When you hear the words “healthy lifestyle”, do you get excited or incredibly overwhelmed? I think most people get overwhelmed. That’s why I wanted to address this issue head on!
When you break it down there are really only 5 basic things you need to address as you are creating your own healthy lifestyle: nourishment, movement, sleep, stress, and environment. Let’s take a deeper look at each area.
Our default approach to eating healthy is from a very restricted perspective. We focus on rules and numbers to help tip the scales in the right direction.
This approach often works but only for a while because eventually you just want to break the rules. And then you realize the scale didn’t immediately break when you did and that cheat meal was so worth it… maybe it’s not so terrible… and you fall back into your old habits.
Instead of focusing on rules and numbers, try thinking of food and supplements as a means of demonstrating your self love by investing in your physical body. When you choose your next meal, could you consider how that food is giving your body the nourishment it needs to thrive?
Are Calories Important?
Did you notice that I mentioned not focusing on numbers? Does that mean calories don’t matter? Well, yes… and no.
Calories of course matter. If you eat at a high calorie diet, eventually you will likely start to put on the pounds because your body just doesn’t know how to handle the extra fuel.
However, if you focus on how much nutrition is packed into each calorie, you will likely not have to worry about over-eating. Nutrient-dense foods have lots of fiber and other difficult to digest compounds that help you feel full on less calories. This explains why it’s really hard to stuff your face with too much broccoli or spinach!
Wait, Doesn’t Real Food Kinda Taste Like Grass?
Again, yes… and no. Taste, of course, is a subjective experience. But if you are used to processed foods even in a portion of your diet, your tastebuds are a bit skewed. You will have a hard time appreciating the complex and varied flavors of real food.
But the life cycle of a tastebud on your tongue is only about 2 weeks. That means if you start eating more real food today, it might progressively taste better over time. If you include real food sources for 2 months (while excluding sugar and processed foods), your tastebuds will likely surprise you at what you then prefer to eat!
Nourishment is More than Just Nutrition
Nutrition is a vital role in nourishing your body, but it’s not the only component. Nourishment is more about the amount of nutrition you are able to actually absorb from your food and environment.
Studies have shown that eating while you are rushed or distracted decreases the amount of nutrition you are able to absorb from your food. This means you can have the healthiest meal but if you eat it fast without really enjoying the food, you could be actually doing more harm to your body than just skipping the meal.
Looking for some encouragement? Check out the post where I talk about My Journey to Going Sugar-Free for Good
Notice I said movement and not exercise. Exercise we think of as a regular amount of focused movement. An hour at the gym, a 30 minute jog, a 45 minute exercise DVD… these are all exercises but they aren’t what you really need.
If you exercise for an hour a day and do not consider your movement the other 23 hours, you are possibly a sedentary person who regularly exercises! The truth is you need to move more all day long.
In order to understand why movement throughout your whole day is important, we need to address a common misunderstanding on the issue.
Movement isn’t for weight loss — it’s for strength, balance and to prevent injuries.
If you approach movement from this perspective, it’s easy to see how incorporating squats, walking, and dynamic slow movement is beneficial to your overall health.
Our bodies – and especially our minds – need a reset. That’s the function of sleep!
It’s easy to believe that sleep is not important because you cannot point to any “productive” thing that gets accomplished by your sleep. Instead, it’s a restfulness that allows your mind to organize itself and prepare for productivity.
Think of it as the decluttering session that allows you to redecorate. That might sound like a strange analogy, but it’s true! You have a “glial lymphatic system” in your brain that is activated while you are sleeping. It’s job is basically to take the trash out of your brain. This is similar to the lymphatic system active in the rest of your body, but our understanding is limited within the brain because it was only discovered in 2015!
In addition to your mind needing a reset, your hormones rely on your circadian rhythm for cues on regulation. When you are staying up later, getting up earlier, sleeping in a not-pitch-black environment, your circadian rhythm is going to suffer.
Choosing to make sleep a priority in your life can drastically revolutionize your health journey.
Not sure where to start with making sleep a priority? Check out this post on Simple (and kinda weird) Tricks to Improving Your Quality of Sleep
Stress management is an essential that I overlook too often. This is because often stress is like a boiling water. Below 100 degrees celsius, there’s no movement or indication anything is happening. Then suddenly it seems there’s bubbles that just keep coming.
Stress feels like that to me. I don’t notice when my stress levels are below my personal boiling point so I don’t actively take the time to address it… until I start bubbling with anxiety and stress! Yikes!
But stress in low amounts are actually great for you! A healthy dose of stress will keep you alert and on your toes. Exercise is a stress inducing agent. Trying to change your mindset and your habits is stress inducing. Stress itself is not bad… it’s the amount of stress that can be bad.
This is why I focus on stress management instead of stress elimination.
Developing a pattern of recognizing when your stress levels are rising BEFORE you hit your boiling point is key. If you can sense when you are heading to an extreme, you can counterbalance before you tip too far over the edge!
But it’s even better to build in stress management habits and routines that will prevent you from approaching your boiling point to begin with. This can include:
- Meditation to focus your mind on the present moment
- Gratitude journaling to support a positive and grateful outlook
- A habit of saying “no” often to avoid overwhelm and give you the space to focus on the things you are excited to say “yes” to
- Developing the ability to call enough and walk away when you are the only one who will notice that it’s not perfectly as you imagined…
When you choose to actively manage your stress level on a daily basis, you will notice that it becomes easier and easier to handle what used to be difficult or overwhelming situations. Not that you won’t still have stressful times, but you build the ability to handle them better!
Feeling overwhelmed and need a starting point to manage your stress? Meditation Made Easy: How to Find Moments of Peace in Your Busy Life
It’s easy to make the connection between food and movement to our health. But that’s just simply not all of the story.
Often we overlook that the food we eat was grown with bacteria – potentially good and bad – in the soil. The farmers might or might not have used genetically modified seeds or sprayed glyphosate on the food.
In our homes, we use cleaning brands we grew up with that contain harsh chemicals that can disrupt our hormones, cause respiratory disruption and eradicate germs – including the good ones we need! We do this because we aren’t sure the “natural” ones will work well enough. Or because we haven’t done the research to find ways to affordably replace our standard options.
Toxins are pervasive within our modern society. They hide in plain sight as “fragrance” on your personal care products. They can even be found in your medicine cabinet! It might even be hiding with an FDA stamp of approval on it’s packaging!
Thankfully, your body has several mechanisms to detoxify itself. But if you ignore toxins present within the environment, your body’s natural detox pathways will become clogged. Like a pool that hasn’t had the drains cleaned out or the chlorine levels balanced recently, your body will start to collect toxins.
As you can imagine, this impaired detox process can lead to all kinds of symptoms –
- Brain fog
- Poor digestion
- High blood pressure
- Bloating and swelling
- Increased inflammation
- Increased risk of sickness
- Increased pain and stiffness
In order to function at your highest potential, you need to take an active role in minimizing the amount of toxins you are exposed to. You also need to do what you can to optimize your body’s natural detox pathways.
Looking for a great first step to address your environmental toxins? Check out this post: Easy Guide to Finding Natural Chemical-Free Personal Care Products!
A Healthy Lifestyle Requires Small Steps in Each of the 5 Essentials
Building a healthy and sustainable lifestyle is not rocket science – even though it might feel just as impossible at times! But really with these 5 elements in mind, you can pick just one at a time to make a small and doable change.
Maybe you want to work on your stress management so you decide to learn one new breathing technique and use it every day for a week. Or perhaps you choose to work on movement so you commit to taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator any time you are going only 1 or 2 floors up or down.
It doesn’t matter really if you choose to keep those behaviors forever. Some you might really love and want to keep doing, others you will get some short term benefits but decide to try something else. As long as you are covering all 5 essentials and making progress over time, you will have the tools in place to build a sustainable healthy lifestyle!
What makes this process sustainable? The Results!
I hinted at the results in the title of this post when I suggested that a healthy lifestyle would help you “reduce inflammation, minimize aging and lose weight”. Of course I can’t promise you that. (And you really shouldn’t listen to anyone who makes promises like that. You are a unique individual and there are so many unknown variables!)
But what I can say about the results of using the 5 essentials to create a healthy lifestyle is that over time, the results are what make this lifestyle easier and easier. As you start to gain traction in one of the essential areas, it creates momentum for other areas of your life.
For example, I could not have started out working on movement at the start of my journey because I just didn’t have any energy! I was coming home at the end of a work day exhausted and just physically and emotionally spent. Pushing myself to move more would have been much too stressful to really benefit me. Instead, I worked on improving the quality of nourishment I provided my body. Over time I have increased my energy levels to where I am able to keep going much longer than before!
And when you start to have energy and you are giving your body good nourishment, the scale starts moving! And when your brain fog clears and you are able to engage in life again, you just don’t want to go back to how things were! So the results make the process sustainable! Because the results of slow and steady progress making progressively larger shifts in your level of functioning mean that you just aren’t interested in feeling stuck again!
So What Do You Think?!
I hope by breaking the idea of a healthy lifestyle down into these 5 essential elements that you can start to feel like it’s doable. If you have questions or comments on my explanation, please leave me a comment below. Do you think I have left out anything? I would love to read your thoughts and continue developing this framework!