When it comes to prevention and long-term wellness, the truth is that some of the simplest nutrition and lifestyle changes often lead to the biggest results.
There is this misconception that in order to reap the benefits of long-term health and wellness that you have to adopt a strict Tom Brady like diet of fish, fruit, kale, nuts and 25 glasses of water a day and work out a minimum of 2 hours.
That may work for Tom Brady (who will tell you that he doesn’t restrict foods and will eat pizza on occasion – it just has to be really good), but it probably doesn’t work for you – especially if you don’t have a chef cooking for you, have life demands and aren’t training to be in the Superbowl.
And often when hearing what it takes to look like a Tom Brady, many of us give up and continue down an all too sedentary path eating foods that we know will make us feel sluggish, worsen our chronic pain or cause inflammation.
But living healthy and feeling good doesn’t have to be extreme. And it doesn’t have to be an act of sacrifice. Which is why – during this month where we’re focused on prevention – I wanted to share simple things you could do to improve your overall health.
If you’re already doing some of these things – that’s wonderful. I am going to encourage you to see if you can take some of those things and take them to the next level.
If you’re not, then simply start out by looking at this list and choosing one or two changes to help get you started. What we don’t want is to try too many new things, overwhelm you and reach a point where you stop and give up on the advances you’ve made.
Simple Change #1: Change Your Mindset About Food
If you walk away with only one piece of information from February Prevention month here at Brandwin Institute, let it be this. Food is truly medicine and once we give up our battle with it, it becomes an endless resource to help us feel and look our best.
Many of the clients who come to see me about weight loss are hoping that we can provide them with THE solution that will finally help them lose weight – what they often walk away with is a greater understanding of how their body works, support it to work it’s best and feel great.
The weight loss ultimately becomes this great added side bonus.
The truth is that no fad diet is going to be THE solution for you. Whether it’s keto, paleo, the carnivorous diet or something else – those are temporary solutions to a long-term dilemma.
One of my clients, Jessica, recently did her genomic testing with me and while she was hoping she’d find the key to losing weight she had gained in her 40s. She was hoping it would unlock the secret to a quick fix that would help her lose the weight now.
What she learned was surprising. In fact, she had the exact kind of genetic make-up that allowed her to lose weight easily – it was just that hormones and lifestyle we keeping her back. Instead of feeling defeated, Jessica felt motivated to get on board with a protocol and prioritized feeling good over the weight loss. She was surprised by her results and it gave her just the right motivation to stay on track.
Simple Change #2: Mindful Breathing
Whether you focus on doing formal breath work, meditate or take a few moments each day to slowly focus on your breathing – a practice of mindful breathing can be incredibly invaluable to reduce stress.
We have grown so accustomed to experiencing stress on a daily basis that we don’t recognize how much it’s really affecting our health on a daily and long-term basis. Setting aside time to focus on your breath as it goes in through your nose and out through your mouth can help you reduce stress, lower your blood pressure, reduce chronic pain and even reduce depression. You may not even realize it, but chances are that you might even be holding your breath at various points throughout your day. If you catch yourself bracing or holding your breath, simply set a timer for one minute and practice mindful breathing to help reduce tension!
Simple Change #3: Eat more nuts
When you’re craving a quick snack, it can be tempting to grab something easy like a bag of chips, pretzels or even a candy or energy bar. The problem is that most of the foods you grab have very little nutrients and also do little to stave off hunger.
Although I don’t recommend snacking on the run, the one thing I recommend is that you consider replacing your afternoon high fat, low nutrient snack with a single serving of nuts.
Despite being high in fat, nuts are incredibly nutritious. They are a great source of fiber, magnesium, vitamin E and other nutrients. Nuts support your intake of healthy fats while helping you lose weight and reducing chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Almonds, walnuts, pistachios and cashews are particularly good options and high in healthy fats for your body and will keep you satiated between meals.
Simple Change #4: Ditch sugary treats and drinks
Eating too much sugar can contribute to weight gain and it can also be a contributing factor to a variety of illnesses including type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. It has also been associated with obesity, premature skin aging and premature cellular aging.
Most of the time when we’re reaching for a sugary treat or drink it’s likely the result of having waited too long to cue in on our hunger signals and our body is craving quick carbohydrates to provide energy or we have simply fallen into a pattern of eating sugar to signify the end of a meal.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with indulging in an occasional sweet treat, I’m simply saying that if you’re looking to cut back on one area of your diet you know is impacting your health – sodas, cookies, high-fat cakes and sugary treats would be a great place to start.
And although you feel like your body is constantly craving that sweet reward, chances are that within a couple of weeks, you’ll lose that desire and opt for something healthier – like a piece of fruit.
Simple Change #5: Eat More Probiotic Foods
Your gut is filled with bacteria that is necessary for the proper digestion of food and functioning of your GI system. When that bacteria, called gut microbiota, is out of balance, it can lead to chronic diseases and problems with your overall gut health.
Combine that with the daily stress we experience, and our health can go completely out of whack. One of the things I tell all of my clients is that they need to pay attention to their probiotic intake in order to achieve a truly balanced gut.
This will support long-term health and reduce the likelihood of diseases such as inflammatory bowel syndrome, autoimmune disease, some cancers, obesity, food intolerances and even fatigue.
Simply adding foods like yogurt, labne, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi or even taking probiotic supplements can help balance your gut and lead to some long-term changes. If you’re someone who is feeling some of the signs of having an unhealthy gut, simply switching up your diet by adding some of these foods on a regular basis can support you in feeling better both physically and mentally.
It’s important too that you add sufficient fiber by eating a diet rich in fiber dense vegetables and fruits to help your GI system function at its best!
Simple Change #6: Drink More Water
Although you don’t have to drink the 25 glasses of water a day that Tom Brady drinks, it’s important that you hydrate with water throughout the day.
You can fill up a water bottle every morning and make it a goal to drink at least ___ oz per day in order to stay hydrated and feeling your best. One of the benefits of drinking water is that you won’t mistake some of your thirst cues for hunger and eat too many empty calories.
I often recommend if you find yourself hungry in the afternoon or after a meal to try drinking at least 8 ounces of water of water and waiting 20 minutes before diving into food. The odds are that if the hunger disappears that you were merely thirsty and it could be a sign that you need to be drinking more water throughout the day.
Avoid waters that add sugars and any artificial sweeteners or flavoring in order to get the most benefit out of your water. If you need a boost of flavor, you can add a slice of lime, lemon or orange even to give it a little zest.
Simple Change #7: Move Your Body in Fun Ways
This past year has brought new challenges when it comes to moving your body. And while I’m lucky to live in a warm weather climate and can get outdoors, the days of going to the gym for a quick 30-minute workout have been limited since COVID-19.
And while that’s been difficult for some, it’s actually opened us up to think a little creatively when it comes to how we want our bodies to move on a daily basis. There are more and more at-home options from Peloton to the Mirror to online Zoom classes hosted by your local gym.
You can also simply get out and walk and connect with nature which will provide additional benefits by reducing stress and letting go of your daily grind. You can dance, run or even jump rope – whatever works for you.
The truth is that moving your body doesn’t have to be intense. But it does have to be consistent. You’ll want to do something every day to nourish your body with movement and if you can add in weights, you’ll get the added bonus of producing muscle mass which burns calories and fat and a higher rate than just cardiovascular exercise alone.
If you can commit to simply doing something for 30 minutes each and every day, it feels so much easier than telling yourself you have to commit to an hour, or go to the gym or have it be so strict that you’ll never want to do it.
Simple Change #8: Throw Out Junk Food
In order to resist temptation, one simple change that makes a big difference is to schedule a day to clean out your pantry and refrigerator and get rid of all the junk food. This can be tough if you have others who live with you who constantly binge on chips, cookies or fast and low-nutrient foods.
But the more you can limit your exposure to some of these foods, the easier it will be to choose nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and lean proteins.
And while those foods may not feel very comforting or inviting right away, the truth is that by getting rid of junk foods, we can retrain our palettes to choose foods that are supportive of long-term health.
By getting rid of low-nutrient foods that you know will leave you feeling sluggish, cause weight gain or exacerbate chronic illness, you give yourself a better chance to feel better long-term.
All of these changes are simple changes that you can begin to make – one-at-a-time. The key is to not overwhelm yourself with a ton of changes to your lifestyle and diet all at once because we want to ensure that you can stay the course.
Pick one or two that seem easiest for you to tackle. Then keep adding in new changes until they start to become your new normal!
And if you need any additional support on how to create a wellness plan that works for you, we’d be happy to guide you and give you the tools you need.
In good health,