables. That’s it. That is your new nutrition plan. You can stop stressing about carbs and fat and protein and gluten and turmeric and whatever. Instead, aim for about seven servings of vegetables a day and watch your belly shrink, your moods regulate, and your health improve. Not only will you get hella hot and feel like a sexy MOFO, you’ll add years onto your life just by filling half of every plate with vegetables.
To get you all fired up about getting your veggies in, consider this:
- Vegetables are the one thing that pretty much every diet has ever agreed upon.
- Vegetables are low in calories. If you are eating mostly vegetables, you basically can’t overeat. Try it. I freaking dare you to try to have a broccoli binge. It’s nature’s “points system,” where the points come from your own body saying “Holy fuck, dude. That’s too much broccoli. Can we just chill?”
- Vegetables are high in dietary fiber. You care because dietary fiber keeps you feeling full on fewer calories and without eating a bunch of bullshit. Dietary fiber also lowers your cholesterol, stabilizes your blood sugar, and helps you poo (which is basically instant weight loss, so what’s not to love?).
HABIT #2: GO THE FUCK TO SLEEP
It’s not exactly breaking news that you are totally screwed without a good sleep—and the world is finally catching on. Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In fame rocked the business world by recommending that executives prioritize sleep over working more. The Dalai Lama claims that sleep is the best meditation there is. Actor Mindy Kaling is quoted as saying, “There is no sunrise so beautiful that it is worth waking me up to see it.” When I mention to my clients that we are going to be focusing on sleep as much as burpees, they almost weep with relief. And here’s why—since 1960, chronic sleep deprivation has increased dramatically in North America. If you are regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, you are in that bleary-eyed club. And don’t even go telling me that you are perfectly fine on five hours. Science says you are kidding yourself—just like the tipsy guy who thinks he is totally fine to drive.
HABIT #3: BACK AWAY FROM THE BOOZE
Here’s what studies are talking about: There is an interesting relationship between alcohol and health risk that results in a J-shaped curve, like the one pictured on the next page. If you look closely, you’ll see that heavy drinkers have a high risk of mortality—obvi. But you’ll also see that absolute abstainers also have an uptick in their relative risk of mortality, while moderate drinkers have the lowest risk of early mortality.
BUT. That doesn’t prove moderate drinking is the cause of lower mortality. Just because there’s a correlation between moderate drinking and longevity, it doesn’t mean there is a causal relationship. Maybe there are other factors at play. Maybe moderate drinkers are also happier, more social, or less stressed out. Maybe absolute abstainers are abstaining because they are already sick or have previous addiction issues and that’s why they don’t touch the stuff.
Just because one variable (moderate drinking) seems to be related to another (maximum life span) doesn’t mean it’s directly affecting the other variable.
HABIT #4: CHILL YOUR ASS OUT (AND MEDITATE)
Our bodies and psychology are amazing at dealing with acute stress like that. We release hormones that give us a quick burst of energy and shut down nonessential functions so we can do the important task at hand. We are brilliantly designed to handle this kind of acute “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” stress.
What our bodies (and brains) are less good at dealing with is chronic stress. The ever-present feelings of always hustling to keep up. Of being defeated. Of constantly worrying about bills. When we are in a state of chronic stress, our bodies release fat into the bloodstream for energy. We don’t use that energy, so it builds up as plaque, which increases our risk of heart disease. Chronic stress also causes our bodies to shuffle fat to our midsections in an effort to protect our vital organs from this perceived threat. Chronic stress leads to anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders, and then it increases our appetites and makes us crave sugar and fat.
Large-scale neuroimaging studies show that meditation will decrease activity in the amygdala, which is involved in stress and fear responses as well as anxiety. And it strengthens areas of the brain that are involved in emotional regulation, body awareness, and introspection. Which means that when you take the time to meditate every day:
- You are less likely to overeat. (Which is the primary reason people are overweight. More on that coming up.)
- You will be less likely to want alcohol to help you relax because you don’t feel as stressed out.
- You will be more in tune with your body and connected to real hunger and satiety cues.
HABIT #5: EAT IT ALL, BUT EAT WAY LESS OF IT
Here’s an example: Nuts are really healthy, right? Absolutely—nuts are loaded with healthy fats that will lower your cholesterol, and they are an antioxidant powerhouse. But an appropriate serving is the size of your thumb—about eight almonds. Not a handful. Organic tofu is a great source of plant-based protein, but a serving would be the size of your palm. Oats are fantastic. A serving would be about the size of your fist (that’s cooked, dude). Most people will easily eat twice these amounts
Maybe the examples sound familiar. Maybe you snack too much at work. Or have automatic second helpings. Or eat until you feel just a little bit too full. The fact is that if you have any of these unconscious habits of overeating, no matter how healthy the food is, it will lead to excess body fat.
You can’t ignore good old fashioned CICO, which is fitness dork shorthand for Calories In, Calories Out.
HABIT #6: PREP AND PLAN AHEAD
Pop quiz: What is the number-one reason people give when asked why they aren’t in good shape? You got it: “I don’t have the time.”
Unfortunately, we have to admit that this is bullshit in so many ways. And I’m not even talking about the fact that most of the people who say that have probably found the time to binge-watch something on Netflix or get into a heated fight with someone in the comments section on the internet. It’s bullshit because making a healthy choice usually doesn’t take more time.
We don’t need more time—we need better habits.
When people say they don’t have time to get in shape, they imagine commuting to a gym for an hour-long workout every day and then battling traffic to come home and start wrestling with a butternut squash and marinating some protein when everyone is starving and grumpy and wanting dinner like, yesterday. I agree. For most of us, that is a fucking nightmare. Because most of us do feel strapped for time. So, if this Healthy as Fuck project is gonna happen, it needs to happen in the most time-efficient way possible.
HABIT #7: EXERCISE CONSISTENTLY
If you are comfortable, you aren’t challenging yourself. By the end of a set of push-ups, your muscles should be begging for mercy. But that’s not pain. Pain is caused by an illness or injury, and it’s not a normal experience of exercise.
So, here’s how you tell whether you are experiencing the good I’m-challenging-myself-and-getting-stronger discomfort vs. the bad holy-fuck-don’t-do-that-ever-again pain.
“Challenging myself” discomfort: Usually feels like a gradual onset of a burning type of sensation that you feel right in the muscle (not the joint). The feeling will go away when you stop doing the movement.
“Oh shit, something went wrong” pain: Usually a sudden, sharp pain, often felt near the joint, that will result in you not wanting to use that part of your body, even after the exercise is over.
Great. You are ready to exercise. Seriously.
Off you go now.
What are you waiting for?
Oh—are you waiting to have more free time? Do you really think there is ever going to come a moment when all your emails are answered and the house is spotless with the laundry all folded and your kids want nothing to do with you and you are going to look around and shrug your shoulders and think, Well, I’ve got some time on my hands. Guess I might as well do some exercise now? That moment won’t happen. There will always be more important things to do if you don’t put this first.