Over recent years, nutritional advice has been an increasingly popular topic for lifestyle media articles and posts in newspapers, magazines and on social media. Even bestselling book stands are full of titles promoting the secrets of optimal nutrition for better health. We have more knowledge at our disposal but equally more confusion due to conflicting information. Do we go low carb or low fat, keto or paleo, vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean, Atkins? The potential choices seem endless and when we have too much choice, it is easy to become overwhelmed. And being in that state inevitably leads to poor decision making. We are more likely not to take the right, but the easy option – stay as we are and go with the convenient, mass marketed, processed foods.
As a medical doctor I always considered myself to live a relatively healthy life. I was fairly active on a regular basis, didn’t smoke and ate a well balanced diet. But 10-15 years ago I realised I wasn’t looking or feeling as healthy as I wanted to. The reality was that, as I went into my forties, my lifestyle had changed slowly over time and not for the better. I was no longer playing regular sport, so my exercise was no more than the occasional weekend walk. I was working long hours, with not enough sleep and breakfast was often missed. Lunch was frequently packaged sandwiches & crisps on the go with a late evening meal. I still hadn’t taken up smoking, but the occasional glass of wine at night was becoming more frequent. The change had happened so slowly it had been barely perceptible and of course whilst each small incremental slide down the slippery slope in itself caused no immediate consequence, with no alarm bells ringing out, the accumulative long term impact was undeniable – my lifestyle was far from healthy!!
Putting that process into reversal over the last ten years hasn’t always been straight forward or easy. I’ve had to find the balance between being open to different ideas and approaches, whilst remaining cautious about jumping onto the latest bandwagon. I’ve had to learn not to try and change too many things at once and give new habits time to embed. I’ve had to become accepting of failing to get it right and/or sticking with a plan, but being prepared to take the lessons and try again. And I’ve still got a busy career and family life to fulfil. But over time, with the right mindset and support, I can confidently say that I am fitter and healthier now in my late 50’s than I was in my early 40’s.
So allow me, if you will, to share with you the basic principles that I have discovered and that still guide me and my clients. Hopefully it will help you cut through the confusion.
Our beliefs may be different, but our biology is the same.
As humans we all vary in our beliefs, values, ethical considerations etc. Indeed it’s our differences which make life so interesting. Yet our biology, even allowing for genetic variation, is essentially the same whichever tribe you belong to. We all have the same fundamental physiological requirements for our diet ….
- protein – the most important structural building block for our body
- fat – key to so many metabolic processes in the body as well the integrity of our individual cell walls
- carbohydrate – a major energy source for our cells, but remember we can make our own glucose, so it’s the least important ingredient in our diet, yet within most western diets it’s the most predominate of the three macronutrients.
- We also need a steady supply of vitamins and minerals (micronutrients), most of which we cannot make ourselves so they have to come from what we eat.
Remember whatever the reason behind the diet you choose – health, ethical, religious, cultural – your body still needs the right amount of macro and micronutrients
One size doesn’t fit all
Whilst the human body has standard base-line physiological requirements, it is also very adaptable and there are variations in metabolism between individuals due to age, genetic and environmental conditions. Which means that the detail of what gives optimal health for one person may be different to someone else. It’s why there are so many different weight loss programs out there. And it’s not just that there is some variation in how our bodies respond to food, there’s a psychological and emotional difference too. We all have a different relationship with food and why we eat what we eat, and that certainly plays an important role when it come to weight loss and long term healthy lifestyle habits.
Raise your awareness
How aware are you about the choices you are making regarding the foods you eat and, just as importantly, the ones you are omitting?
Why are you eating and drinking? For fuel or pleasure? Energy or emotion? Conscious choice or unconscious habit? If on reflection you are eating and drinking more often for the latter reasons, then, I’m afraid the truth is, you are heading for a health crisis sooner or later.
We all need pleasure in our lives and a treat from time to time – life’s too short not to – yet the main purpose of the food we eat and fluid we drink should be to fuel our bodies. This gives us the resources and energy to ensure our cells are in good shape, functioning smoothly with the raw materials they need when they need them. It’s really no different to looking after your car – check the tyres, water, battery and oil regularly with a major overall and service every so many miles. Would you really buy a car and not find out what was the best way to look after it, keep it running smoothly so it continues to be a safe and reliable vehicle to travel in? None of us wouldn’t bother to find out the best fuel for our car before filling up – would you seriously risk putting diesel fuel in your petrol car or vice versa?!!
And yet we so often behave in such a way with regards to our nutrition and how to look after our bodies – which surely are so much more important to us than our cars. Our bodies are our true home, it’s the one place we live for all of our lives and it’s our ultimate vehicle. Our constant companion on life’s journey and designed to take us wherever we want to go, both mentally and physically.
The reality is that our body is the only one we’ve got, so we should probably look after it as best we can.
My three top tips that I hope you’ll take away ….
Eat and drink better
Drink more water and stick to real food – food that grows and lives naturally. Real food has the balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate that nature intended and nature does not put profit above health. Avoid processed food and refined sugar were possible and certainly stay clear of anything that comes in a package and has more than five ingredients.
Whilst you can never outrun a poor diet, we are undoubtedly a more sedentary society than we used to be ….. and that’s not a good thing!! The benefits of regular exercise are so much more than physical, with huge benefits to our gut health and mental wellbeing. Now, I’m not suggesting you have to spend time and money at the local gym, pumping iron, spinning or doing aerobic classes. Ensuring you take a break from your desk every hour or so and a daily 30 minute brisk walk, or cycle ride, will make a significant difference over time
Rest and relaxation, even sleep, is almost frowned upon in our results driven, hectic 21st century lifestyle. But they are so important to our long term health and wellbeing. Late nights and early starts will eventually take their toll and we now know that most adults require about 7 hours sleep every 24hrs to give the body time to repair and recharge both physically and mentally. And it’s not just these obvious health benefits – rest and relaxation is often when we are at our most creative and sociable both of which are frequently undervalued parts of our lifestyle, yet are so important to our overall long term wellbeing.
Optimal health doesn’t depend upon your genes – it depends on your lifestyle. Optimal health is a choice we make by the decision we take every day, consciously or subconsciously, about how we fuel and repair our bodies and minds.
At Life Without Limits we understand that health is a journey and it’s our passion and commitment to empower you with the knowledge, skills and support you need to make your life as healthy as it can be. We want you to be as healthy as you can, for as long as you can, so you can live life as fully as you can. We believe that healthspan is more important than lifespan.