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I belong to a ladies’ trail running community online. These women are cool, badass humans who perform amazing feats with their bodies. Last month, someone asked the group if they ever struggle with body image. The responses were overwhelmingly affirmative. Hundreds upon hundreds of women responded, “Yes! Me. Every single day.” Only a very few said no.
It was eye-opening and also woefully unsurprising. Most adults I know struggle with body image on some level.
Those of us who are parents would love to spare our children from this emotional baggage, but how do we help our kids develop healthy body image in today’s world? We’re up against massive biological and, especially, social forces. Humans are hardwired to see — and judge — faces and bodies, looking for signs of friendliness, similarity, and fertility. Our early survival as a species depended on it.
The modern diet and beauty industries have taken these natural propensities and exploited them to the nth degree. They bombard us with messaging, both subtle and overt, telling us we must do everything in our power to be as physically attractive as possible. No amount of time or money is too much to invest in the quest for beauty and the “perfect” physique. Oh, and definitely don’t show any signs of aging. The wrinkles, gray hair, and natural softening of the body that comes with growing older? Not allowed! Obviously, if you fail to live up to the ever-changing ideal, it is 100 percent your fault.
Short of moving to the woods and disconnecting from society entirely, we can’t keep our kids from being exposed. Our best hope is to help them develop a healthy body image early. Give them a strong foundation so when they inevitably get caught up in Hurricane Diet Culture, they may waver, but they’ll stay standing.
The strategy is two-fold: First, do your best not to repeat and perpetuate the culture that creates insecurity and negative body image. Second, teach kids to trust, respect, and appreciate their bodies regardless of appearance.
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What is a Healthy Body Image, Anyway?
If you had asked me this a couple years ago, I would have said it’s feeling attractive in your own skin. You should love your body and feel confident no matter what you look like because all bodies are beautiful.
My thinking has changed, though. Now I think a healthy body image means seeing your body as worthy of care and respect — especially self-care and self-respect — period. Instead of focusing on self-love and feeling attractive, I hope my children respect their bodies, want to be good stewards of their health, and anchor their self-worth and self-esteem in factors other than physical appearance.
This isn’t the definitive definition of healthy body image. It’s what we strive for in our family. I don’t pretend that society doesn’t care about appearance, nor tell them that they shouldn’t care either. That would be impossible. Rather, I want them to know that their appearance is only one of many of their qualities, by far not the most interesting or important one, and certainly not the one that determines their value as a person.
9 Ways to Support Healthy Body Image in Kids
I’ll tell you up front: you probably do some of these things “wrong” right now. That’s natural. As parents, we try to bolster our children’s self-esteem. As Primal enthusiasts, we want to teach them about nutrition and building healthy bodies. Our natural inclinations will sometimes lead us afoul of the recommendations below, which come from childhood body image and eating disorder experts.
1. Cut The Negative Body Talk
Negative body talk is when you disparage your own or someone else’s body. It should go without saying that if you want your child to have a healthy body image, don’t criticize their body. That’s the bare minimum. You also have to watch how you talk about other people’s bodies, including your own.
Kids are always listening and internalizing. Negative body talk communicates to them explicitly or implicitly that some bodies are better. They naturally start to see themselves as objects of judgment and wonder whether their bodies are good enough.
“Ugh, I look so gross today.”
“Wow, that person should really avoid spandex, yikes.”
“That skirt is cute, but I can’t wear it with these thighs.”
“I have to put on makeup before this Zoom so I look presentable. Nobody wants to see these eye bags.”
Negative body talk usually comes from a place of insecurity and judgment. It’s also extremely common. Women especially learn that this is a safe way to communicate with female friends.” No dessert for me. I feel so fat today.” “You?! You look amazing. Look at me!” Once you start to tune into it, you realize just how pervasive it is.
Before commenting on your own or someone else’s body, ask yourself: “What is the underlying message I’m sending my kid with this statement? Could it cause them to feel insecure about their own body?” If yes, keep it to yourself.
2. Compliment Your Child on Features Other Than Appearance
Compliments like, “You’re so cute!” or “Don’t you look beautiful in that dress?” are undoubtedly well-meaning. The problem is, they also reinforce to kids that when they are pretty or handsome, that pleases the adults in their life. Being pretty must be important. If they aren’t pretty or handsome, is that displeasing then?
Of course we think our kids are adorable, but kids don’t need to know they are cute. They need to know they are valued and loved. Try these instead:
“Thank you for singing me that silly song. It made my heart happy!”
“You’ve been working so hard on your guitar lessons. You’re really dedicated, that’s awesome.”
“I love how sparkly your dress is! I can’t wait for you to come home and tell me all about the dance.”
This also applies when you’re talking about other people. Instead of, “Your friend Lily is so pretty,” go with “I love to listen to Lily laugh,” or “Lily is such a kind friend.”
3. Focus on What Their Body Does Rather than What It Looks Like
Bodies are made for function, not for decoration. Not all bodies have the same abilities or chronic health issues, of course, but every body is still miraculous. The fact that synapses fire and hearts beat is amazing. Our bodies are basically sacks of meat and fluid that allow us to move through time and space — wild!
Help your child celebrate the wondrous things their body does that have nothing to do with how it looks. “I can tell that your soccer drills are helping you dribble with more precision.” “Isn’t climbing trees fun? You pulled yourself up so quickly!”
4. Speak Respectfully about Your Own Body
Your body is every bit as wondrous as your child’s, but what do they hear you say about it? Most of us rarely speak positively about our bodies, lest we seem conceited. More to the point, we may find it difficult to find nice things to say about ourselves. It’s bad for our children’s body image, and it’s bad for ours.
Kids need to see that it’s ok to talk kindly about their bodies. Just as importantly, it’s possible to be neutral and not judge at all. “Flaws” are just features that don’t have to carry a bunch of emotional weight. If your kids are like mine, they will give you plenty of openings to model speaking respectfully about your body.
“Why is your tummy squishy?” “Tummies come in lots of shapes. This is mine.”
“What are those scars on your legs?” “Those are stretch marks from when my body grew when I was growing you inside me. I like that they remind me of that special time.”
“Your arms are flabby.” “I think my arms are perfect for hugging, thank you very much.”
You can also turn their comments around and ask questions like, “What do you like to do best with your arms?”
5. Banish Diet and Weight-Loss Talk
Your kids will get plenty of exposure to weight-loss and diet culture outside the home. They don’t need to know if you’re trying to lose weight. It’s a slippery slope into making them self-conscious about their own bodies.
The corollary to this is you should avoid labeling some foods as “fattening” or even as “bad.” In fact, avoid attaching good/bad labels to food altogether. This can be especially tricky for us Primal folks who have specific beliefs about what constitutes a healthy way of eating. Lead by example with your food choices. When they inevitably ask why you don’t eat bread or whatever, focus on the pros of the foods you do choose rather than demonizing the foods you avoid.
You can say things like, “Bread isn’t working for me right now. I feel like I have the energy to do more fun things when I have lots colorful vegetables instead!”
You don’t have to pretend all foods are equally nutritious, nor let food be a free-for-all in your house. The goal is to avoid moralizing and creating shame or guilt around food choices. Young kids won’t understand the concept of protein, fats, and carbs, but you can encourage them to eat a rainbow of foods to get lots of different building blocks. With older kids, gently introduce the concept that some foods can help them feel better and have more energy without condemning “junk foods.”
6. Celebrate Body Diversity
If everybody ate the same foods and did the same exercises, our bodies would still look different. Some people are tall, short, thin, fat, lean, muscly, blond, brunette. Children will always notice these differences, of course, so teach them to notice without judgment. Human diversity is a part of the awe-inspiring diversity of nature.
As they grow, your child will start to realize that their bodies are different from their friends’. Help them appreciate that, even — especially — when they are feeling insecure. “Yes, Max is taller than you, that’s true. I wonder how tall you’ll both be as adults. It’s interesting how some people are tall, while others are short. Everyone gets to see the world a little differently!”
7. Encourage Them to Move for Pleasure
The purpose of exercise needn’t be losing weight, burning calories, “earning” food, or punishing ourselves for something we already ate. Workouts build muscles, speed, or agility. Play engages body and mind, relieves stress, and offers fun and pleasure. Movement of all types feels good and provides energy. That’s why we should be moving our bodies as much as possible. Sometimes even we grown-ups forget that.
Some kids are naturally more active than others. If you have a kiddo who’d happily sit and read for 14 hours while their sibling plays in the pool, don’t make it a battle of wills. Lead by example, modeling everyday movement. Plan active family outings. Better yet, ask them to help you plan activities that they’ll enjoy and which the whole family can do together.
8. Instill Body Trust and Autonomy
In order for your kids to have a healthy body image, they have to feel connected to their bodies. You can support this by teaching them to trust and respond to their bodies’ signals, and by allowing them, within reason, to make choices about their bodies.
This one’s hard because you have to cede some control to your kids: letting them eat when you think they should be full, skip a meal when they should be hungry, don shorts on a cold day, wear a shirt that is two sizes too small, or get a haircut that you think is truly wretched. Sometimes it may even mean letting them choose foods for themselves that you usually avoid.
Think of it as short term pain for long term gain on your part. It might irk the bejeezus out of you when they eat nothing but cheese for lunch for a week, but who’s it hurting really? Nobody who isn’t lactose intolerant.
9. Teach Media Literacy
How great would it be if we could wipe out all body insecurity by simply teaching kids that the images they see in the media are the work of glam squads, body shapers, and lots of photoshopping? Alas, it’s not that simple, but it’s still an important lesson as kids get older.
As they start to notice all the ads for weight-loss programs and laser resculpting, discuss how advertising exploits our insecurities to get us to spend money. Let them be offended by it. Good, maybe they won’t be so easily manipulated.
Guide them in limiting their exposure to media and accounts that make them feel “less than.” Talk to them about what they see and how it makes them feel.
Parenting from a Place of Love and Support Rather than Fear
Years ago, Mark wrote a post about the delicacy of talking to kids about weight. One commenter shared that the best thing their parents could have done would have been to talk to her about weight and health from a place of love instead of judgment and projecting their own fear.
Fear is understandable. We know that this world is not kind to fat people. Fat children commonly experience bullying.https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/weight-bias-in-the-workplace-a-literature-review-2329-6879-1000206.php?aid=55088‘>2 Weight stigma, including at the hands of medical professionals, leads to worse health outcomes for both kids and adults, which then gets attributed to the weight itself.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29171076‘>4 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/114298#1‘>1 Writing down your choices forces you to be accountable for your actions.
It could also be that you’re restricting too much during the day, then binging at night. A food journal is a great way to monitor eating patterns and course correct right away. This free online tracker features a huge database of foods (including restaurant options), but if you’re looking for a less fussy way to keep track, just grab a notebook and start writing.
Keep this in mind too. Although the scale isn’t budging, you might actually be losing fat. Notice if your tops are easier to button, if your pants are looser, or your face is looking slimmer. People often look to the scale for validation on weight loss efforts, but what you really want is fat loss, which won’t necessarily be reflected on the scale.
“I’m training for a virtual half-marathon this summer with a sub-2-hour finish goal, which would be about a 10-minute PR for me. Even though I’m running every day, I can’t seem to run faster without stopping to catch my breath. What gives?”
Just like weight loss, plateaus are an inevitable part of the training process. And while your speed may indicate what you’re capable of right now, it doesn’t dictate what you’re capable of in the future. Well, once you get to the root of what’s holding you back.
You’re putting in the work, however there could be outside forces compromising your efforts. For instance, if work or family life is really stressful or you’re not fueling yourself properly, your body will feel drained and won’t respond appropriately.
There could also be physiological factors at play. And being overly focused on your goal might be one of them. I can tell that you’re highly motivated because you’re out there training daily. But sometimes being too results-oriented can backfire.
If every time you lace up you worry that you won’t run fast enough to reach your PR, guess what will happen? You won’t run fast enough to reach your PR. Seems simple, but your mind has a powerful way of getting you closer to your goals — or further away.
The second self-doubt starts to creep in, you’re already sabotaging yourself.
In this case, training your mind is as important as training your body. Some athletes look ahead to their workouts with fear and anxiety, worrying about their performance and all the what ifsthat come with it. Others don’t let past experiences (or fears about past experiences) influence their workouts.
Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck studies the impact of people’s underlying beliefs about their abilities and found that those who believe their traits are fixed, meaning you’re either born with a certain trait or not (what she calls a Fixed Mindset), often resist and dread challenges, while those who believe deep down that they can improve (called a Growth Mindset) tend to reach their goals more easily.
Dweck conducted several studies and found that individuals who had a growth mindset achieved higher levels of success in different areas of their lives, regardless of their initial abilities.
Tip: Reframe your challenges as opportunities
Instead of focusing on securing your 10-minute PR, forcing faster speeds, and panicking that they won’t be fast enough, take each run as a chance to grow, without worrying about where you’ve been or where you’re going. Start by writing down your challenges. They might be, “I’m out of breath by mile 3” or “How am I going to keep this pace for 13 miles?” Then, write down the potential opportunity, like “I bet I can make it to 4 miles tomorrow” or asking yourself what you can learn about yourself from maintaining a faster-than-normal pace.
By flipping the script on your perceived obstacles, you’re actually allowing yourself to overcome them. Remember, a plateau is never permanent. And it certainly doesn’t define you as a runner. You just have to get your mind in the right space.
“I’m the official definition of a couch potato. I follow the Primal Blueprint and I’m onboard with eating meat, fish, and nuts, but when it comes to movement, it’s a no-go. I find I’m spending a lot of time sitting around, trudging through my day. How do I move the needle on starting an exercise routine?”
Our comfort zones are such a comfortable place to be, aren’t they? But here’s the deal. Comfort zones aren’t really about comfort. They’re about fear. In your case Jeff, it could be the fear of looking foolish, the fear of getting injured, or the fear of being judged. After all, if you’ve been a couch potato your whole life, what are people going to think when you start working out?
No one says you have to go all-in on a crazy exercise regimen. You don’t have to train for a marathon or even join a gym. It’s not a competition either, so what you see other people doing — even Primal Blueprint people is their business, not yours.
Tip: Start with Baby Steps
Assuming your efforts are stalling out due to the need to stay inside your comfort zone, you’ll want to brainstorm things you could do that aren’t so intense and scary. Some people thrive by jumping into the unknown, where others become quickly overwhelmed. I’m guessing you’re in the second camp.
My advice to you is to take small steps toward your goal. What would you say about walking to the end of your street and back every morning? Or following one of the quick free workouts on the Mark’s Daily Apple YouTube channel? Or adding a few microworkouts to your day that you can literally do in 60 seconds or less. You can even use your couch as a squat bench if you like.
The point is, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by activities you’ve deemed are outside of your comfort zone, but by taking baby steps, you’ll notice your comfort zone gradually getting bigger and bigger.
What’s worked for you? Tell me about your experience getting through a plateau in the comments!
The post Ask a Health Coach: Real Tips on Breaking Through a Plateau appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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Just over 20 years ago, Google was a garage startup, and no one had heard of “fat loss hacks.”
But a lot can change in two decades. (We’ll spare you the screenshot of our search results.)
One thing that hasn’t changed: Obesity is still on the rise.1
Which is to say:
There are no legitimate fat loss hacks—despite server farms filled with fat loss hacks.
That’s because obesity isn’t a simple, hackable problem.
There are many interconnected factors—physical, psychological, social, environmental, emotional—that influence our ability to eat less and move more.
And the magnitude of each factor can vary for any given individual. For a visual, check out the illustration below.
Now here’s the ironic part:
Most “diet hacks,” “fast fixes,” and “easy solutions” make fat loss even harder than it needs to be.
These approaches often promote overly restrictive and unnecessary rules that:
- eliminate carbs or sugar
- demonize fat or meat (ethical reasons aside)
- moralize food choices (implying there’s a “right” and “wrong” way to eat)
- encourage or require dietary perfection
- emphasize what’s theoretically optimal over what’s truly practical (and may advise supplements or “superfoods” as necessary components)
This isn’t to suggest food and exercise choices don’t matter. But rather to say: Compared to most fat loss hacks, you (or your clients) can enjoy greater flexibility in what you eat and how you exercise—and still get the lasting results you want.
Our case? The 10 charts that follow, labeled Exhibits A-J. When it comes to fat loss, they may help you picture a more effective and sustainable solution—no “hacks” necessary.
Exhibit A: The foods we eat the most.
There’s no doubt: Many people who struggle with weight control eat too many carbs. (And too much fat.) But is this an indictment of the carbs themselves? Or the sources of those carbs? Consider this data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).2
Based on this research, nearly one-quarter of the average American’s calorie intake comes from desserts, candy, snacks, and sugary drinks. (Not all foods are shown in the chart.)
That’s a good chunk of daily calories.
These foods aren’t on anyone’s recommended eating list. But as you can probably see: Drastically cut carbs—or even just sugar—and you’ll automatically eliminate most of these “junk foods.” (And, importantly, lots of calories from both carbs and fat.)
This leads to a popular claim: When you give up carbs, you stop craving junk food, making it easier to lose fat.
Which may indeed be true. But is this because you’ve eliminated the carbs, or because you’ve eliminated the junk food?
Our next chart provides some insight.
Exhibit B: The delicious foods we can’t resist.
In a recent study, University of Michigan researchers looked at the “addictive” qualities of common foods.3 The chart below shows the 10 foods that people are most likely to rate as “problematic,” using the Yale Food Addiction Scale.
Whether you restrict carbs or fat, nine out of 10 of these foods would be off-limits—or at least significantly reduced.
Note that all but one are ultra-processed foods, and most contain some combination of sugar, fat, and salt.
This ingredient combo makes these foods “hyper-palatable”—or so delicious they’re hard to stop eating. Food manufacturers engineer them to be this way. (Learn more: Manufactured deliciousness: Why you can’t stop overeating.)
What about the foods, such as soda or chocolate, that aren’t loaded with all three of those ingredients? They tend to contain “drug-like” compounds—such as caffeine and/or theobromine—to enhance their appeal.
With this in mind, It’s worth taking a look back at the previous chart, too. Eight out of 10 of the most “addictive” foods shown here in Exhibit B are also five out of the top six most consumed categories of foods in Exhibit A.
What do they have in common? They’re usually ultra-processed and manufactured to be irresistible.
Now consider: What foods are especially problematic for you? And what do they have in common?
(To test this on yourself or with a client, download our Yale Food Addiction Scale worksheet.)
Typically, minimally-processed, whole foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, and whole grains aren’t high on many people’s “problem” lists. We simply don’t tend to overeat these foods consistently.
Yet there are fat loss hacks that tell you to avoid fruit, never eat a starchy vegetable, and eschew beans and grains of any kind.
Our question: When exactly did these foods become the problem?
Which brings us to our next item.
Exhibits C-G: The nutritious foods we aren’t eating.
Public health officials have long advised we eat more vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains.
But these recommendations have come under fire for not working. Because collectively, we’ve gotten fatter despite them. The argument from certain camps: It’s the fault of these “healthy” foods.
Is that the case, though?
Or is it because people are eating other (ultra-processed, hyper-palatable) foods instead?
If that sounds like a loaded question, here’s why:
According to NHANES data, 58.5 percent of all calories consumed in the US come from ultra-processed foods.4
And our consumption habits aren’t improving: During the five-year survey period, that percentage increased by one percent every year.
But let’s take a closer look at the recommended “health” foods, starting with whole grains, since they’re often particularly vilified.
Given this NHANES data, you can certainly argue people eat too many refined, ultra-processed grains.5
But whole grains? Comparatively speaking, people still aren’t eating them.
The same is true for fruit.5
The reality is this: When looking to improve their diet, most people focus on subtraction. They might say: “I’m giving up sugar” (see Exhibit A) or “I’m cutting out junk food” (see Exhibit B).
Trouble is, there’s often no plan for what they’ll eat instead. This can lead to feelings of deprivation and diet dissatisfaction.
That’s why it can help to start with addition: Eat more vegetables. Eat more fruit. Eat more whole grains and legumes. Eat more lean protein. (Men tend to consume fattier sources of protein, which provide more calories, and women often struggle with getting enough protein overall.)
Based on our experience working with over 100,000 clients, this “add first” strategy can be highly effective at “crowding out” ultra-processed, hyper-palatable foods. (No, this doesn’t mean you have to live life without any “junk food”: Learn why.)
Besides getting more nutritious foods into your diet, something else often happens when you “add first”: You automatically eat less.
An example: A recent study conducted at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (an institute of the NIH).6
Twenty adults were admitted to a metabolic ward and randomized to a diet of ultra-processed foods or minimally-processed foods. They were allowed to consume as much or as little as desired. After two weeks, they switched and did the alternative diet for two weeks.
The result: As you can see in the chart below, participants ate 508 more Calories per day and gained weight on the ultra-processed diet. They lost weight on the minimally-processed diet.
It’s a small but very well-controlled study (other studies have shown similar outcomes7,8), and it reflects what we often see with clients who use our “add first” approach.
Their overall calorie intake goes down as they include more minimally-processed foods in their diet. They find food more fulfilling and satisfying.
If it seems counter to conventional wisdom to add versus subtract, you might ask yourself: What if conventional wisdom is wrong?
You’ll undoubtedly find that adding first is far easier than overhauling your diet instantly. And if it’s not working for you, you always have the option to subtract.
But the best part: It doesn’t require perfection to drive meaningful results, as you’ll see in Exhibit H.
Exhibit H: Progress doesn’t require perfection.
When we coach clients at Precision Nutrition, we don’t expect them to change their habits or build new skills overnight. We don’t even want them to try.
Instead, we give them one daily health habit to practice—such as consuming five daily servings of fruit and vegetables or eating lean protein at each meal—every two weeks for 12 months.
These practices accumulate, and by the end of the year, they’re incorporating 25 practices total.
This is how we help folks develop healthy eating and lifestyle skills and habits that become automatic—and aren’t reliant on discipline and willpower.
None of these practices direct clients to avoid certain foods.
That just happens.
But because our clients are humans, it doesn’t happen all the time.
And that’s okay. It works anyway.
Our data shows when people are 90 percent consistent with their daily practices, the results are usually amazing.
But even when folks are only 50 to 80 percent consistent, they experience profound outcomes.
What’s more, clients who are just 10 to 49 percent consistent can still make significant, meaningful progress.
Here’s what the results look like.
This approach is based on the idea that progress isn’t about perfection.
It’s about accepting that better is better. And that consistent effort, even if small, can translate into meaningful fat loss and health benefits.
That’s not just true when it comes to nutrition. It’s true of exercise, too…
Exhibit I: Movement doesn’t have to be programmed.
Here’s a fun chart. It tracks the change in daily energy expenditure from 1900 to the early 2000s.9 The researchers also plotted the widespread adoption of both time-saving and time-wasting technology.
The finding: a 60 to 70 percent reduction in total daily energy expenditure over the last century.
In a previous study, the same scientists calculated that actors playing the part of Australian settlers 150 years ago were 1.6 to 2.3 times more active than sedentary modern office workers.10 That’s the equivalent of walking 5 to 10 more miles daily (or around 10,000 to 20,000 steps).
This isn’t to suggest you need to start walking 10 miles a day. It’s to emphasize how much less we move in today’s modern world compared to any other time in human history. And that most of us would benefit from more daily movement of any kind, even if we regularly work out.
Practically-speaking, this might only require a mindset shift. For example:
- Vacuuming the house
- Weeding the yard
- Taking the dog for an extra walk
- Shooting hoops in the driveway
- Marco Polo with the kids (instead of watching them play in the pool)
These aren’t hassles or time drains: They’re opportunities to move a little more while you accomplish other stuff.
No, these activities won’t maximize your per-hour calorie burn. But this slight reframing might inspire you to get more done, have more fun, and increase your daily energy expenditure significantly—all without requiring more time in the gym.
What to do next
We now present Exhibit J. If you’re a dedicated follower of PN, you may have seen this Venn diagram before. (We like it a lot.)
The upshot? The nutrition fundamentals in the middle of the diagram are universal among almost every well-considered dietary pattern. You might call them the basics.
That doesn’t mean they’re easy. In fact, they can be really hard.
After all, how many people do you know who consistently follow these six nutrition fundamentals?
Or perhaps more appropriately, how likely is the average person to successfully adopt these fundamentals all at once… for the long-term?
The odds aren’t good. You probably don’t need a chart to see that.
Now consider: If the basics are too hard, what can you expect from an approach that restricts even more foods or advises immediate and dramatic changes to what they’re doing now?
Make no mistake: One can do very well on keto, Paleo, fully-plant based, or any other type of diet. But overnight? That doesn’t usually happen, at least not in a way that’s sustainable.
Instead, we offer another approach—one that fosters lasting behavior change.
Here’s the short version of how to start:
Step 1. Focus on just one new daily practice at a time.
Do that for two weeks or three weeks. The idea is to choose a daily practice that helps you make positive progress, no matter how small. You could start with the fundamentals, selecting one of these options:
- Get enough high-quality protein
- Eat lots of produce
- Emphasize minimally-processed whole foods
- Eat slowly until satisfied
(After you’ve practiced one for a couple of weeks, try adding on another.)
Step 2. Make the practice seem easy.
If you’re eating one serving of fruits and vegetables a day now, getting five servings every single day might be too hard.
But could you shoot for three servings a day? Or five servings three or four days a week?
The idea: You want a practice that’s likely to result in success. You can build from there.
Imagine: If you stack easy on top of easy on top of easy, you wake up one day and realize you’ve made serious change, and it was… easier than you expected. (Because we won’t pretend lasting change is ever “easy.”)
Step 3. Chase consistency, not perfection.
Your day won’t always go as you want: a surprise deadline at work, an argument with your partner, an emergency trip to the vet.
But as we’ve already shown, you can see real benefits with less than 50 percent consistency. One day doesn’t negate your positive efforts.
All of this may seem too “basic” to work.
Or you might think, “It sounds way too slow! I need a faster fix!”
That’s completely understandable.
But you might feel this way because:
- You’re accustomed to appealing ads that promise “six-pack abs in six weeks” or a “bikini body in 30 days.”
- Your previous fat loss experiences have made you feel deprived and miserable (and often like a failure).
These two factors are closely related, in case you haven’t made the connection.
Because of this, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable by the “long duration” of behavior change, the lack of a “detailed eating plan,” or the idea of “making just one easy change at a time.”
If that’s the case, we’d simply ask:
How’d the alternative work for you in the past?
If you feel good about the experience and the outcome—and where you are now—maybe you’ve found what works for you.
But if you don’t have the warm, fuzzy feels, it may be time for a new approach (whether that’s for yourself or your clients).
One that helps you transform your eating and lifestyle habits, in a way that takes the full complexity of fat loss (and your whole life) into account.
So that you’re not miserable. You don’t feel deprived. And it’s hard to fail.
Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like a fat loss hack. (But it’s not.)
If you’re a coach, or you want to be…
Learning how to coach clients, patients, friends, or family members through healthy eating and lifestyle changes—in a way that’s personalized for their unique body, preferences, and lifestyle—is both an art and a science.
If you’d like to learn more about both, consider the Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certification. The next group kicks off shortly.
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The way it’s reported, you’d think that susceptibility to COVID-19 severity is equally distributed across the world’s population. But when you compare case and mortality rates between countries, differences emerge. There are even differences within countries and states and cities. It’s clear that other variables besides simple exposure to the virus and infection are at play. Research continues to emerge regarding risk factors for severe COVID-19.
What are they?
And, more importantly, can you modify any of the variables?
Does Blood Type Predict COVID-19 Severity?
Early on, researchers noticed an apparent association between blood type and coronavirus infection. Those with A or B-type blood were more likely to be positive; those with type O were less likely to carry the virus.https://journals.lww.com/ccejournal/Fulltext/2020/06000/Gender_Difference_Is_Associated_With_Severity_of.26.aspx‘>2 All 12 studies analyzed had similar results; there was very little heterogeneity.
Is this caused by sex, though? After all, from what I could tell, the meta-analysis failed to control for other variables that might have differed between the groups, like metabolic syndrome or obesity. And yet sex does play a role, even when a risk factor like obesity is accounted for. Other research confirms that overweight men are at greater risk for coronavirus severity than overweight women, for example, and we know from previous research that men and women have different types of immune responses to viruses and vaccines.https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/jpps/index.php/JPPS/article/view/31069‘>4
Verdict: Sex matters. Men are at greater risk.
Selenium Status and COVID-19
Early on, I noticed that selenium status plays a big role in susceptibility to a number of different viruses, including the flu, the original SARS, and many others. The viruses sequester selenium and utilize it to replicate and to weaken the host. Many of the original places where COVID-19 took hold had abysmal levels of soil selenium; this translates to lower levels of selenium in the food grown in the soil and a higher risk of population-wide selenium deficiency.https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/7/2098‘>6
Verdict: Likely. This hasn’t been proven to be causal, but it’s certainly trending in that direction. It can’t hurt to eat a couple Brazil nuts every day.
Can Adequate Vitamin D Improve Coronavirus Outcomes?
The earliest coronavirus hot spots were actually colder, cloudier spots with low UV-indexes. Wuhan, China, had a ton of cloud cover in January and always has a lot of air pollution which further blocks the UV light. Lombardy, Italy, also had pollution problems and UV index too low to produce much vitamin D. And now, studies are finally coming out lending credence to the idea that vitamin D protects against severe infection.
In Iran, COVID-19 patients with vitamin D levels above 30 ng/ml had a lower risk of severe infection and death.https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.06.21.20136903v2‘>8
It’s not just vitamin D, of course. Vitamin D is more likely a marker of sun exposure, which confers a multitude of other immune and health benefits. One such benefit with known links to COVID-19 is nitric oxide. Another is normalization of the circadian rhythm. So don’t assume mega-dosing vitamin D supplements will protect you from COVID-19 as much as getting natural sunlight will. Most of these people probably weren’t supplementing (or even thinking about) vitamin D at all. They went into the infection with the levels they had.
Verdict: Aim for 30 ng/mL and above. Get plenty of sunlight.
Does Obesity Make You More Susceptible?
Obesity is an enormous complicating variable. It’s not just because obese people are more likely to be unhealthy in other ways, although that’s probably part of it. It’s because obesity itself is unhealthy. Body fat secretes more inflammatory compounds and promotes an elevated baseline of inflammation. The coronavirus damages your body in part by up-regulating those inflammatory compounds. If you’re starting with elevated inflammation, you’re making the virus’ job that much easier.
Sure enough, obesity is linked to COVID-19 severity.https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M20-3742#f1-M203742‘>10 Extreme obesity (BMI of 45+) is even worse, with some research suggesting it quadruples the risk of severe COVID-19.https://www.staradvertiser.com/2020/08/13/breaking-news/amid-covid-19-pandemic-people-with-diabetes-struggle-to-get-insulin/‘>12 Among Chinese patients in another study, the mortality risk was 7.8% in those with diabetes and 2.7% in those without diabetes.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32231171/‘>14
However, those hypertension patients taking ACE inhibitors had a lower risk of severity or death than those hypertension patients who were not being treated.https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2550-z‘>16 In another study, between 20-50% of unexposed people showed t-cell activity against COVID-19.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32650004/‘>18
Both dietary omega-3s and omega-6s have been shown to strongly influence tissue levels of omega-3 and omega-6 and thus inflammatory/anti-inflammatory eicosanoid balance. My guess is that seed oil-eating people with elevated tissue omega-6s are at a greater risk for severe COVID-19 than people with more balanced omega-6:omega-3 tissue levels.
Verdict: We’ll see.
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Fermented Cabbage Intake
Most of the countries with low COVID-19 mortality rates have a long tradition of eating fermented cabbage. There’s South Korea with kimchi and the Balkans and Central Europe with sauerkraut. And in a recent study, researchers found that fermented cabbage intake predicted low COVID-19 mortality.