“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”―Ralph Waldo Emerson
Given the complexity of the human body, it is all too easy to miss the forest for the trees when it comes eating, moving, sleeping, and relaxing one’s way to optimal health. While each of us are unique bioindividuals and it is up to you to figure out exactly what works best for your body, there are some general dos and don’ts to help you guide you. I have put together the following short list of Primary Principles to help you focus on the critical few instead of getting lost in the meaningless many. Whenever you find yourself feeling lost or overwhelmed, simply return to this list.
1) Eat a nutrient-dense, properly prepared, anti-inflammatory, species appropriate diet.
While the exact ideal foods for you will vary based on your ancestry, current gut health, percentage of body fat, and activity level, in general, the human body will do best eating a diet of “real food”. Forget about calories and start focusing on food quality nutrient-density. Here are a few general nutrition guidelines to keep in mind:
- Eat ample amounts of healthy fats. Yes, avocados and olive oil are healthy, but so too are saturated fats from properly raised animals, coconuts, etc. Saturated fat (in concert with cholesterol) is essential for creating sex hormones, healthy cells, and a properly functioning brain. And no, canola and soybean oil are not healthy no matter how many millions of dollars the edible oil industry spends trying to convince you they are!
- Eat enough (but not too much) protein. When it comes to protein, quantity and quality are equally important. Most people eat too little protein in general or way too much of the wrong kind. Focus on getting protein from a variety high-quality meat and seafood source (eat pasture-raised or wild caught options whenever possible). Protein from animals is much more bioavailable (i.e. your body can more easily absorb and utilize it) than that from plants, dairy, eggs, etc. Sorry vegetarians and vegans.
- Eat more leafy green vegetables but fewer sugars and starches. We’re constantly told to “eat more fruits and vegetables”, but given how different these two food groups affect gut flora, body fat, etc., they should not be in the same phrase. In general, try to eat as many vegetables as your body can tolerate (those with serious gut dysbiosis may need to a low-fiber diet until their gut heals) and only minimal amounts (1-2 servings per day) of fruit, squash, and tubers (but not if you are obese or dealing with gut dysbiosis). Whenever possible, buy local, in-season, organic options to maximize nutrient-density and minimize toxins. And sorry to be a buzz kill, but alcohol is basically a sugar, too, and should be only consumed on occasion. “Because it’s Tuesday” is not an occasion.
2) Eat less often.
If you are eating the right things (lots of healthy fats, moderate amounts of healthy protein, and small amounts of healthy carbohydrates), you should not need to snack between meals. In fact, you should be able to skip some meals altogether to reap the many benefits of Intermittent Fasting.
3) Get enough high-quality sleep.
Like with nutrition, both quantity and quality of matters when it comes to sleep. To help you fall and stay asleep, make sure not to consume caffeine after 2 pm, avoid exposure to blue light after dark (wear orange glasses, run F.lux on your computer or Night Shift on your mobile device, get amber night lights, etc.), avoid TV or video games 2 hours before bed, and get your bedroom as dark and cool as possible. If you wake up at 1 or 2 am and can’t fall back to sleep, try having a small nutrient-dense snack before bed (e.g. 1 teaspoon of MCT oil + 1 teaspoon of raw organic honey + 1 tablespoon of pasture-raised collagen).
4) “Exercise” less, “move” more.
For the sake of your body and sanity, it’s time to replace the word “exercise” with “movement”. The former typically connotes moving our bodies simply to burn calories and build muscles, both of which are unhelpful modern beliefs that don’t align with how the human body evolved to function. The best way to be lean and strong is to move frequently at a slow pace and only occasionally (once a week or less) do brief, all out efforts, including sprinting and functional weightlifting.
5) Play, unplug, and meditate to become less affected by stress.
Most of the time, we can’t change the external stressors that drive us crazy (traffic, deadlines, crappy bosses, etc.). But the good news is that we can change how we respond stress. As Viktor E. Frankl discovered in a Nazi concentration camp, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” The more you play, unplug from digital stimulation, meditate, and practice mindfulness, the more space you create and the better you become at not getting hijacked by external stressors.