I already discussed in a prior post why I don’t like the word “resolution” which tends to set people up for inevitable failure. I discussed using the word “habit” instead, but this year I'm talking about “shifts.” Shifts are simplistic changes and substitutions you can make that require little to no effort or time. My book recommends several shifts to improve nutrition, activity, sleep and stress and I want to highlight a few to get you shifting towards optimal health in the new year.
SHIFT YOUR COOKING OIL
Time and Effort Required: Zero
Some Potential Benefits: Reduce inflammation, chronic disease and optimize the function of every cell in your body
Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential dietary fatty acids that get incorporated into the membranes of all your body's cells. The composition of the fats you eat will determine the composition of your cell membranes and how well your cells function. The human body functions optimally when the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3s in our diet is between 1:1 and 4:1 which defined our ancestor's diets, but unfortunately with the abundance of omega-6s in our modern diet through processed foods and cooking oils, this ratio is between 10:1 to 25:1 which raises inflammation and adversely affects cell function. Industrial seed extracted oils, such as safflower, corn, and canola, are a major source of excess omega-6s which are susceptible to oxidation, leading to inflammation and chronic illness. Don’t be fooled by package labels that use words like “heart healthy vegetable oil” and don’t be fearful of using more traditional cooking fats like butter (choose organic), ghee (clarified butter) and extra virgin coconut oil. Avocado oil is also an excellent heat stable cooking oil. If you are cooking with rendered fats from meats, be sure you are using the highest quality meats (organic, grass fed) possible since animals that graze on grass have far greater omega-3 content than those fed grains in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). If you don’t have access to these high quality meats, stick to the other fats I mentioned. If you just can’t get over your fear of saturated fats, read this post now. Imagine….a simple change in the fats you cook with can actually improve the chemical composition of every cell in your body. Eating less packaged/processed foods and snacks will have the same effect since virtually all of these contain vegetable oil (corn, canola, soybean, etc.). Read the labels on every boxed and packaged food in your pantry and you'll see what I mean. We'll do a more detailed dive into cooking oils and fats in a future post.
SHIFT YOUR BREAKFAST
Time and Effort Required: Minimal to None
Some Potential Benefits: Improved energy and mental function, reduced hunger, accelerate fat loss, reduce insulin resistance
In my clinic where I do a detailed nutritional analysis on every patient and monitor their metabolic numbers, I find breakfast to be a major culprit that triggers insulin resistance and sets up an entire day of overeating and poor food choices. Unless you do heavy physical labor for a living, it is not justified for you to be consuming excess carbohydrates at breakfast. Even physical laborers don't need to consume the excess amount of carbohydrates that define today's typical breakfasts. A few tips on breakfast:
- Don’t force feed: If you’re not hungry, don’t force yourself to eat upon waking. Pack your breakfast and take it with you, or make lunch your first meal and make it especially nutrient dense to make up for a skipped meal.
- Move for breakfast: Your body is primed for fat burning upon waking since you are in a fasted state. Choose to move instead of eat upon waking This can be a full workout or even a vigorous walk at home or at work. Your body will access your inner pantry (fat and carbohydrate stores) instead of burning those unnecessary breakfast carbohydrates in the form of breads and cereals.
- Change your breakfast composition: Think protein, healthy fats, vegetables and some fruit for breakfast. This means options like eggs + veggies (vegetable omelet or veggie scramble), dinner leftovers (breakfast doesn't have to taste sweet!), greek yogurt with nuts and berries, or a green smoothie.
If you're still fearful of eggs and their impact on cholesterol, read my post on eggs.
SHIFT FROM SITTING TO STANDING AND STEPPING MORE OFTEN
Time and Effort Required: Minimal to None
Some Potential Benefits: Reduce inflammation and chronic disease, facilitate weight loss, improve posture and reduce pain, increase energy and alertness
Prolonged sitting increases fat storage, inflammation, and chronic disease. This has been proven by countless studies. Read my post on the most important activity we are not doing. Do the following:
- Set up a standing or walking work station at work if possible and at home.
- Download a standing reminder app. I use StandUp which I’ve set for 20 minute intervals. I know it’s annoying, but it’s less annoying than gaining weight and developing diabetes or heart disease from marathon sitting sessions.
- Use an activity monitor (simple pedometer or free smartphone pedometer app, Fitbit, Jawbone Up band, etc.) to measure steps. This is an essential tool in our modern world to counteract the adverse effects of our sedentary lifestyle. Under 5,000 daily steps is unacceptable, but unfortunately too common. Aim for at least 7,000 or more. You may think you're getting enough steps but will have no idea unless you count them.
SHIFT YOUR BREATHING
Time and Effort Required: None
Some Potential Benefits: Reduce stress, inflammation and chronic disease. Improve brain function and facilitate weight loss.
Many of my patients with persistent inflammation and difficulty with weight loss don’t have a nutrition or exercise issue. They have a stress problem which is wreaking havoc on every major system in their body. Often they need to curtail their intense exercise and loosen the reigns on their highly restrictive, nutrient deficient diets to start making break through improvements in body composition and overall health. For many of my female patients in particular, trading in intense cardio sessions for breath-oriented activities like yoga and meditation have helped them lose weight despite burning less calories. Yes, weight loss and optimal health go far beyond our obsession with calorie reduction. Breathing slower and deeper can be done any time any where. You can call it prayer, meditation or whatever you choose, but the real physiologic, anti-inflammatory benefit comes from manipulating your breathing into a more natural pattern that calms the entire nervous system. Shifting your breathing means slowing down your breath and shifting it from your chest into your belly. We also call this diaphragmatic breathing. Watch this video if you're not familiar with the science of diaphragmatic breathing. Read my post on meditation which recommends several of the breathing Apps I highlight in my book. Also read my post on stress so you understand the true impact of stress on health and how stress can trigger disease in otherwise healthy appearing individuals.
There you have it. Simple shifts that take little to no time, but with huge returns on improving your health. What successful shifts have you made or do you plan to make this year? How about shifting your bedtime 30 minutes earlier, or shifting to eating more green and cruciferous vegetables, or shifting some of your workouts outdoors to get more fresh air and sunlight-driven Vitamin D, or maybe shifting some of your work or home responsibilities to other resources to gain some precious free time? What about the shifts you will make to improve the lives of your children, your loved ones, your co-workers, your community? Start with simple shifts and once they become habitual, add on more.