We all know the grim stats about how many New Year’s resolutions fail. It’s not because making resolutions is hokey or people are inherently lazy. It’s because most resolutions come down to one of two things: adopting new (good) habits or breaking old (bad) habits, and habit change is hard.
People struggle at every step, from picking the right goals—ones that are motivating and achievable—through the implementation process.
The trick is to be strategic and intentional about changing your habits. Rather than relying on willpower and wishes, get good systems in place. As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, says, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
What Are Habits, and How Do You Change Them?
Successful habit change is the process of taking a behavior that currently requires cognitive effort and making it automatic.
“Automatic” is a word psychologists use to describe behaviors that don’t require a lot of cognitive attention or processing. Habits are any behaviors that have become automatic: walking past the cereal aisle at the store instead of turning down it, swinging your legs out of bed when your alarm goes off, going to yoga class on your lunch break.
Adopting new habits might feel difficult at first, but with enough repetition they feel easy, like you’re not even thinking about them. That’s sort of true. Effortful behavior relies on the prefrontal cortex, the higher-level thinking and planning part of your brain. Habitual behavior is governed by a different structure called the basal ganglia.
From a cognitive perspective, this is highly advantageous. The brain has a massive number of inputs to deal with each day. The more behaviors we don’t have to think much about, the better.
So if building habits is so desirable for the brain, why isn’t it easier?
How Habit Change Works
On a basic level, all behavior works like this:
Cue (trigger) –> Response (behavior, action) –> Feedback (consequences)
To make a behavior a habit, the feedback has to be rewarding. You also have to repeat the behavior over and over to reinforce the relationship between cue and response:
Cue (trigger) –> Response (behavior, action) –> Reward –> Repeat
It’s elegantly simple but obviously not easy. The process can break down at any point along the way. The good news is you can improve your odds of success by beefing up any part of the system—the cue, the reward, or the “in-between stuff” represented by the arrows.
You don’t necessarily need to do all of these for each new habit you’re trying to build. One might be enough. On the other hand, this is often a more-is-better situation.
Target #1: Strengthen the Cue
A cue can be a time of day (first thing in the morning), something you see or do in your environment (opening the fridge, watching a TV commercial), or a feeling (tension in your neck, boredom).
In order to build a reliable habit, number one: make the cue stronger. In the language of Atomic Habits, make it obvious.
Targets #2, 3, and 4: Mind the Gap
A lot happens in the space between noticing the cue and initiating the behavior. According to Dr. Steve Wendel’s behavior funnel, this includes:
- Gut reaction – your initial “yay” or “ick” feeling about the behavior that’s being cued
- Evaluation – your more thoughtful evaluation of the cost and benefits of doing the behavior
- Ability and timing checks – deciding whether you have the resources to follow through and whether there is any sense of urgency
Thus, to increase the likelihood of making it to the response phase, you can:
- Number two: Make it more appealing (“Make it attractive,” says James Clear.)
- Number three: Make it feel more feasible (increase your ability)
- Number four: Make it urgent
Target #5: Make It Rewarding
While developing better habits can be rewarding in and of itself, you can speed the process along by building in positive reinforcement. Especially if your goal is long-term (weight loss, training for a marathon), more immediate rewards can be helpful.
Target #6: Rinse, Repeat
To really ingrain the habit, you have to do the behavior over and over. The more you do, the stronger the cognitive association between the cue and the behavior and, over time, the more automatic it becomes.
The Process in Action
Let’s say you’ve decided to start going to the gym after work twice per week to lift weights. Here are 20 things you can do to increase your chances of success.
Strengthen the Cue
1. Leave yourself reminders.
- Put post-it notes on your bathroom mirror, fridge, or laptop.
- Set alarms on your phone.
2. Arrange your environment.
- Keep your gym bag on your front seat.
- Put your exercise tracking app on the home screen of your phone.
3. Use implementation intentions. This a fancy way of saying “make a plan.” Be specific. Use if/then statements. Research has shown that implementation intentions are incredibly powerful tools for instilling new habits.
- “I will go to the gym on Mondays and Thursdays at 5:30 p.m.”
- “When I leave the office, I will head straight to the gym.”
- “If the gym is crowded when I get there, I will adjust my workout instead of leaving.”
4. Use habit stacking, a specific type of implementation intention. Pair your new desired behavior with something you already do habitually. (This is the same as the anchoring principle in B.J. Fogg’s Tiny Habits protocol.)
- “When I shut off my computer at work, I will immediately change into my gym clothes.”
- “When I fold my laundry, I will set out two gym outfits.”
Make It More Attractive
5. Arrange to meet friends at the gym (also creates pressure to show up at a certain time).
6. Invest in nice workout clothes that make you feel more comfortable.
7. Designate podcasts or audiobooks you only listen to at the gym.
8. Use positive language to describe your habit, for example, “I get to go to the gym today” instead of “I have to go to the gym today.”
Make It Seem More Feasible
9. Invest in a few sessions with a personal trainer or watch YouTube videos to learn good form.
10. Download a fitness app that programs workouts for you.
11. Break big goals into smaller, more achievable interim goals.
12. Remove obvious obstacles.
- Hire a babysitter.
- Block off gym time on your work calendar so nobody schedules you for meetings.
13. Join the gym between your home and office, even if the one on the other side of town is fancier. Or, buy workout equipment for your home so you don’t have to go anywhere.
14. Tell people about your plan so you’ll be motivated to follow through and save face.
15. Hire a coach or trainer so someone who is counting on you to show up.
16. Have a deadline.
- Register for an upcoming strength competition or obstacle course race.
- Join a 30-day challenge.
17. Put your money where your mouth is. Use a service where you can bet on yourself following through on your plan. If you fail, you lose the money. If you’re successful, you get your money back. (Note: Spending money on your goal can increase urgency, but it has to be enough that you’ll feel bad wasting it. For some people that’s $10. For others it’s $10,000.)
Make it Rewarding
18. Use a tracking app or journal to record your sessions, or check off days on your calendar. Seeing your work accumulate is the grown-up version of getting gold stars on the good behavior chart in elementary school.
19. Post your progress on social media. I know, I know, but it’s more than just bragging! Getting likes and positive comments is actually quite reinforcing.
20. Structure rewards for yourself to celebrate milestones. For example, every time you increase a lift by 10%, put money aside for those expensive gym shoes you’re eyeing.
Different Goals, Same Framework
No matter what your specific goal, you can still use these same practices. If your goal is to get back into cross-stitch:
- Leave your materials on the table where you’ll see them every afternoon. (Obvious)
- Make yourself a cup of tea and put on relaxing music. (Attractive)
- Start with two minutes per day. (Feasible)
- Join a “pattern-a-day” challenge. (Urgent)
- Turn your creations into gifts for friends. (Rewarding)
- Try to cross-stitch every day. (Repeating)
See? And most importantly, no matter what your goal, stick with it. Don’t get derailed by minor setbacks. Habits take weeks or months to lock in. Be patient.
What say you? I’m a huge fan of habit stacking, but what techniques have you used successfully to build new habits?
The post 6 Concrete Ways to Rewire Your Brain for Successful Habit Change appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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This is the time of year where we audit what we can change, improve, and do away with in our lives.
What goals can we crush this year?
If there was a phrase that could be done away with it, this would be it for me: “CRUSH YOUR GOALS.” It sounds exhausting, and a little angry.
Here, instead, are a few nice promises that you can make for yourself. These five promises are all about loving kindness—the gentleness you need to thrive and survive in a world gone mad with goal-crushing.
5 Promises to Keep:
- Enable Your Environment
- Trust the Progression of Progress
- Offer Yourself Kindness
- Have the Full Experience
- Ask for Help
1. Enable Your Environment
We are what we surround ourselves with, and if you’re trying to make any improvement in your life, you’ll be more successful if your environment is set up to support you.
Trying to stick to a budget, diet, or fitness routine? Keep near you things that support those endeavors, and ruthlessly purge anything that gets in the way.
Let’s say you’re trying to curtail your alcohol consumption this year. Simply not bringing adult beverages into the home is the obvious first step to setting up your environment for success.
But go deeper than that. Rearrange your cupboards so the wine glasses or highball glasses are hidden away. Acknowledge what other rituals go alongside your cocktail routine. For example, is it how you wind down in front of the TV each night? If so, consider treating yourself to a great book, a true crime podcast series, or an indulgent epsom salt bath, so you have something to do besides TV, the activity in which your alcohol habit is tethered.
If your friends, loved ones, or life partners seem to influence whether or not you have a drink, speak up: Let it be known that you are changing your habits, and that a friendly internet stranger told you that setting up your environment is the first step. If they love you, they’ll be on board and won’t pressure you. If they do pressure you… it might be time to have a meaningful conversation about how you need your loved one to show up for you with support and love.
This is why many diet programs—including Mark’s 21-Day Primal Reset—begin with the Pantry Purge as step one. The willpower required to stick to a lifestyle change works better in the context of an environment that’s set up to remove the struggles and barriers. It’s a nice thing to do for yourself when you’re trying to change, grow, and improve.
2. Trust the Progression of Progress
You will not knock your goals out of the park on the first try. I repeat: YOU WILL NOT.
Simply acknowledging this already takes the pressure off.
In the world of coaching, we use a body of knowledge called the Transtheoretical Model, or the Stages of Change (which is much easier to remember, and to spell). Developed by behavioral psychologists, the Transtheoretical Model factors in six different stages of change:
- Pre-Contemplation: You don’t even know you want or need to change. Given that you’re here, reading Mark’s Daily Apple, that’s probably not you.
- Contemplation: You have begun to think about changing, though you haven’t yet taken action. This might ring familiar to you if you have a list of New Year’s Resolutions staring you in the face that you’ve not yet embarked on. There’s no shame in that—you should be proud of yourself for even contemplating change. Many never do.
- Preparation: You’re ready to take action! You begin to make small steps toward your end goal. This is a big deal, and should be an exciting and celebratory time.
Think of a staircase with your ultimate goal at the top, and every necessary micro-step in between, leading you deliberately up to your final destination. At this stage, you’ve begun to take those tentative first steps.
This is the stage where folks tend to feel as though they’re falling off the wagon; failing at achieving their goals, just because their forward momentum up the staircase has slowed, stopped, or temporarily regressed backward. You aren’t failing. It’s impossible to leap from the bottom step to the top one in a single bound. You may take a step back down on the staircase, but the steps are small, so no harm is done. And that next upward step is always within your reach.
In the interest of closing the loop, the final three stages of the Transtheoretical Model include: Action (you’ve officially changed a behavior and are confident and comfortable moving forward with it); Maintenance (the change no longer feels like a “change;” it has integrated into your life!); and, Termination (you’ve effectively exited the change interstate, and are now a different person).
It’s the earliest first few steps of change where we’re hardest on ourselves, though. Understand that steps backward are allowed, and be kind to yourself when they inevitably occur.
Speaking of which…
3. Offer Yourself Kindness
This is why I don’t like language around sacrifice or deprivation when one is embarking on a change, and it’s why the phrase “crush your goals” feels like nails down a chalkboard for me. This hard language forgets one important thing: Your inner and outer worlds are unpredictable, and if you hang your hat on drive and discipline, what happens when you’re inevitably thrown a curve ball that you can’t program your way out of?
Often I’ll work with people who identify, proudly, as: “being very black and white.”
“I need to be absolutely ON, otherwise I’m OFF,” they’ll say.
While I admire the boldness of this statement, it simply can’t and won’t work for most people, for a lifetime.
Life is not black and white. And the sooner you can get comfortable hanging out in the grey between Winning and Losing, the more at peace you’ll be as you navigate the inevitable ups and downs of personal growth. Heck, of life.
So be kind to yourself. Feel proud when goals are “crushed,” absolutely. And when they aren’t? That’s okay too. Sit with it; observe it, journal it, declare out loud why you experienced your struggle or slip up. Recognize it. Give it a face, a name. Take the power back. And then dust off and move on.
I want you to achieve your goals. And I want the entire process of that journey to feel good in your heart and mind, even the screw-ups.
When you can flip the switch from driven discipline to loving kindness, the process of navigating change feels friendlier.
4. Have The Full Experience
This is one of those ideas that I thought I had invented… and then I heard Mark describe it perfectly on a podcast.
His example was cheesecake, a dessert he loves… and one that is not particularly Primal!
When he orders the cheesecake, the very act of that decision comes from a place of excitement and happiness. He wants the cheesecake, and doesn’t hesitate to order it. The entire experience of ordering the cheesecake is considered: how exciting it is to see it on the menu, to make the decision to order it, ask the waiter to bring it, patiently await its arrival while chatting and laughing with loved ones at an amazing restaurant.
When the cheesecake arrives, how does it look? How does it smell? How does your body respond when it’s put down in front of you: Joy, delight? Anxiety, disappointment? There is never a wrong answer, only a necessary observation.
Take the first bite. On a scale of 1-10, it’s a 10. Second bite: about an eight. Third bite: solid five. Fourth bite… four…
And so on and so forth, stopping when the awesomeness of the cheesecake experience has been fully enjoyed, and before you’re just still eating it for the sake of eating it. Once the joy has faded, it’s time to put the fork down, and bask in the memories of those first few epic bites.
With my clients, I take it further. What happens after the cheesecake? How does your body feel: Tired? Foggy? Do you have a stomach ache? Or do you feel fine?
And then we keep going: the “after” after. The next day, has the cheesecake awakened the sugar monkey that lives on your back? Are your sugar and refined carb cravings awake and alive? How do you feel having indulged your cheesecake craving: satisfied and happy? Or have you descended into guilt and shame? Were you able to return to your regularly scheduled programming with no hiccups?
Was it, ultimately, worth it?
This is an incredible teaching moment.
You may know this as “mindfulness.” I wanted to give it a more descriptive title since I think the concept of mindfulness has been too vague for too long, and though folks think they know they “need to be more mindful,” not too many can put their arms around what it really means.
So have the full experience any time you make a choice that supports your goals—or doesn’t. If it was worth it, hooray! If it wasn’t, what can you learn from it?
5. Ask For Help
This is a hard one for anyone who prides themselves as being proud, stoic, or strong. Whether we don’t want to bother people with our struggles and strife, or we don’t feel comfortable declaring our goals and challenges out loud, one of the best promises you can keep to yourself is to ask unapologetically for help when you need it.
I can tell you from experience that big change and growth only happens when you stretch yourself out of your comfort zone. So get comfortable with discomfort, and don’t be shy to seek a mentor who specializes in what you want help with. Finances? Hire a money coach. Health? Hire a health coach. Love? Get thee a relationship coach. Confidence? Yes, there are even confidence coaches out there.
If you knew that there was a trusted expert out there who could help solve your specific problem, imagine how liberating and transformational it would be to form a partnership with that coach. I promise you, it’s a life-changer.
Let’s make this the year we kindly and lovingly make and keep promises to ourselves.
I’m Erin, the coaching director for Mark’s Primal Health Coach Institute. And if this little missive can help you start this year off feeling extremely pumped up, optimistic, happy, and empowered about the exciting opportunity for change ahead of you, then I’ve done my job.
If you need any help along the way, we have thousands of Primal Health Coaches with vast specialities who are trained to help you mentor you toward your health and happiness goals for 2020 and beyond.
Erin Power is the coaching and curriculum director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients regain a loving and trusting relationship with their bodies—while restoring their metabolic health, so they can lose fat and gain energy—via her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.
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‘Tis the season for consumption.
Cookies, cakes, and pies abound. Feasts happen on a regular basis. Candy is given and received as gifts. And there are parties immeasurable—at work, with family, with friends—where calorie-dense, rewarding food is handed out, like, well, candy. The holiday season is a practice in overeating, and it can be very hard to avoid. You may not want to even avoid it; there’s something to be said for letting loose now and again on special occasions, especially when holiday cheer is in the air.
But what happens to your body when you overeat? And what can you do about it?
The type of overeating most people do across the holidays is high-sugar, high-fat, and relatively low protein. These are your cakes and cookies. Your brownies and fudge. Your pie for breakfast. This is the worst kind of overfeeding you can do. Research shows that just six days of high-sugar, high-fat, low-protein overfeeding rapidly increases fat deposition in the liver and muscle. Seven days of overfeeding reduces whole body insulin sensitivity, inhibits glucose clearance, and impairs endothelial function.
If you keep doing it, say, over the course of a month, bad things pile up. You get incredibly insulin resistant. Your liver fat increases. Your body weight and overall body fat increase. Your C-reactive protein increases, an indication of inflammation. A class of antioxidants called plasmalogens also increase, which means your body is fighting oxidative stress.
One problem with the studies is that you have to distinguish between quality and quantity; overfeeding with different foods elicits different effects. For instance, in the study that looked at overfeeding’s effect on lipid metabolism, the subjects overate by eating more cookies, potato chips, and cheesecake and drinking an oil-based liquid supplement. Overeating a bunch of that junk food is different than overeating steak.
In fact, research shows that overfeeding protein has little to no impact on fat or weight gain compared to carbohydrate or fat overfeeding.
Another factor to consider is individual variability. Some people are “obesity prone.” Others are “obesity resistant.” In one study, obesity prone and obesity resistant subjects had different responses to three days of overfeeding. The obesity prone people saw their fat oxidation rates drop during sleep; they burned less fat. The obesity resistant subjects saw their fat oxidation rates unchanged during sleep; they continued burning fat like normal.
So, when we talk about the effects of overeating, we have to keep in mind that the effects will differ between individuals and vary if you’re eating a pound of roast lamb versus eating half a pie. But the general point still stands: Overeating can make you gain weight, gain liver weight, induce oxidative stress, cause insulin resistance, increase inflammation, and make you sicker, fatter, and more unwell the longer it goes on.
But am I too late in saying this? Are you already dealing with the effects of excess? Here are 8 tips for scaling back and minimizing damage.
1. Favor Protein
As explained above, overfeeding protein has more neutral metabolic and body composition effects than overfeeding fat and carbs. Some effects are even positive, like boosts to energy expenditure during the day and during sleep. Load up on the turkey, the lamb, the beef rib roast and keep portions of mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, stuffing, candied chestnuts, and cookies more reasonable. One advantage of overeating protein is that eating less of the other stuff tends to happen inadvertently.
2. Eat Vinegar
Vinegar, whether it’s organic apple cider vinegar with the mother still swimming in it or standard white vinegar from a two gallon jug, improves glucose tolerance and keeps postprandial hyperglycemia and insulin tamped down. The trick is eating the vinegar (maybe a side salad before the big meal dressed with a vinegar-y dressing) 20-30 minutes before you overindulge.
This is most relevant for meals containing carbohydrate.
No, exercising after overeating is not “binge behavior” or evidence of an “eating disorder” for most people. It’s simply physiological common sense. You consume a ton of calories, calories in excess of what your mitochondria can process and convert to energy. What makes more physiological sense—just sitting there, letting that extra energy circulate and eventually accumulate on your body, or creating an energy deficit so that the extra energy is utilized?
This isn’t about “calories,” per se. It’s about throwing a ton of energy toward your mitochondria and giving them a job to do—or letting them languish in disuse. It’s not about “weight gain,” necessarily. It’s about energy excess and the oxidative stress and inflammation that results. It’s about not being wasteful. If you introduce a ton of energy and then do nothing, you are wasting that potential.
Besides, research shows that exercise counteracts the short term negative effects of overfeeding, including countering the negative epigenetic effects seen in the adipose tissue of over-consumers. The best time to exercise is immediately after eating. Of course, I wouldn’t suggest doing an intense CrossFit workout with a belly full of food, but something light like the several sets of 10 pushups, squats, lunges, and situps in this study done immediately after does the trick.
4. Accept It As a Positive Experience and Move On
That overeating induces oxidative stress enough to trigger the release of antioxidant compounds may mean the occasional acute bout of overeating can act as a hormetic stressor that makes you stronger in the long run—provided it stays acute and hormetic. It could actually be good to overeat once in awhile. Yeah, go with that.
5. Have Some Black Tea
I just did a big definitive guide to tea, and it turns out another benefit of the stuff is that it actually speeds up digestion after eating. It beats alcohol, espresso, and everything else that people tell you helps digestion.
6. Go For a Walk
Right after you overeat, a 20-30 minute walk will reduce blood glucose and speed up gastric emptying—helping you process the meal much faster and reducing the feeling of fullness. Longer walks are even better and can also reduce the postprandial insulin spike. It has to be immediately after though; waiting even 30 minutes will suppress the effects.
7. Get Out Into the Cold
It’s the perfect season for cold exposure (in most places). Even mild cold exposure—just 18°C or 64.4°C for 2.5 hours—is enough to increase energy expenditure without increasing hunger or subsequent food intake. That’s downright comfortable for a lot of people. If you went out into sub 50°F weather, I bet you could get the same effects even faster.
8. Don’t Throw In the Towel and Continue Overeating For the Foreseeable Future or “Until the New Year”
A consistent finding in the literature is that people gain weight during the holidays and never quite lose it. They don’t do this because they had an extra slice of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving or five cookies on Christmas morning. They gain and retain the weight because they consistently overindulge for the entire duration of the holidays. They figure “Oh, I ate badly yesterday, which means this week is shot. I’ll just do better next Monday,” and then keep that mindset going for months.
Well, one way to break that cycle is to stop that “this week/month is shot” mindset. No, just because you ate badly yesterday doesn’t mean you should eat badly today and tomorrow. That will compound your problems and dig an even deeper hole. Stop overeating immediately.
Overeating happens. It’s okay, or even beneficial if used judiciously. There’s nothing like filling your belly with your grandma’s signature dish, or really letting loose with your favorite people in the world. Humans are feasters by nature. We like to make merry and eat big to ring in the good times. Just make sure you contrast it with leaner days. (Intermittent fasting around the holidays is great for this.) A feast no longer qualifies as a feast if you do it consistently. A party’s not a party if you party every day. Contrast is the stuff of life—heed that rule and all will be well.
How do you approach holiday overeating? What do you do to counter the effects? What physical behaviors and mental models do you adhere to? Let me know in the comment board.
Take care, everyone, and happy feasting!
Surowska A, Jegatheesan P, Campos V, et al. Effects of Dietary Protein and Fat Content on Intrahepatocellular and Intramyocellular Lipids during a 6-Day Hypercaloric, High Sucrose Diet: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Normal Weight Healthy Subjects. Nutrients. 2019;11(1)
Parry SA, Turner MC, Woods RM, et al. High-Fat Overfeeding Impairs Peripheral Glucose Metabolism and Muscle Microvascular eNOS Ser1177 Phosphorylation. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2020;105(1)
Leaf A, Antonio J. The Effects of Overfeeding on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition – A Narrative Review. Int J Exerc Sci. 2017;10(8):1275-1296.
Schmidt SL, Kealey EH, Horton TJ, Vonkaenel S, Bessesen DH. The effects of short-term overfeeding on energy expenditure and nutrient oxidation in obesity-prone and obesity-resistant individuals. Int J Obes (Lond). 2013;37(9):1192-7.
Bray GA, Redman LM, De jonge L, et al. Effect of protein overfeeding on energy expenditure measured in a metabolic chamber. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;101(3):496-505.
Ostman E, Granfeldt Y, Persson L, Björck I. Vinegar supplementation lowers glucose and insulin responses and increases satiety after a bread meal in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005;59(9):983-8.
Solomon TPJ, Tarry E, Hudson CO, Fitt AI, Laye MJ. Immediate post-breakfast physical activity improves interstitial postprandial glycemia: a comparison of different activity-meal timings. Pflugers Arch. 2019;
Heinrich H, Goetze O, Menne D, et al. Effect on gastric function and symptoms of drinking wine, black tea, or schnapps with a Swiss cheese fondue: randomised controlled crossover trial. BMJ. 2010;341:c6731.
The post Post-Binge Biology: What Happens To Your Body When You Overeat (and 8 Things To Do Afterward) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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The treatment usually prescribed by doctors, hormone therapy (HT), is controversial and not appropriate for some women. I won’t get into the HT debate here—Mark did a great job covering the pros and cons recently. Suffice it to say that HT isn’t the answer for everyone, and it’s not a panacea by any means.
Whether or not they choose to go the HT route, many women desire additional support during perimenopause and beyond. For the sake of keeping this post from becoming a novella, I’m going to focus on mind-body therapies today.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of nonhormonal options, nor is it meant to try to dissuade you from trying HT. That’s a decision you have to make for yourself with your doctor. The approaches below can be used alone or in combination with other modalities, including HT.
As with any medical-adjacent tools, if you are considering any of the options here, take the time to educate yourself, talk to your doctor, and find qualified practitioners to help you implement these practices.
A Note Regarding Research Evidence…
Because so many women are interested in complementary or alternative approaches, there’s a fair amount of research into nonhormonal treatments. There are also important limitations.
A lot of the randomized control trials—experiments that are best for establishing causal effects—are small. There is considerable variability in research design, so it’s difficult to generalize across studies.
Participants in these studies tend to be white and well-educated. Since there are cross-cultural differences in the experience of menopause, we shouldn’t assume that the findings apply to all women. Likewise, a lot of the research focuses on women with a history of breast cancer because HT is generally contraindicated in this population. While the results of these studies probably generalize to other women, it would be great to have more data.
Finally, vasomotor symptoms—hot flushes and night sweats—are studied more than other types of symptoms. Though they are the most common complaint, many women do not experience debilitating vasomotor symptoms. They might, however, experience mood fluctuations, depression, sexual issues, memory problems, and more. We know less about how these approaches might help those women.
Nevertheless, I’ll highlight some of the potentially fruitful avenues you might explore. When possible, I’ll focus on systematic reviews and meta-analyses. They pool the results of multiple smaller studies to help a more reliable picture emerge.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
In CBT, individuals are encouraged to explore how their thoughts (cognitions) affect feelings, behaviors, and physical symptoms. With help, they change their thoughts or beliefs about a situation to help manage their responses and improve coping skills.
Although there isn’t a ton of research on CBT for menopause, available studies are very promising. Whether or not CBT reduces the actual number of hot flushes—and the data here are mixed—CBT should work by changing women’s perceptions of their hot flushes. Multiple studies do find that after CBT women view their hot flushes as interfering less with daily life. As expected, they are also less bothered by them.
Women who see themselves as having less control over their hot flushes also tend to experience more distress. Changing their perceived control could be an effective intervention for improving quality of life. Indeed, in one study, 95 women received either group-based or self-help CBT. After therapy they reported feeling greater control over hot flushes and having better coping skills compared to women in a no-CBT control condition. Further analyses showed that women’s beliefs about control and coping predicted how problematic they found their hot flushes to be. (Having more positive beliefs about how hot flushes affect sleep also helped.)
Women who participated in CBT also experienced fewer sleep issues and insomnia as well as fewer depressive symptoms and sexual concerns. They also noticed less impairment at work. Positive results were found with in-person therapy, self-help programs, and telephone-based therapy. When studies included a follow-up assessment, the beneficial effects of CBT persisted for at least six months.
Mindfulness, Meditation and Relaxation Training
A cross-sectional study of 1744 women found that women with higher scores on a mindfulness assessment tended to report less severe menopausal symptoms. For women with higher life stress, this association was especially strong. The idea here is that when women are able to be present-focused and observe their symptoms without judgment, they are protected against some of the distress, and possibly the physical symptoms, associated with menopause.
Although some of the women in that survey are probably mindful by nature—lucky them—mindfulness is also a skill that can be learned and cultivated. Among the many reasons to do so, mindfulness and meditation training can apparently lessen menopausal symptoms.
For example, researchers assigned 110 women to either an intensive eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program or a control group. The women who received mindfulness training reported having less bothersome hot flushes, better sleep quality, less anxiety and stress, and greater overall quality of life compared to the control group. When the researchers followed participants over the next 11 weeks, these results persisted or became even stronger.
A few other studies found that women who receive mindfulness or meditation training report fewer and less bothersome hot flushes, improved sleep, and better psychological functioning, though the results have not consistently endured over time. However, when looking at more general relaxation training and paced breathing techniques, effects are minimal, at least for hot flushes.
An ethnographic study of nine female yogi masters concluded that they tend to skate fairly easily through menopause. The authors concluded that menopausal women should be encouraged to practice yoga. Of course, in addition to yoga, these yogi masters’ lifestyles included “healthy food habits, adequate sleep, and the use of nature cure techniques (i.e., fasting, detoxification, selection of suitable food products, and living in well-ventilated houses) that facilitated the art of living in tune with nature.” This sounds pretty great, but can we give really yoga all the credit here?
Probably not. However, two recent meta-analyses did conclude that yoga offers small but significant relief from symptoms of all types: vasomotor, psychological (including depression), somatic (including fatigue and sleep disturbances), and urogenital. Women also report better overall well-being and quality of life after receiving yoga training.
In one study, a group of breast cancer survivors received twelve weeks of yoga and meditation instruction, and they were encouraged to practice daily at home. Compared to women in a control group (no instruction), they reported fewer symptoms and improved quality of life at the end of the twelve weeks and again when asked three months later. A later analysis found that many of the effects were mediated by improved self-esteem in the yoga group.
Note that most of the individual studies are small, and they employ different types of yoga practices. This might be considered a strength insofar as different practices have been shown to work, or a weakness in that it’s not clear if one approach is particularly effective.
Cross-cultural surveys find that women who are more active tend to have an easier time with menopause. For example, two large surveys of Swedish women found that women who exercised at least once per week reported less intrusive symptoms than women who never exercised, and women who exercised more than three hours per week were significantly less likely to experience severe symptoms than their less active counterparts. Sedentary women in this Finnish study experienced more vasomotor, psychological, and somatic/pain symptoms than women who were at least somewhat active.
While promising, experimental studies have not yielded such favorable results. When women were assigned to “physical activity” conditions (often walking), some studies report improvements, but others find no improvements or even worsening symptoms (perhaps depending on women’s baseline fitness). Multiple reviews have concluded that there is no systematic effect of exercise, particularly not for vasomotor symptoms.
Does that mean menopausal women shouldn’t exercise? Obviously no. It’s clear that being active—or at least not being sedentary—is important for overall health, and it probably helps menopausal women through the transition. However, there isn’t enough research to know what types of exercise are most effective and when. Do the types of movement you enjoy and that make your body feel good.
A recent review concluded that acupuncture is effective for reducing vasomotor symptoms, both frequency and severity, as well as for improving quality of life. However, the reviewers also found that acupuncture was not reliably better than sham acupuncture where needles are inserted at points other than the prescribed pressure points and at a shallower depth—a placebo condition.
A handful of studies have shown that clinical hypnosis can reduce hot flush frequency and distress among breast cancer patients. Another study of 187 women without breast cancer found that women who received hypnotherapy had fewer, less severe, and less bothersome hot flashes, as well as improved sleep. These results were evident at the end of the five-week treatment protocol, and they remained or got stronger in the six-week follow-up period.
The Experts Weigh In…
In 2015, the North American Menopause Society released a position statement on nonhormonal management of vasomotor symptoms. Of the approaches discussed here, the only ones NAMS recommended based on the strength of the available evidence were CBT and hypnosis. Mindfulness-based stress reduction earned a “recommend with caution,” which means, “We think it might work, but the evidence isn’t conclusive.”
The others—yoga, exercise, relaxation and paced breathing techniques, and acupuncture—were not recommended. This does not mean they are not worth trying! It simply means that based on their standards, the evidence was not strong enough for the committee to conclude that they are likely to be effective treatments for vasomotor symptoms specifically. This says nothing about other types of symptoms, nor about general well-being or quality of life.
Mind-Body Therapy Pros and Cons
So where does this leave us? Each of these therapies shows promise for alleviating at least some symptoms of menopause. Moreover, all these therapies have the potential to improve overall quality of life, sleep, stress, and general health. While reading these studies, I did wonder whether some of the women felt better simply because they were investing time and energy in taking care of themselves. If so, is that a problem? I don’t think so. They are low-risk interventions with a lot of potential upside.
That said, these aren’t quick solutions. The effective mindfulness/mediation trainings included six to eight weeks of classes and multiple hours per week. Women practiced yoga for two to four months during the study periods. Hypnotherapy was five weeks or longer. It’s not clear what the minimum time frame is for each of these therapies to be useful, but they’ll certainly involve a time commitment that might not be practical for all women. However, yoga, mindfulness/meditation, exercise, and even CBT can all be practiced at home once you know the proper technique.
As I said at the beginning, this is not an exhaustive list of nonhormonal therapies. There are also various supplements that might help, as well as lifestyle modifications that most of you Primal-savvy readers are probably already implementing: eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods, getting plenty of sunlight, practicing good sleep hygiene, and nurturing social connections.
Whatever you choose, be patient. Don’t just focus on one symptom; focus on the big picture. Pay attention to how you’re feeling more globally. Consider that while an intervention might not hit its desired mark, it might help you in ways you didn’t expect.
Have you used mind-body techniques (these or others)? What’s been your experience? Share your insights and questions below, and have a great week, everyone.
Atapattu PM. Vasomotor symptoms: What is the impact of physical exercise? J SAFOMS. 2105 Jan-Jun;3(1):15-19.
Goldstein KM, et al. Use of mindfulness, meditation and relaxation to treat vasomotor symptoms. Climacteric. 2017 Apr;20(2):178-182.
McMillan TL, Mark S. Complementary and alternative medicine and physical activity for menopausal symptoms. J Am Med Womens Assoc (1972). 2004 Fall;59(4):270-7.
Molefi-Youri W. Is there a role for mindfulness-based interventions (here defined as MBCT and MBSR) in facilitating optimal psychological adjustment in the menopause? Post Reprod Health. 2019 Sep;25(3):143-149
Moore TR, Franks RB, Fox C. Review of Efficacy of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments for Menopausal Symptoms. J Midwifery Womens Health. 2017 May;62(3):286-297.
Sliwinski JR, Johnson AK, Elkins GR. Memory Decline in Peri- and Post-menopausal Women: The Potential of Mind-Body Medicine to Improve Cognitive Performance. Integr Med Insights. 2014;9:17–23.
van Driel CM, Stuursma A, Schroevers MJ, Mourits MJ, de Bock GH. Mindfulness, cognitive behavioural and behaviour-based therapy for natural and treatment-induced menopausal symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BJOG. 2019;126(3):330–339.
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There was a time when food tracking was treated like a given, a necessary tool for anyone wanting to lose weight or better their health. Thankfully, there’s more nuance to that conversation now. The fact is, tracking your food can be a useful exercise for gaining more insight into what you’re putting in your body. It can also be a tedious endeavor that sucks all the joy out of eating.
If you’re going to invest the time—and it can be quite time-consuming if you include any variety in your diet—let’s make sure it’s not a waste.
You Might Want to Track Your Food If…
- You have a goal where hitting a specific macronutrient and/or caloric intake is important. This includes cutting before a bodybuilding competition, starting a ketogenic diet, or even just losing weight.
- You’re conducting an experiment. Maybe you want to see how your hunger changes when you eat more protein and less fat, or if your sleep improves if you increase your total carbs by a certain amount. Maybe you’re going to try a month of strict carnivore and plan to track your micronutrient intake.
- You suspect you aren’t eating the right amount. If weight loss has stalled, your total calorie intake might be higher than intended. On the flip side, if you’re an athlete whose performance and recovery have been subpar lately, perhaps you are eating too little. Some people find that keto dramatically suppresses their appetites to the point where they need to intentionally eat more. In any case, you can’t make the necessary adjustments unless you know how much you consume on a typical day.
You Don’t Need to Track Your Food If…
- You feel good and aren’t looking to change anything. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
- You stick to the same basic meals most of the time. Even if you’re trying to manage your macros, if you’re a creature of habit, you can probably get away without tracking. Once you know the nutritional info for your standard meals, there’s no reason to input them in a food tracker over and over.
- You’ve been keto for a while. You have a good sense of how to keep your carbs low enough to stay in ketosis, and/or being in ketosis 24/7 isn’t that important to you.
- You just don’t want to. Your desire to eat intuitively outweighs your desire to manage your food intake.
You SHOULDN’T Track Your Food If…
- It triggers unhealthy eating behaviors or anxiety, or it otherwise messes with your mental and emotional well-being.
Is Food Tracking Reliable?
There will always be some error in food tracking. Besides measurement error on your end (we’ll get to that in a minute), there is natural variation in foods. One ribeye is fattier than the next. This apple contains more water. That cabbage was grown in more nutrient-depleted soil.
The FDA allows for up to 20% error on packaged food labels. That means that any information you get off the package might be wrong by 20% in either direction. Likewise, if you’re eating in restaurants and relying on the nutritional info they provide, consider it a rough estimate. Depending on how the food is prepared and the portion size you are given, your specific meal might vary a little or a lot.
All this is to say that food tracking is not an exact science. That doesn’t mean it’s futile—it can still be useful for the reasons I gave above. However, there’s no point in stressing if you’re off your daily targets by 25 calories or 7 grams of fat. You should view tracking as a helpful but imprecise method of gathering data. Don’t micromanage to the point of causing yourself grief or anxiety.
How to Track for Maximum Accuracy
That said, there are steps you can take to improve the accuracy of your tracking:
Weigh, Don’t Measure
If you care about precision, invest in a food scale. While tablespoons (mL) work for liquid measurements like salad dressing, weight is much more accurate for proteins, fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, and legumes.
Weigh Foods Raw
This is true even if you intend to cook them. When you enter them in your food tracker, make sure you select the entries for the raw items (e.g., “Celery, raw” instead of “Celery, cooked”).
Do NOT Use Pre-entered Recipes
For example, if you make a pot of chili, do not simply select the entry for “Chili” in your food tracking app. Your version of chili might differ substantially from what’s considered “average” chili by the app.
Most tracking apps will allow you to input custom recipes, which is helpful for foods you will make again and again. Alternately, you can enter the ingredients separately into your daily food log.
If you are cooking big batches of multi-ingredient recipes, the best way to figure out exactly how much you ate is to weigh the final product and then weigh your portion. In the chili example, you’d create a custom chili recipe in your app and enter all the raw ingredients. After it’s cooked, weigh the entire batch, then weigh your portion. If you make 800 grams of chili and eat 150 grams, you ate 18.75% of the recipe.
If this sounds like a lot of work, you’re right. Food tracking is so much easier if you prepare simple meals: protein, side of vegetables, add healthy fat. It can be a major bummer for those of us who like to experiment in the kitchen and prepare more elaborate meals.
What’s the Best App?
There are lots of options here. I personally like and recommend Cronometer. The free app and desktop version have everything you need, but there is also an inexpensive premium version. The entries are all based on official food databases, so it’s as accurate as you can get, and it provides pretty granular nutritional info. You can input your own macronutrient targets and also add custom recipes.
Primal folks might also prefer Cronometer because, unlike a lot of food tracking apps, it doesn’t assume you are trying to be keto or even low carb. If you are keto, Carb Manager and KetoDiet App are two popular options. Personally, I don’t like that Carb Manager grades foods based on what it considers acceptable for keto. My beloved Japanese sweet potato gets an F—no thanks (even if I can’t eat a big portion on keto). I’ve never tried KetoDiet App because it costs $8.99, whereas Cronometer is free and gives me everything I need. If you have tried it, let us know what you think about it in the comments below.
Whatever app you choose, don’t assume that the default macro settings are right for you. A lot of keto apps will set your carb limit at 20 to 25 grams, for example, whereas The Keto Reset Diet recommends starting with 50 grams total. (This usually works out to 30 to 35 grams net in my experience.) The calories might not be appropriate for your activity level. Either set custom macros or simply ignore the app when it says you are over your carb limit or calories or whatever.
How Do I Track Cooking Fat?
It’s impossible to know how much fat you leave in the pan when you sauté your veggies or how much oil is absorbed you fry chicken. Since most people are more concerned with eating too many calories than too few, the more conservative approach is to add all the cooking fat to your food diary when sautéing or roasting (i.e., assume you consume it all). When frying, the best answer is to weigh your cooking oil before and after frying to estimate how much is absorbed. Neither will be precise, but it’s the best you can do, so don’t stress about it.
Is There a Preferred Time/Method For Tracking?
How and when you track your food depends on why you’re tracking in the first place. If you’re trying to get an unbiased look at how you’re currently eating, I recommend logging your food on paper for a few days, then entering it into an app to get the nutritional info. Logging makes us more mindful of what we are eating. This is generally a good thing, but if you’re trying to get an accurate snapshot, you don’t want to change how you’re eating based on the data.
If you’re trying to manage what you eat, it’s best to enter your food before you eat it. This keeps you from accidentally eating more or less than you want, and it helps you balance your macros according to your goals.
Whatever you do, log foods as you weigh/measure/eat them. Don’t think you’ll remember exactly what you ate earlier today, much less yesterday or the day before. You won’t.
Do I Have To Track My Food If I’m Keto?
You never have to track your food. However, if you’re serious about being in ketosis, I do recommend tracking your food for at least a week or two at the beginning just to make sure you’re on track. Most people don’t know how many carbs are in foods, so it can be easy to go over your limit. Managing your electrolytes is also very important. Apps like Cronometer will show you how much sodium, potassium, and magnesium you are getting from food so you can supplement appropriately.
Can I Just “Lazy Track”?
Sure, you can eyeball portion sizes of steak and measure your broccoli in a measuring cup instead of buying a food scale. It won’t be particularly accurate. As long as you understand that, go ahead. I wouldn’t bother taking the time to track for this level of (im)precision though.
Thanks for reading today, everybody. If you track your food, what insights or benefits have you gotten? What app do you prefer and why? Let us know below.
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Older people (and those headed in that direction, which is everyone else) are really sold a bill of goods when it comes to health and longevity advice. I’m not a young man anymore, and for decades I’ve been hearing all sorts of input about aging that’s proving to be not just misguided, but downright incorrect. Blatant myths about healthy longevity continue to circulate and misinform millions. Older adults at this very moment are enacting routines detrimental to living long that they think are achieving the opposite. A major impetus for creating the Primal Blueprint was to counter these longevity myths. That mission has never felt more personal.
So today, I’m going to explore and refute a few of these top myths, some of which contain kernels of truth that have been overblown and exaggerated. I’ll explain why.
1) “Don’t Lift Heavy: You’ll Throw Out Your Back”
Obviously, a frail grandfather pushing 100 shouldn’t do Starting Strength right off the bat (or maybe ever, depending on how frail he is). That’s not my contention here. My contention:
Lifting as heavy as you can as safely as you can is essential for healthy longevity. That’s why I put it first in the list today. It’s that important.
For one, lean muscle mass is one of the strongest predictors of resistance to mortality. The more muscle a person has (and the stronger they are), the longer they’ll live—all else being equal. That’s true in both men and women.
One reason is that the stronger you are, the more capable you are. You’re better at taking care of yourself, standing up from chairs, ascending stairs, and maintaining basic functionality as you age.
Another reason is that increased lean mass means greater tissue reserve—you have more organ and muscle to lose as you age, so that when aging-related muscle loss sets in, you have longer to go before it gets serious. And that’s not even a guarantee that you’ll lose any. As long as you’re still lifting heavy things, you probably won’t lose much muscle, if any. Remember: the average old person studied in these papers isn’t doing any kind of strength training at all.
It doesn’t have to be barbells and Olympic lifts and CrossFit. It can be machines (see Body By Science, for example) and bodyweight and hikes. What matters is that you lift intensely (and intense is relative) and safely, with good technique and control.
2) “Avoid Animal Protein To Lower IGF-1”
Animal protein has all sorts of evil stuff, they say.
Methionine—linked to reduced longevity in animal models.
Increased IGF-1—a growth promoter that might promote unwanted growth, like cancer.
Yet, a huge study showed that in older people, those 65 or older, increased animal protein intake actually protected against mortality. The older they were and the more protein they ate, the longer they lived.
Meanwhile, low-protein diets have been shown to have all sorts of effects that spell danger for older people hoping to live long and live well:
- Slow the metabolism, increase insulin resistance, and cause body fat gain.
- Impair the immune system and make infections more severe.
- Reduce muscle function, cellular mass (yes, the actual mass of the cell itself), and immune response in elderly women.
- Impair nitrogen balance in athletes.
- Increase the risk of osteoporosis.
- Increase the risk of sarcopenia (muscle wasting).
And about that “excess methionine” and “increased IGF-1”?
In both human and animal studies, there’s a U-shaped relationship between IGF-1 levels and lifespan. Animal studies show an inverse relationship between IGF-1 and diabetes, heart disease, and heart disease deaths (higher IGF-1, less diabetes/heart disease) and a positive association between IGF-1 and cancer (higher IGF-1, more cancer). A recent review of the animal and human evidence found that while a couple human studies show an inverse relationship between IGF-1 and longevity, several more show a positive relationship—higher IGF-1, longer lifespan—and the majority show no clear relationship at all.
3) “You’re Never Getting Back That Cartilage—Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone”
Almost every doctor says this. It’s become an axiom in the world of orthopedics.
But then we see this study showing that people have the same microRNAs that control tissue and limb regeneration in lizards and amphibians. They’re most strongly expressed in the ankle joints, less so in the knees, and even less so at the hip—but they’re there, and they’re active.
I’ve seen some impressive things, have been able to personally verify some stunning “anecdotes” from friends and colleagues who were able to regrow cartilage or at least regain all their joint function after major damage to it. Most doctors and studies never capture these people. If you look at the average older person showing up with worn-down joints and degraded or damaged cartilage, how active are they? What’s their diet?
They are mostly inactive. They are often obese or overweight.
They generally aren’t making bone broth and drinking collagen powder. They aren’t avoiding grains and exposing their nether regions to daily sun. They aren’t doing 200 knee circles a day, performing single leg deadlifts, and hiking up mountains. These are the things that, if anything can, will retain and regrow cartilage. Activity. Letting your body know that you still have need of your ankles, knees, and hips. That you’re still an engaged, active human interacting with the physical world.
4) “Retire Early”
This isn’t always bad advice, but retiring and then ceasing all engagement with the outside world will reduce longevity, not increase it. Having a life purpose is essential for living long and living well; not having one is actually an established risk factor for early mortality. And at least when you’re getting up in the morning to go to work, you have a built-in purpose. That purpose may not fulfill your heart and spirit, but it’s a purpose just the same: a reason to get up and keep moving.
Retiring can work. Don’t get me wrong. But the people who retire early and make it work for their health and longevity are staying active. They’re pursuing side projects or even big visions. They have hobbies, friends, and loved ones who they hang out with all the time.
The ones who don’t? Well, they are at at increased risk of dying early.
You don’t have to keep working a job you hate, or even a job you enjoy. You can retire. Just maintain your mission.
5) “Take It Easy As You Get Older”
As older people, we’re told that sex might be “too strenuous for the heart” (Truth: It’s good for it). We’re told to “take the elevator to save our knees.” They tell us “Oh, don’t get up, I’ll get it for you.”
They don’t tell me that because, well, I’m already up and doing the thing. I’m active and obviously so. I don’t take it easy.
Stay vigorous, friends. Stay vivacious. Don’t be foolhardy, mind you. Be engaged.
“Take it easy” quickly becomes “sit in the easy chair all day long watching the news.” Don’t let it happen.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t rest. Rest is everything. Sleep is important. But you must earn your rest, and when you have the energy, take advantage of it. Don’t rest on your laurels.
As you can see, there are tiny kernels of truth in many of these myths. We should all be careful lifting heavy things and pay close attention to technique and form. Everyone should care for their cartilage and avoid damage to it. No one should continue working a job that sucks their soul and depletes their will to live if they can move on from it. And so on.
What we all need to avoid is sending the message to our brain, body, and cells that we’re done. That we’ve given up and our active, engaged life is effectively over. Because when that happens, it truly is over.
Someone asked me when aging begins. How old is “old”?
I think I know now. Aging begins when you start listening to conventional longevity advice. As I said on Twitter earlier today, healthy aging begins when you do the opposite.
Want more on building a life that will allow you to live well into later decades? I definitely have more on that coming up. A perceptive reader shared the news in one of the Facebook groups already, so let me mention it here. My new book, Keto For Life: Reset Your Biological Clock In 21 Days and Optimize Your Diet For Longevity, is coming out December 31, 2019. I’ll have more info, including a special bonus package for those who preorder, in just a few weeks. In the meantime, you can read more about it here on our publisher’s page.
That’s it for today, friends. Chime in down below about longevity or any other health topics you’re thinking about these days. What are the most egregious aging myths you’ve heard? What do you do instead? Take care.
Karlsen T, Nauman J, Dalen H, Langhammer A, Wisløff U. The Combined Association of Skeletal Muscle Strength and Physical Activity on Mortality in Older Women: The HUNT2 Study. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017;92(5):710-718.
Malta A, De oliveira JC, Ribeiro TA, et al. Low-protein diet in adult male rats has long-term effects on metabolism. J Endocrinol. 2014;221(2):285-95.
Carrillo E, Jimenez MA, Sanchez C, et al. Protein malnutrition impairs the immune response and influences the severity of infection in a hamster model of chronic visceral leishmaniasis. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(2):e89412.
Castaneda C, Charnley JM, Evans WJ, Crim MC. Elderly women accommodate to a low-protein diet with losses of body cell mass, muscle function, and immune response. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995;62(1):30-9.
Gaine PC, Pikosky MA, Martin WF, Bolster DR, Maresh CM, Rodriguez NR. Level of dietary protein impacts whole body protein turnover in trained males at rest. Metab Clin Exp. 2006;55(4):501-7.
Wu C, Odden MC, Fisher GG, Stawski RS. Association of retirement age with mortality: a population-based longitudinal study among older adults in the USA. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2016;70(9):917-23.
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Last week, speaking as an elder of physical culture, I wrote a list of ten fitness tips for younger readers: the things that every young to middle-aged man or woman should know about training. Some were things I learned along the way. Some were mistakes I made. And some were big wins I figured out early. At any rate, people found it helpful, and quite a few asked for a follow-up—this time around general life advice.
Note: I’m no life coach. But I do have a nice life, one I figured out on my own through trial and error and with a good deal of hard work. I speak just for myself, but maybe some insights will resonate. (And I hope you’ll share your own hard-won wisdom below.)
What should you keep in mind as you look forward to a long, well-lived life?
1) “Prioritize Sleep Above Everything.”
Don’t get romantically involved with someone who wants to stay up until 2 A.M., whether it’s watching Netflix or partying.
Don’t sign up for the 5 A.M. CrossFit class (unless—big maybe—you’re a natural early riser anyway).
Don’t relax with late night T.V. after a long day.
This isn’t easy. It’s not. It’s harder for people coming up now than it was for me. I didn’t have digital devices vying for my every waking moment or corporations whose expressly stated purpose was to compete with your sleep. That sucks, but it’s also reality, so you have to make it a huge priority—the biggest in your life.
The older you get, the more precious sleep gets. Your cognitive function, your memory, your physical preparedness, your metabolic health, your mental state, your emotional resiliency—everything depends on you getting a good night’s sleep. When you’re young, you believe you can skip sleep and feel okay. Don’t believe it. The damage is accumulating.
2) “Don’t Worry If You Don’t Know What To Be When You Grow Up—But Never Stop Looking.”
I didn’t figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was 40. And I changed my mind about it ten years later. Before that, I bounced around from gig to gig, career to career, consistently thinking I had found the thing, throwing myself wholeheartedly into it, and then having my hopes dashed when it didn’t work. But I didn’t give up. And I always learned something from my forays. I always picked up a skill, made a connection, or figured out what I wasn’t good at. It all paid off when I threw myself into the Primal Blueprint, Mark’s Daily Apple, and, later, Primal Kitchen®.
Having a life purpose is one of the biggest predictors of longevity. Sure, there are dozens of longevity biomarkers you could look at, but one of my favorite (and one of the more malleable) positive predictors is having a life purpose.
3) “If You Want To Have Kids At Some Point (and You Have a Suitable Partner or Incredible Support System), Have Them.”
This dovetails with the last one, actually. Kids are kinda like “insta-purpose.” That said, they’re not for everyone. I’m not saying everyone should or has to have kids. But if you want them, you should have them. It gives you purpose. It gives you a lifelong project. And no matter what people say, it’s fun, awesome, and incredibly rewarding.
It also doesn’t get easier the older you get. Some aspects might. Financially, perhaps, you’ll probably be better equipped as an older person to pay for kids. But as far as energy goes, probably not. Hence, the importance of an all-in partner—or barring that—a committed support system you can genuinely count on for the little things…and the long haul.
4) “Deal With Your Stress.”
I don’t care who you are: Humans aren’t built to handle unending stress. It breaks us down, ruins our sleep, destroys our relationships, and kills our health. It also makes life very unpleasant. It snuffs out fun. It colors every interaction, every waking moment.
Find a way to deal with your stress that works. Doesn’t have to be a 10-day silent meditation retreat. It just has to work, and be something you’re willing to do consistently.
5) “The Sprinting/Chronic Cardio Dichotomy Applies to Everything, Especially Work.”
Whenever possible, work like a sprinter.
Do: You go hard for a week or two, doing long intense hours as needed to knock out that project, get your product launched, complete your to-do list, or whatever else needs doing. Then deload. Take a rest. Go camping, go hiking, read some fiction, watch a movie.
Don’t: You procrastinate, letting the project linger and languish for weeks on end. It haunts your days and nights, sitting in the back of your mind rapping on the window, never giving you a moment’s true rest.
Do: When the day begins, you get moving, do a solid 2-4 hours of deep work right away, then take a walking break and leisurely lunch. Come back for another 2-4 hours, then break. Go home.
Don’t: You never really get going, never spend more than five uninterrupted minutes working hard throughout the day. You avoid deep work, instead flipping back and forth between social media, your phone, and your work. You skip lunch because you’re never caught up, and you end up taking your work home with you where, again, you limp through it with half-focus. You just spent 14 hours “working” without much to show for it.
Apply everywhere as needed.
6) “Listen to Your Gut.”
This doesn’t just apply to those physiological warnings we get when an injury is about to occur in the gym, the ones I spoke about last week. It also applies to matters of life, business, personal growth, and love. Just know that there’s another wrinkle to this: the second voice that arises and says “don’t trust your gut, it’s more complex than that.” Life, business, and love are often more complicated than training, so take it on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes the gut is misguided, but it’s always got an insight.
Don’t always trust your gut unquestioningly. Always listen to it, however.
7) “Invest in Yourself.”
Anytime you’re making a decision, whether it be large or small, ask if the outcome will contribute to your growth and development. Will it give a valuable skill? Will it help you make interesting connections? What will you learn?
That’s how I’ve always approached business. I left a comfortable and well-paying job to start Primal Nutrition in 1997. At the time, I had a wife and two small children, and no money in the bank—but I had a vision of how I wanted to live my life. I wanted to be on the cutting edge of a health movement about which I was incredibly passionate. While some might have said that it was a risky move given my circumstances (and it was), I knew deep down that it was what I needed to do to feel fulfilled. I also knew deep down that it would succeed eventually on some level if I stuck with it. I knew it was a good investment.
Exercising regularly is an investment into your future self’s ability to stand up from the chair and chase youngsters around. Eating a healthy diet is an investment into how much health care you’ll be consuming thirty years from now. Putting profits back into the business instead of paying yourself a big salary is an investment in future profits. Regular date nights are investments into your relationship.
Whenever you can, make the good investments.
8) “Be Serious, But Don’t Take Life Too Seriously.”
This is one of those truths that looks like a paradox if you think too hard about it but works quite elegantly in real life.
Be serious about the things you care about: your work, your relationships, your family, your passions, your free time, your food, your exercise. These all matter. These are all sacred artifacts of a life well-lived, to be treasured and cared for.
But don’t take things too seriously. Don’t flip out because your kid spilled some paint or your partner left socks on the kitchen floor. Don’t develop an inability to laugh at yourself. Don’t beat yourself up because you ate a French fry.
Those are the 8 life lessons I wish I knew from the start. Well, maybe not from the start—learning these lessons from experience is far more powerful than having them handed to you. But maybe these will give you a head start—or some food for thought along the way.
Take care, everyone. What would you tell your younger self about life, love, business, and everything else? Thanks for reading.
The post 8 Life Lessons From a Primal Elder to Younger Groks appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Good morning, folks. Today’s awesome post is offered up by Primal Health Coach Chris Redig.
Are you struggling to see results at the gym? Has your strength training hit a dead end? Maybe you’ve noticed that lifting heavy things doesn’t automatically build muscle. It doesn’t automatically get results.
There’s nothing worse than putting in the work but seeing no benefits. Carving time out of a busy schedule to lift heavy things is already a Herculean effort. That time needs to be productive. So, if you’re struggling to get results, here are the ten most likely reasons.
1) You’re Not Fully Motivated (Yet)
Building a lean muscular physique takes considerable work. There’s nothing quick or easy about it. To maintain your motivation, it helps to remember the benefits.
Not only is it fantastic for your health and a great longevity strategy, but it’s arguably the best form of exercise to lose fat.
A lean, muscular physique is useful, visually appealing, and built for adventure. Whether you’re climbing trees with your kids, portaging a boat or carrying someone away from danger, muscles help get jobs done.
Strength training checks all the boxes, and it’s hard to imagine a better use of your time at the gym. But it’s not always easy to make consistent progress. If you’re struggling to get results, your training may lack progressive overload.
2) There’s No Progressive Overload
How do you build muscle? The answer lies in the concept known as progressive overload. When you lift heavy things, you create a significant challenge for your muscles. In response to that challenge, they grow bigger.
So far so good.
But as they grow bigger, the heavy things stop being heavy enough. It may feel heavy enough. You probably don’t enjoy lifting it. But for your muscles, it has stopped being a reason to get bigger.
Consequently, to maintain growth you must strive to increase the challenge. The two best ways to do this are by either increasing the amount of weight you are lifting or increasing the number of reps you are performing.
In other words, if you lift the same weight for the same number of reps week after week and month after month, you are not building muscle. Progressive overload is central to success. To get bigger, focus on lifting heavier.
If you’re not sure how to maintain progressive overload, you’re probably not logging your sessions.
3) You’re Not Logging Your Sessions
But how do you know how many reps to aim for? How do you know how much weight to lift? Initially, the answers will depend on the program you’re following. But once you get started, the answers will be determined by your last session.
So, you need a log book.
First, a log book tracks your progress. It will record how many reps you performed and how much weight you lifted. This is how you know what to do at the gym at your next session. And this is how you know if you’re building muscle.
Second, having a log book will keep you honest. It will force you to train hard. You’ll know the numbers you need to beat. It will prevent you from putting down the bar and thinking, “Well, that was easy.”
Third, it will give you a record of achievement. It takes months to see significant results. That can seem daunting and discouraging. A log book brings those future results into the present. It’s a regular reminder that you’re getting stronger.
Finally, if you start keeping a log book, you may notice that you train inconsistently.
4) You’re Training Inconsistently
Habits first. Muscles second. Nothing short of time and consistency is going to get results. A single hard session at the gym isn’t going to cut it.
Therefore, it’s crucial to build some habits. Going to the gym should be on autopilot. First, this requires a different mindset and a shift in focus. The desire to get results should become an obsession to become consistent.
Second, a fitness journey needs to be sustainable. To be fit requires consistent work. If the work stops, the fitness slips away. Ask yourself, how many times per week do I want to go to the gym 18 months from now? Make gym time sustainable. Become consistent.
But with consistent training comes the risk of training too hard.
5) You’re Training Too Hard
As you progress and strive to beat your last session, you will start failing reps. Failing a rep is exactly what it sounds like. You hit a point where you simply cannot finish another rep without taking a break.
It’s easiest to experience with pullups. After a certain number of pullups, you hit a wall. You can’t get over the bar again without taking a rest. The purpose of strength training is to push that point of failure back further and further.
But you can train too hard. It’s probably not a good idea to constantly fail reps. The goal isn’t to feel wrecked the next day. And if you can’t do another rep, resist the temptation to cheat. Progress shouldn’t come at the expense of good form or range of motion. You don’t want to get sloppy to show fake progress. Your last pullup shouldn’t look significantly different than your first pullup.
Instead, always leave a couple reps in the bank. Stop one to three reps before failure. It’s okay to occasionally hit failure. But don’t spend a day at the gym training to total failure or getting sloppy.
If you’re training too hard, you might also be too focused on fatigue.
6) You’re Too Focused on Fatigue
You’re at the gym lifting heavy things. You’re pouring sweat, out of breath and about five minutes from total collapse.
If you want to build your mental toughness, work capacity or conditioning, then yes. But if your goal is muscle, then it’s questionable. The body adapts pretty narrowly to the stress you impose.
If you’re too focused on fatigue, your body will primarily get better at preventing fatigue. If you want more muscle, then you need to focus on stressing your muscle through progressive overload.
This means you should catch your breath between sets. You don’t need to jump straight from one set into the next just to keep your heart rate up. Take your time. Be ready mentally and physically to lift the weight. Be ready to give your best and most impressive effort each and every set.
Instead of pushing your endurance, try pushing your comfort zone.
7) You’re Stuck Inside Your Comfort Zone
The goal is to feel comfortable all over the gym. Maybe you’ve noticed there are specific areas where all the fit people train. They spend their time by the squat racks and deadlift platforms. There’s a reason they’re over there. Compound lifts work.
They’re time efficient. They improve coordination, movement patterns and flexibility. And they’re useful outside the gym. It’s worth taking the time to learn the challenging lifts. Just take it slow, and do your research.
Owning the difficult lifts will also give your motivation a big boost. Few things are as motivating as stepping outside your comfort zone and mastering a new skill. Stay safe, but don’t stay comfortable.
Weighing yourself can also be very uncomfortable. But is it the right measure?
8) You’re Using the Wrong Measure
The scale doesn’t tell the whole story. Nothing tells the whole story. Progress is slow and hard to see. A fitness coach might ask for weigh-ins, measurements and pics, and even then progress can be hard to detect, until one day it’s obvious.
If you’re starting out or struggling, then you need to build a foundation of improved habits, health and fitness. This is the hardest and most important part of the journey, but it isn’t easy to measure.
Fortunately, it is easy to measure progress in your strength training. You can judge your training by your log book. If you’re getting stronger, then your gym time is productive. The visual results are coming.
If your progress is still stalled, you’re probably training too little.
9) You’re Training Too Little
When you first start strength training, almost any amount of lifting will produce results. Newbie gains are fantastic. You’re constantly setting new PRs and getting stronger. But over time the progress slows and eventually stops.
You could stop right there. Those initial gains are plenty to look, move and feel great. You could focus on other dimensions of fitness or active leisure. And if you have dialed in your diet and lifestyle, you will look completely beach-ready.
But for those who want more, the answer is often more volume. And at this point your training becomes a balancing act. On the one hand, you need to ask “Can I spend more time lifting? Am I recovering? Am I avoiding injury?” And on the other hand you need to ask “Am I getting stronger? Am I increasing my lifts or reps?” There’s no formula. It’s an N=1 experiment.
If you’re struggling to increase your volume of training, it may be time to look at your recovery strategy.
10) You’re Not Recovering
The central pillar of any recovery strategy is diet and lifestyle. As readers of Mark’s Daily Apple, you already know what you want to be eating. Now the hard part is doing it. If past efforts have been ineffective and you’re struggling, I recommend taking a slow approach.
Better and best are not enemies. Many of the benefits of eating a good diet are dose responsive. This means that small improvements in your diet provide real benefits. Plus, those small improvements become habits and generate momentum.
Eating well is a set of skills. And skills need to be practiced.
My own diet transformation was a multi-year journey. Over time bad habits turned into good habits. The good habits accumulated. And one day, my diet was on autopilot. It takes time. It takes consistency. It’s worth it.
Strength training is a key ingredient of looking, moving and feeling your best. I hope some of these recommendations help you break through to the next level. Thanks for reading.
About the Author:
Chris Redig is a health and fitness coach. He loves helping people move, look and feel their best by optimizing their nutrition, movement and lifestyle. He is a Primal Health Coach, a Henselmans Personal Trainer and a Movnat Master Trainer. He has lived, adventured and traveled in 20 different countries and holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs. In particular, he loves to help adventure-enthusiasts build ready-for-anything minds and bodies. He currently lives in Denmark with his wife and two kids. For online coaching or a free consultation, visit www.chrisredig.com. Or you can follow him on Instagram.
To learn how you can become a certified Primal Health Coach like Chris Redig, click the following link and download the free eBook How to Become a Health Coach: 5 Steps to Embarking on a Career You Love.
Thanks to Chris for stopping by the blog today and sharing his coaching wisdom. And thanks to everyone out there for reading today. Have a question for Chris—or a post idea our Primal Health Coaches can weigh in on? Let us know down below. Have a great end to your week.
The post Top 10 Reasons You’re Not Getting the Results You Want in the Gym appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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One of my closest friends lives two doors away. We’ve eaten countless meals at one another’s homes, and yet, if you ask me to grab a glass or a plate in his kitchen, I will open at least three cabinets before I find what I’m looking for — and the same thing happens when he’s at my house. The point I’m trying to make (aside from the fact that silverware should totally live in a drawer right below the plates) is that people have very different ways of approaching food and cooking and meal prep. And I find it all…
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