Your mom was right; you are special…when it comes to your health, anyway (I’m sure you’re a great singer too). You are different. You react to things differently. There is a lot of good science out there that can do a lot to get you back on track or keep pushing the envelope in optimizing your health, but the most important thing you can do is cultivate your awareness of what works for you, while also realizing that it will change over time.
Do you ever wonder why there are so many diets out there? So many workout plans? So many health programs? So many whatever’s? And if you take any one of those whatever’s, guess what? You will find a bunch of people who swear up and down that one of them changed their life, and they’re probably telling the truth. Then you’ll find just as many folks say it was all hogwash and did nothing for them, maybe even made things worse. In some cases the latter group perhaps didn’t really “follow the rules” or didn’t give it a fair chance, but there are probably some that followed it as perfectly as possible and got little to nothing out of it. How can that be? Well, we’re all different. We all have different genes. We all have different nervous systems with different experiences that have shaped how we react to the world. We have differences in the diversity of our gut bacteria that also affect our interaction with food and the rest of the environment. So just be aware of that fact and try not to throw out the baby with the bath water next time you get discouraged.
That said, there are some broader, universal things that we can pretty much count on to be health-promoting for about any human being. For example, I don’t think anyone would argue that you ought to drink water every day. Though some people may not do it, there really isn’t an argument for it not being a healthy thing to do. We also should get sleep in enough quantity and, perhaps more importantly, quality. And there may be someone out there who has better, more vibrant health eating nothing but Snickers and soda all day rather than fish and broccoli, but even if there is, it’s pretty unlikely that will work for you too.
For this reason, lots of the information you can find online, in books, from friends, etc. can really help, especially as a guideline in the beginning of making a lifestyle change, but eventually you’re going to have to “make it your own” like the judges used to tell everyone on American Idol. For example, I believe the Paleo Diet is a wonderful way of eating that is probably superior to most of the other general ways of eating, and I would take it over burgers, fries, pizza, and beer no matter who you are. But it’s a starting point, not your holy grail. It’s totally okay to include something that is technically forbidden from the Paleo list if you have other information that justifies it and it works well with you (makes you feel better, improves health markers, etc.). Likewise, no one should feel required to eat something on a Paleo list because they said they were going to do a 30-day Paleo challenge, and the website they read said that “Cavemen didn’t have cow’s milk, thus thou shalt not eat dairy,” even if it is completely natural, organic, grass-fed kefir cultured with wonderful probiotics. Some people do great with these kinds of dairy products, fewer do well with “standard” grain-fed, commercial dairy, and some (yours truly included) don’t seem to do well with any variety. Wellness isn’t about anti-progress and dogmatic rules, it’s about finding the best idea, for you, and few people or groups of people have all the best ideas. You’re going to have to diversify.
Now I realize that by saying what I just said, some people are going to take it a direction that I didn’t intend. Some are going to say, “Yeah, my diet is Paleo plus beer because I’m certainly not giving that up,” or “I’m Paleo…except I eat pizza on the weekend…oh, and bread because I have to eat bread.” And if that is, in fact, your view, then okay, that’s your choice, just know the consequences and lower your expectations. The true spirit of the idea, though, is more like, “I follow a mostly Paleo diet, but I do eat green beans, even though they are legumes and technically not on the list, because I still think they have nutritional value, and I happen to really like them.”
The most important concept in my view is learn to cultivate your own lifestyle. You don’t have to identify with a particular entity like Paleo at all really. I happen to eat very close to a Paleo or Primal diet myself, and when people ask what I eat, I usually start there because it’s easier to put into words, but the last thing I try to be is a strict, dogmatic Paleo/Primal guy, wearing it as some sort of badge or identity. It’s all about me. It’s all about my health and how I feel. Eating like a caveman was a great start and got me on the right direction, but then I cultivated my own identity from there. I honed my intuition about what was serving me and what was not. And really, that’s way more Paleo or Primal than any list of included/excluded foods.
Humans, and most other animals, evolved their sense of taste through experience. If they ate something and it made their eyes water until they vomited, they learned it was a poison and avoided it. If they ate something that tasted good and made them feel vibrant and strong, they banked it in their brain as a safe food. For things in between, the subtler effects, it takes a very finely tuned sense of awareness, of mindfulness (something you can practice with meditation, by the way), and my belief is that the biggest reason some continue to eat poorly even though they “know it’s bad for them,” is because, generally speaking, our society has gotten out of touch with our senses and intuition. Many think they can’t change the way they eat because they don’t have the willpower to say “no.” But the key is that it has nothing to do with willpower at all, it has to do with mindfulness and awareness (and “being aware” IS different than just “knowing” something). When you hone your intuition to that point, you simply lose your desire to do things that no longer serve you, and it takes no willpower at all.
I know because I’ve been there. I used to eat an entire loaf of bread every three days, drink a gallon of chocolate milk just as fast, and drink my share of beer on the weekends. But then you figure out they were causing some of your symptoms. And then you read research about the health impacts of gluten, corn syrup, commercial dairy, and excess carbs. The more you understand the more your brain starts to change it’s view. It got to the point where it was so painfully obvious that those foods were causing me trouble that it didn’t just become easy to say “no,” I literally couldn’t get myself to put it in my mouth anymore. It didn’t even look like food to me any more than a piece of paper on my desk or a rock on the street. The change that happened in my mind wasn’t about someone’s list of do’s and don’t’s online or even necessarily all about the scientific literature. The change occurred from the awareness, the cultivation of my intuition that I had finally started tuning in to.
This can all be seen as both good and bad news depending on perspective. Some will consider it bad news because it means there isn’t just some magical list of ten things they need to do to get to where they want to go. It requires work. It requires trying things. It requires lots of time and patience, being willing to stick with something, perhaps something you don’t like, for a month or more to get your data. It may mean going through an elimination diet or more formal testing for allergies and intolerances. It may mean trying exercise once a week versus four days a week or yoga versus heavy weight lifting to see how your strength and recover change. But on the bright side, it’s extremely empowering. It puts your hand on the steering wheel of your life. It allows you to decide what you put in your mouth or do with your body and mind to make you more vibrant and healthy. And to me, what’s best of all, is that it removes the frustration of information overload and confusion of why something didn’t work for you…just because it didn’t, that’s all! Something else will! Stop worrying about everyone else and figure out you. And the more you figure out, the easier it gets as you hone your skill and build on the momentum. You have a lot of good years to live, so figure out how to best live them for you.
If any of that resonated with you or you’re interested in anything else about the topic or my experience (or yours), please leave a comment or message me!