Beginner Plan: Lifestyle Changes
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Dr. Mercola's Nutrition Plan
Along with all the dietary changes you are making, there are some basic changes to your lifestyle that will help you along the path to optimal wellness.
Lesson 1: Practice techniques, such as prayer, meditation or EFT, to control anxiety and stress, eliminate self-doubt and negativity, and instill self-control and peace of mind.
There is no greater enemy to your physical health than a negative self-image or high stress. Many people initially succeed at implementing a diet -- whether it is to lose weight, heal a disease, or strengthen their body against sickness -- but then fall back into old habits... and therefore, the "old" body. Why? Because the emotional barriers were never overcome in the first place.
To truly succeed at this nutrition plan, I highly recommend you work on overcoming your emotional barriers, whether they're based on life's anxiety-factors or emotional traumas.
There are a host of techniques to instill positive emotions and thoughts and create a sense of inner-peace, and the best rule is to find the one that works for you, whether it is considered traditional or "alternative," and keep on using it.
In my clinical practice, I have tried a variety of methods, and have been exposed to many more (both traditional and alternative) through my medical background, but none have come close to the success rate I have experienced with the "Emotional Freedom Technique," or EFT.
I highly recommend you at least give EFT a try. EFT is a form of psychological acupressure that, while it appears a bit unusual to some at first, can almost seem miraculous in its ability to erase negative emotions and instill positive ones.
With EFT, while mentally focusing on the psychological/emotional issues in a positive manner through the use of affirmations, pressure is applied to the same energy points used for thousands of years in acupuncture (these energy points are finally even being recognized as legitimate by the pharmacy- and surgery-addicted American medical establishment.)
These energy points are only tapped, though, not punctured as in acupuncture, as it has been shown that pressure on these points is all that is necessary to activate your body's bioenergy. This combination of positive mental focus on the issue(s) and physical stimulus to your body's biochemistry is amazingly effective at eliminating the issue -- be it stress, cravings, trauma, etc. -- quickly.
Please understand that while EFT is a magnificent tool to help resolve serious emotional challenges, one should not attempt to treat them without the help of a skilled EFT professional. It is not at all recommended that you treat yourself for serious issues. EFT self-treatment should only be used an adjunct not a substitute for these serious problems.
EFT is very easy to learn, and will help you:
- Remove negative emotions
- Reduce food cravings
- Reduce or eliminate pain
- Implement positive goals
You can learn how to start using EFT on yourself and those close to you right now with my free online EFT Manual.
NOTE: This is the only lesson that will be repeated in each phase of my nutrition program, as it is crucial to long-term success. For more information on how your emotions can aid or hinder your physical healing, please review the following articles:
For more information on how your emotions can aid or hinder your physical healing, please review the following articles:
Lesson 2: Optimize Eating Hours
As two-thirds of the population is overweight, there is a strong likelihood that you are over your ideal body weight. If you fall into this category you might want to consider a powerful tool called intermittent fasting.
If you think about our ancestors, it was a relatively rare circumstance that they had access to food 24/7 like nearly everyone reading this does. Since your genes and biochemistry adapt over centuries or even longer, you are adapted to this type of food exposure.
Your body has about 6-8 hours of sugar stored in your liver as glycogen. If you eat every 6-8 hours you never really fully deplete these stores and thus are more adapted to burn sugar as your primary fuel. The current thought by many nutritional experts is that this is not the ideal fuel, and the better fuel to use would be fat.
Unfortunately, it becomes very difficult to shift to fat burning mode when your glycogen stores are always full.
A useful strategy that many have found helpful is to alter your eating schedule to allow your glycogen stores to be depleted. This is called intermittent fasting and likely simulates the eating patterns of your ancestors, for which your biochemistry and genetics are optimized.
It is easiest to start this process after sleep as you’ve already fasted for about 8 hours overnight. So simply avoiding eating after dinner and skipping breakfast can be a powerful strategy for helping your body shift to fat burning mode, reduce your visceral fat stores, and optimize your lean body mass.
You can review this article on intermittent fasting for more details on how to implement this program. Vary your foods: It is also important to avoid having the same food every day of the week. However, if the food is uncooked and is good to consume for your metabolic type, this concept is not as critical.
Lesson 3: Make sure you always get a good night's sleep.
To get a good night's sleep, I suggest:
- Get between seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
- Avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars.
- Sleep in complete darkness or as close as possible.
- Avoid using night lights. If you cannot get to the bathroom in pitch darkness, use a red spectrum light, which is minimally disruptive to melatonin levels.
- Avoid using loud alarm clocks, and only use alarm clocks with red LEDs to avoid reducing your melatonin production.
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom below 70 degrees
- et to bed as early as possible. Your systems, particularly your adrenals, do a majority of their recharging or recovering during the hours of 11PM and 1AM.
For more information on these and other sleep suggestions, see my Guide to a Good Night's Sleep.
There is a new technology available for under $100 called Zeo, available on Amazon, that is essentially a sleep lab that you can perform every night. It will not only tell you how long you are sleeping but when you wake up, how long you are up for, the length and times of your REM, light-, and deep sleep. It then provides you with a summary sleep score that can tell you how well you slept during the night. You can then use this information to help fine tune your sleep program.
Lesson 4: Start exercising, especially if you need to lose weight.
The most recent research shows that relatively short bursts of high intensity exercise can deliver many of the health and fitness benefits you get from doing hours of conventional aerobic exercise. Ideally, you’ll want to do 20-minutes’ worth of high intensity exercises two or three times a week, which really only involves a total of four minutes of intense exertion.
It is important that you do not need to do them more often than that however. Doing it more frequently than two or three times a week can be counterproductive, as your body needs to recover between sessions. If you feel like you want to do more, focus on making sure you're really pushing yourself as hard as you can during those two or three weekly sessions, rather than increasing the frequency. Intensity is KEY for reaping all the benefits interval training can offer. To perform it correctly, you'll want to raise your heart rate to your anaerobic threshold, and to do that, you have to give it your all for those 20 to 30 second intervals.
Here's a summary of what a typical interval routine might look like using an elliptical:
- Warm up for three minutes
- Exercise as hard and fast as you can for 30 seconds. You should be gasping for breath and feel like you couldn't possibly go on another few seconds. It is better to use lower resistance and higher repetitions to increase your heart rate
- Recover for 90 seconds, still moving, but at slower pace and decreased resistance
- Repeat the high intensity exercise and recovery 7 more times
When you're first starting out, depending on your level of fitness, you may only be able to do two or three repetitions of the high intensity intervals. As you get fitter, just keep adding repetitions until you're doing eight during your 20 minute session. You will notice that the Peak Fitness has 30 seconds rather than 20 and goes for 8 sessions so it is a harder workout. But, as the article states, if you do less, you will still get benefits. They just may not be as dramatic as with the Peak Fitness approach.
To truly optimize your health, strive for a varied and well-rounded fitness program that incorporates other types of exercise as well, as your body will quickly adapt if there’s a lack of variety. As a general rule, as soon as an exercise becomes easy to complete, you need to increase the intensity and/or try another exercise to keep challenging your body.
I recommend incorporating the following types of exercise into your program:
- Interval (Anaerobic) Training: This is when you alternate short bursts of high-intensity exercise with gentle recovery periods.
- Strength Training: Rounding out your exercise program with a 1-set strength training routine will ensure that you're really optimizing the possible health benefits of a regular exercise program. You can also "up" the intensity by slowing it down. For more information about using super slow weight training as a form of high intensity interval exercise, please see my interview with Dr. Doug McGuff.
Download Interview Transcript
The weight should be heavy enough that this can be done in fewer than 12 repetitions, yet light enough to do a minimum of four repetitions. It is also important NOT to exercise the same muscle groups every day. They need at least two days of rest to recover, repair and rebuild.
- Core Exercises: Your body has 29 core muscles located mostly in your back, abdomen and pelvis. This group of muscles provides the foundation for movement throughout your entire body, and strengthening them can help protect and support your back, make your spine and body less prone to injury and help you gain greater balance and stability. You need enough repetitions to exhaust your muscles.
Exercise programs like Pilates and yoga are also great for strengthening your core muscles, as are specific exercises you can learn from a personal trainer.
- Stretching: My favorite type of stretching is active isolated stretches developed by Aaron Mattes. With Active Isolated Stretching, you hold each stretch for only two seconds, which works with your body's natural physiological makeup to improve circulation and increase the elasticity of muscle joints. This technique also allows your body to repair itself and prepare for daily activity. You can also use devices like the Power Plate to help you stretch.
Lesson 5: If you're smoking, don't quit now.
I know, this sounds unusual. This is generally the first thing most health professionals ask you to do. What you may not know is that sugar is a far more dangerous influence to your health than cigarettes.
It is more important to stop eating sugar before you stop smoking. If you try to do both at once you will most likely fail. I want you to start feeling better before you even think about stopping smoking. I do recommend that everyone should stop smoking, but taking on the task of quitting should only be done once you have an optimal diet in place and you are already feeling good.
Lesson 6: Minimize drugs.
Minimize the unnecessary use of drugs, and seek safe and effective alternatives when possible. Especially troublesome are antibiotics, anti-ulcer drugs, birth control pills or estrogen for menopause unless you are having hot flashes. If you take Tylenol regularly, you should be on N-acetyl cysteine to prevent organ damage.