Happy November everyone! In the last newsletter, I outlined the importance of optimizing 5 areas of your life: food, water, exercise, sleep, and relaxation. This month, I’m providing some more advice and concrete steps so you can improve your health and well-being.
Making healthy changes. When it comes to making healthy changes, we all know we need to eat better, get more sleep, and exercise regularly. However, the challenge is knowing where to start, how to measure progress, and holding yourself accountable.
Where to start? I have personally found it helpful to have a framework or philosophy to start with, such as a well-defined diet or eating philosophy. I think the diet you choose is a matter of personal choice and a topic for a longer post. For now, my recommendation is that you go with something that resonates with you, that is realistic (meaning you have a good chance of actually sticking to it), and that has been shown to have proven results. If you are starting from zero, put down the refined sugar and processed foods and include more whole foods, i.e., foods that don’t have a long list of ingredients and that your grandparents might have had in their kitchens when they were your age. I love a short book by Michael Pollan called Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (you can find a pdf here). He sums up his main idea on page 10: Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not too much. Seven words to remember.
I also like the simple yet comprehensive framework of the Bulletproof Diet. You will no doubt have heard of many others. There are a plethora of good diets out there. Please comment below if you have any recommendations of your own!
How do you measure progress from day one? Once you have chosen a system, you then have to execute it. To quote Dale Carnegie, “knowledge is not power until it is applied.” Applying health knowledge can be fun, especially in nutrition and exercise, because the rewards are immediate: you will feel better. However, making changes in nutrition and exercise can feel overwhelming and scattered if you don’t keep track of what you are doing. How much sugar did I really eat today? Did I really drink 2 liters of water? How many times did I actually exercise this week? Whatever your personal goals may be, keeping track of the small steps you are taking everyday can keep you honest and demonstrate that you are moving in the right direction, however incrementally. Remember, it’s about progress, not perfection.
Thankfully, there is a free app that can help you measure your progress and hold you accountable to your goals. It’s called MyFitnessPal. I use it to keep track of food and water intake, as well as to track my exercise. The great thing about this app is that once you enter your food, you can click the “Nutrition” button and get a breakdown of your macronutrients. You can also adjust your target percentages. This is great if you want to ensure you are eating the right amount of carbs, fat, or protein for you.
The app is very handy for tracking your macronutrient profile and it gives you a ballpark estimate of calories burned from exercise. However, I want to make it very clear that I don’t condone obsessing over every little calorie. Losing or gaining weight, getting in shape, and being healthy, is not as simple as calories-in and calories-out. Your macronutrient profile, exercise and activity level, basic metabolic rate, sleep, stress level, and many other factors, are all important variables. Personally, I find that when I track my food and my exercise, I can see the big picture more clearly, and how the small steps I’m taking in the moment are building up to a larger goal. In this way, it motivates me to eat better and exercise more. It has made tracking my progress both simple and fun.
At first, it’s helpful to use it every day for at least a week. From then on, you may find it effective to check in once and awhile and use the data to adjust course if need be.
“If you can’t track it, you can’t hack it.” -Anonymous Biohacker
What kind of exercise should you be doing?: If I had all the time in the world, I’d probably exercise for an hour every day. At least, that’s what I tell myself. But, like most people, I don’t have all the time in the world. My solution has been a form of high-intensity interval training called Tabata training, often shortened to Tabatas.
I heard about Tabatas from Erin Oprea on this episode of Bulletproof Radio:
Erin Oprea is a former Marine of nine years, including two tours in Iraq. She lead the first all-female platoon attached to the infantry in a war zone and now is a trainer…She is the author of The 4×4 Diet, which helps people focus their eating in four key areas and create workouts based on Tabata timing for great results. On today’s episode of Bulletproof Radio, Dave and Erin talk about endurance training, high-intensity training, toxic foods, her work with celebrities, her experiences in Iraq, writing a recipe book and more. Enjoy the show! -Excerpt from Bulletproof Radio
After my first Tabata session, which I did in my living room in less than 20 minutes, I was hooked. The Tabata routine found here is what I use. The key is the timing. For any given exercise, you do 20 seconds of maximum effort repetitions and then rest for 10 seconds. You continue this pattern of 20 seconds on-10 seconds off until you’ve completed 8 sets, at which point you rest for 1 minute before moving on to the next exercise. I initially used the stopwatch feature on my phone to keep track of the timing, but then I found the Timeglass app, which has a reusable, multi-step timer that allows you to automate the whole thing.
Nutrition and exercise lend themselves to optimization, because they are inherently active. But what about sleep? How do you actively change something that by its very nature is passive?
The key here is sleep hygiene, which is defined as “the habits and practices that are conducive to sleeping well on a regular basis.” I thought my sleep hygiene was pretty good, but I recently learned that some of my habits may have been interfering with my circadian rhythms. Specifically, most of the light bulbs in my house are compact fluorescent lights, which save on energy but contain a larger amount of short wavelength blue light than is found in natural light. I was also using my tablet or smartphone before bed, sometimes while I was laying in bed. These devices emit light that is enriched with short wavelength blue light. The problem is that light in general, and blue light in particular, disrupts our body’s circadian rhythms. This Q&A with two neuroscientists specializing in sleep goes into more detail. But the take-away is that blue light at night is bad for sleep. There are plenty of tips out there on getting good sleep, such as this list from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard University Medical School. However, I have a few additional sleep hacks that I have found helpful.
- There is a native app on newer iPhones called Night Shift that automatically reduces the blue light emitted from your phone from sundown to sunrise.
- Zen Tech screen protectors from Dave Asprey that can filter out the most disrupting spectrum of blue light.
- You can also find a low-blue night light there. I keep mine in the bathroom so I don’t have to blast myself with bright light during those middle-of-the-night bathroom trips. It’s awesome.
- But what about the lights in your house? One thing I have done is put incandescent bulbs in the little lamps on my night stands. These emit natural light instead of blue-enriched light.
- And finally, if you want a catch-all solution that will protect you from both screen light and the lights in your house, you can always do what I did and get a pair of Swannies. I love mine. There are cheaper blue-blockers out there, but I think Swannies are the most stylish. I get compliments on mine everyday.
Relaxation: Under the umbrella of relaxation and stress reduction, I’m introducing a new challenge that has dramatically improved my mental well-being, especially at work. I challenge you to go one full week without complaining. That’s right. Seven days. No complaints. This is something I have been experimenting with myself for several months and the effect on my thought process and general mood has been astounding. I got the idea from this post by Tim Ferriss. If you want to try the challenge, read his post, then go to the No Complaints Challenge page and leave a comment when you begin. Please also update me about your experience as you go! As always, there will be a special prize for the winner.
Update on the No Sugar Challenge: we have a winner! Actually, we have many winners, because everyone whom I heard back from about the challenge had a positive experience to share, even if was just the startling realization that they could not go a entire day without sugar. However, those that were able to make it more than a couple of days had similar experiences. They noticed sugar cravings go away after a few days, sweets are no longer as tempting, they gained a feeling of liberation or greater control (internal locus of control), and they felt steady energy throughout the day with no crashes.
However, there is one person in particular that I want to recognize as the clear-cut winner of the No Sugar Challenge: my friend and colleague, Lindsay Wood. She really took the challenge to heart and fastidiously eliminated all added sugar from her diet. She went an impressive 21 days without sugar and had this to say about it:
This sugar challenge totally kickstarted me into a lifestyle of healthier eating in general. I love knowing what I’m eating/putting into my body. And I feel good too. Thanks so much for having this challenge! -Lindsay Wood
Lindsay earned a new pair of Swannie’s for winning the No Sugar Challenge. Congrats Lindsay!
That’s all for now. Hope you all have a wonderful month and please continue to share your opinions about the content here or about your own personal health journey. It really does mean a lot to me to hear back from you. Until next month!