There are times when following conventional health wisdom doesn’t seem to help us reach our fitness or nutritional goals. Commonly accepted ideas can be too generalized or inaccurate to serve our needs. If you’ve run into obstacles to experiencing optimal health, consider paring down your habits. Oftentimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.
OK – not if you just love going to the gym. But if you drag your feet every time you go, or work out there because you think you “should,” then perhaps your body would be better served doing something else. Take a walk in your neighborhood, hike with friends, bike with your kids – all of these activities are just as good exercise as half an hour on the treadmill or doing Zumba. If you enjoy doing something, you will find yourself doing it more often.
Low-calorie diets will, over time, lower your metabolic rate, which in turn will make it very difficult to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Instead of counting calories, use the Okinawan principle of hara hachi bu: eat each meal until you feel about 80% full. This requires you to check in with yourself while you’re eating, which makes it nearly impossible to overstuff yourself. The other 20% of feeling full will come in a few minutes when receptors in the stomach have a chance to “catch up” to how much food you’ve consumed. Neither eating too little nor too much feels good; the Goldilocks principle of “just right” should be the aim of each meal.
The modern idea that eating fat will make one fat has proven to be overly simplistic and possibly mistaken. It’s now thought that the prevalence of low-fat dairy products may be linked to the rise in childhood diabetes, and studies on adults have shown a decrease in the risk of obesity when diets include full-fat rather than low-fat or non-fat foods. As for harmful trans-fats, if you are not eating many packaged foods, you are already avoiding them to a large degree. Low-fat and non-fat dairy products are made up of sugars and little else; eating the full-fat versions of these foods will help you feel satiated, and help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins. And be sure to find the best source of animal fats: those from pasture-raised animals are full of nutrients that are missing from those raised on corn. Make sure that your foods are minimally processed, and you can enjoy that cultured butter made from pastured cow’s milk.
If the label on your multivitamin says “Vitamin X as an unpronounceable chemical,” it is likely just giving you very yellow and expensive urine. These types of vitamin pills are pieces of molecules, rather than the biological complexes that naturally occur in food. They may make you feel great for the first few days of taking them, but after that, you’re left with a feeling, not unlike the Emperor with his new clothes (“Well… I think they’re working …”). Vitamins and supplements should make a noticeable difference in the way you feel. If they don’t, they are not beneficial, despite what the product label claims. Look for a multivitamin that reads: “Vitamin X from a-whole-food source;” these will raise your energy levels and boost your immunity over the long term.
The caveat: fill it with pink or grey salt. White salt is highly processed, and stripped of several of its natural minerals. Your body has difficulty absorbing this type of salt, thus the myriad health issues associated with a “high sodium” diet. Almost all processed foods are made with this type of salt. On the other hand, colored salts retain their natural mineral content; your body knows what to do with these, and you’ll feel nourished when you use them.
That is, don’t buy it if you are not going to eat it! No matter how nutritious everyone tells you something is, it won’t do you any good sitting at the bottom of the refrigerator. Instead, experiment with vegetables that you may like better. Or mix up a variety of vegetables using a couple of broccoli florets and a lot of other things that are more appealing. If you love potatoes (and who doesn’t?), they can help make other vegetables more palatable when they are served in the same dish. Yes, you must eat some veggies, but here in California, we are lucky to have lots to choose from.
If you are fair-skinned and it’s mid-summer, you’d best apply some sunscreen on exposed areas to prevent a burn, even if it’s foggy outside. But during the winter months, load up on natural vitamin D from sun exposure. It may help with a variety of skin issues, and with combatting season-related mood disorders and allergies.
As with all health-related advice, check with a healthcare practitioner before incorporating new habits. And don’t forget to ask yourself if any recommendation makes sense to you.
Sharone Franzen is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist based in the Lakeside Village/West Portal neighborhood of San Francisco, California.
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