If your main goal is to optimise and develop your health then what should you be doing?Most people assume that the process of changing your body and developing your health are the same thing. While they can be similar in process they are not the same. Developing your health is about increasing energy and improving health traits. It is about reducing the likelihood of future problems through addressing behaviours known to negatively affect the body over time. Losing body fat is simply about consuming less energy than you need which can ignore many of the previous issues.
While the process of bringing your weight back into the ‘normal’ range improves your health and likewise when most people eat healthier they usually lose a little bit of weight there is a big difference compared to really targeting each of these areas individually.
In my experience almost everyone can lose body fat and almost everyone can improve their health. However, hardly anyone is able to do both maximally at the same. This is as much to do with mental energy and time availability as anything else. Some of the main areas to consider when it comes to developing health include the following –
Optimal Food Intake Amount –
There is much confusion around how much food intake is optimal for health because most people only try to get healthy when also trying to lose weight. The optimal food intake amount for health is the point just before you start gaining body fat. If you need 2500 calories a day then optimal health intake is 2500 calories.
It is for this reason why you can never have one nutrition schema that optimises both fat loss and health. If you need 2500 calories then the optimal fat loss plan would perhaps be 2000 calories of food while the optimal health plan would be 2500 cals. There is no merit to under eating UNLESS you want to lose body fat. In this case it is a balance between developing health vs losing fat vs being able to actually stick to the plan.
While you may choose to lose fat through eating less than you need you would definitely not want to overeat. Despite what most believe it both possible and very common to overeat while eating healthy foods. Many healthy foods are very high in calories, e.g. nuts, oils have more calories than chocolate.
Foods You Eat –
The foods you eat give you the opportunity to provide the body with all the vitamins and minerals you need. You would look to optimise these micro-nutrients as well as eating the adequate amounts of protein, carbs and fat to optimise energy utilisation.
To do this you would need to use a variety of different food sources to cover the full profile of needed nutritional elements. This can be checked using a an app that counts vitamins etc or failing that then having a wide variety of colours and food sources. It is important to check your diet if health is your goal, simply eating a few green vegetables does not give you the full vitamin profile. This is especially important if you have made any eating choices such as going vegan, low carb etc,
Supplements can play an important role here to make up any short falls in nutrients and also to maximise nutrient levels within the body. Certain nutrients many people really struggle to hit their ideal targets without supplements, e.g. vitamin D, which is linked to Covid-19 severity of symptoms.
Food To Avoid –
The other side to eating is trying to minimise foods and chemicals that can annoy the body. There are two elements to this, one if the reducing toxins found within food and another is reducing foods known to irritate your body.
The desire to reduce toxins is what created the organic food industry and many cooking or preparation techniques are focused on this element as well. The less chemicals and potentially toxic materials entering your body the better it is for your health.
The issue of food irritations has a huge role to play in health development. A food irritation is any food that annoys your body to some degree. This may be an official food sensitivity involving the immune system e.g. a strong nut allergy, or the foods may agitate the body via a non-immune pathway, e.g. dairy intolerance affecting your gut.
Depending on how you classify food irritations there are at least 4 different types and no test that can show all of them, in fact some types have no test that can be used to identify them.
The best way to handle food irritations is through structured eliminations during the year. The real problem in this area is that the consequences of food irritations are so subtle. Perhaps the food is reducing your energy by 20%, or is a cause of your dry skin, feeling bloated or a frequent runny nose. However, these symptoms will be present most of the time so it is hard to see how it is linked to any foods you are eating.
This is compounded by the fact as it usually takes at least a few days to weeks to truly see the change in symptoms from eliminating a food irritant. There are also other genuine non-food reasons why you could have those very same symptoms.
In an ideal world you would eliminate every food group or potential source of food irritant at some point during the year, e.g. 2 weeks no dairy or wheat in January, no nightshades for 14 days in March etc. This allows you to see any potential effects of food groups.
Bad Behaviours –
The development of your optimal health would also include a long term focus on resolving bad behaviours. This would include addressing your alcohol intake, stopping smoking amongst other non-food related behaviours.
Good Behaviours –
There are certain behaviours you should develop that maximise your health. This would include addressing your sleep, which is one of the fundamental bases of good health.
It includes looking at your breathing patterns as well. How you breathe has a huge influence on overall health and the majority of people this day and age do not use an optimal breathing pattern.
This would include trying to reduce the chemical load you are exposed to in life. This can come from many sources such as deodorants, make up, cleaning products etc. There is also the issue of environmental sensitivities which may affect the body negatively. This includes electro-magnetic energy, mould and air pollution.
It has been clearly shown that a regular exercise routine has dramatic improvements in almost every area of health. To derive the health benefits of exercise it is much easier than what most people think. The exercise needs for health have been confused with methods used when exercising for fitness, a sport or to burn calories for fat loss.
You can get the health benefits of exercise at much lower intensities than what most people consider exercise. Despite the low thresholds, most people are not gently exercising a 2 or 3 times a week. You must meet your exercise needs to optimise health.
Other Factors –
There are also other factors not mentioned so far, such as the influence of the mind upon health. Your stress levels, magnitude of social contact and much more can affect your health.
Advanced Protocols –
Optimal health may need to make use of various more advanced health protocols. This can range from fasting methods to gut rebuilding protocols. There are many different avenues to explore here, this is especially important if you have health issues that continue to give you problems despite your efforts in the previous areas. Some of these plans may be administered through doctors.
It is important to be aware of the issue of how your body is unique. Biochemical individuality refers to how we are the same fundamentally but also show great variety between individuals in all sorts of traits from enzyme efficiency and concentrations to organ size.
In the real world this means that you may need to eat different foods to the next person to feel satisfied, you may respond better to one exercise plan than another and you may need to prioritise one element sooner than other people.
One issue with developing your health is the inability to easily chart your progress. In general we evaluate our health based on our energy or if a particular trait is annoying us, e.g. my eczema is playing up. The reality is that the body has a whole host of traits by which it shows signs of how vibrant your health is currently. The problem is you are not so readily able to spot it.
Medical tests offer a way to monitor progress however they often will only pick up problems when things have already gone fairly wrong.
The best way around this is to use a healthy survey traits focused on surveying sub-clinical health traits. This refers to traits that could not be picked up by a medical test yet, For example, how often you experience sneezing, dry skin, light headed feeling, poor concentration, low energy and many more. Through surveying these every few months you can monitor your overall health effectively alongside other measures such as those used by doctors.
Putting A Functional Plan Together –
With so much advice and recommendations here it is easy to get intimidated and not know where to start. The problem of addressing health is that there is an almost unlimited amount of things you could do.
The best way around this is to look at your overall levels of behaviours today, then focus on making them a little better by this time next month.
There is no right or wrong way about how to do that, you could cut out a food group, start exercising, go to bed earlier or add in more vegetables. It depends on your current levels and your desires to change.
Due to the high number of possible actions you could take it is often helpful to have a structured plan on how to approach developing your health. I help people with this all of the time, my focus is always on changing the underlying behaviours and skills around food and health rather than be overly focused on one specific plan.
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