Over the years I’ve led Life Time, our company has had the privilege of helping millions of individuals transform their health and fitness. And during that time, I’ve had the opportunity to observe what kinds of lifestyle shifts reliably make the biggest difference.
Building fitness counts, for sure, but what we’ve learned is that the most effective strategies for healthy transformation involve combining physical activity with two other things — namely, self-knowledge and self-nourishment.
Self-knowledge involves being curious about what makes you tick, both physically and mentally. It involves learning as much as you can about how your amazing body-mind works, understanding what your current health and fitness status is, what risks you are currently facing, and what opportunities you have to upgrade your well-being.
Once you know the essentials of what your body and brain need to be healthy, you’ve got your work (and your play) cut out for you.
Self-nourishment involves being a responsible steward about what goes into your body. That means optimizing your intake of healthy, satisfying foods while minimizing your exposure to substances that toxify, irritate, or otherwise disrupt your body’s systems. But it also means understanding that we require other nourishing inputs — like rest, relaxation, human connection, time in nature, and a sense of purpose.
I realize that integrating all of this simultaneously isn’t easy. And yet, I don’t think it has to be as complex as people sometimes make it out to be.
Basically, I see the keys to healthy living as a three-step process:
1. Eliminate universal poisons. That includes nasties like trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors, and preservatives. But it can also include everyday ingredients like sugar and flour (since most flours act very much like sugars in the body).
Just getting rid of these problematic foods can make an immense difference in your health, weight, and overall sense of well-being.
2. Get to know your own body and what it needs. In addition to understanding some nutrition fundamentals, you’ll benefit from uncovering any substances to which you may be personally sensitive, from common irritants like gluten, dairy, and soy, to specific allergens like tree nuts. You’ll also want to start learning about your metabolism, hormones, the best ways to manage stress, and any risk factors or markers you have for chronic disease. At some point, you may also want to discover more about your genetic makeup and how you can avoid triggering health conditions you may be genetically predisposed to.
3. Start exercising, eating, and living according to plan. Once you know the essentials of what your body and brain need to be healthy, you’ve got your work (and your play) cut out for you.
From here, every day presents a wide-open window for learning, experimentation, and refinement.
You’ll never be perfect. And no matter how much you learn, there will always be more to discover. But once you begin making some well-informed changes, and once you start feeling the difference those changes make, I think you’ll be so encouraged, you’ll never want to stop.
That’s what happened to me, and it’s still happening.
Both my father and my older brother developed type 2 diabetes later in life, and over the past couple of years, I learned through our company’s myHealthCheck program that my fasting blood sugar was often a little higher than I would have liked.
Anything under 100 is considered fine, but even with my healthy diet and all my intensive fitness training, my levels were still often in the 90s, which felt a little too close for comfort.
I’d already cut out most processed sugar, so after doing some research, I started experimenting with removing flour and processed grains, too.
Very quickly, my fasting blood sugar dropped to the mid-80s. I felt better, and my athletic training improved. Eating this way, I also dropped about 20 lbs. in 90 days, getting down to my leanest racing weight yet.
For me, the impact of that one small dietary change was extraordinary. So what’s one small change you could make for yourself?
I encourage you to start where you are on that three-step continuum, take one courageous step forward, and then take note of the results.