If you are anything like me, you want to get the most benefit, with the least amount of effort, out of everything you do. I thought I would share the top tips I have garnered from all of my seeking. I have simplified this list down from hundreds of hours of learning from multiple experts on nutrition and human performance. These are the common things that ALL of them say. If you are interested, you can research each of these suggestions further. But, I know many folks just want to get to the punch line, without all the build-up.
So, without further ado, here are my top tips for improving your life and your mental health. These are the “biggest levers”, meaning they will have the most impact on your life quickly and for the long term. There are so many other suggestions that can be made, but these are the big ones. I suggest you try to pick 3 and try them for 1 month. One month to see if you can change your life, seems like a pretty good use of your time, no?
- “Eat whole foods, not too much, mostly plants”. Michael Pollan, the journalist and author of books such as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food”, said this 20 years ago, and he has proven to be right. If you follow only one rule on nutrition, this is it. The Standard American Diet (with the appropriate acronym S.A.D.) is full of sugar, carbs, preservatives, and bad fats, and it is making us sick and fat.
- Bye-bye Sugar: You probably already know this, but maybe you don’t want to take it on. I get it. It is HARD to cut sugar out of your life. But all the research clearly indicates that sugar is incredibly detrimental to your short and long term health. And I mean both processed sugar, and sugar in fruits. Sorry.
Grain: You have heard of the pitfalls of gluten, but really, cutting out, or cutting back on most grains will help many people. Even “good” grains, because they are hard to digest and can cause tears in the lining of your small intestine. Nuts and seeds are cool, but grains (and bad carbs) should be cut out or used sparingly.
Good Fats: This is where the news gets good. Good fats include yummy coconut oil, avocados, fats from pasture raised meats, ghee or grass fed butter. Flat out, the FDA was wrong, Fat is good for us, and necessary.
Intermittent fasting: I don’t mean starving yourself for weeks. I mean fasting for 12-14 hours at a time. So basically, dinner at 6pm and no more food until 8 or 9 the next morning. That is pretty achievable for most people, and helps your body enter autophagy and burn fats and excess carbs, rather than glucose.
Morning Ritual: Tim Ferriss has a great description of his morning ritual, that includes a gratitude journal practice. Try it, and see if you notice how simple the things that bring you joy are. Also, gratitude is now scientifically proven to improve your life. Boom. For more on this see our article about Morning Practice.
How many studies about the importance of spending time in nature or the new “forest bathing” trend do you need to read before you believe this? You can start as simply as sitting in your backyard for 10 minutes a day. Aim to turn off your mind, and tune into your body and the sounds and sensations around you. If you have a local park or forest with trails near you, then try to spend a good hour there at least one day a week. PS, this is a really easy and enjoyable one. Much easier than cutting out sugar!
MOVE! And regularly, like every day (this goes well with NATURE above). This does not mean you have to start a crazy workout regime. Getting your body moving for 20-30 minutes a day helps you calm your mind, reduces the risk of many diseases, increases your BDNF levels, and improves sleep. It’s more important that you do something frequently, than doing a super hard workout, but only once in a while. James Clear writes a lot about the power of habit with regard to exercise, and gives good guidelines on how to stick with it.
Potentially this should be at the top of the list. I KNOW. It seems really hard to do this, and really hard to stick with it. It seems like nothing is happening. Your mind races, it is frustrating, you just CAN’T. I tell you that meditation has changed my life more than any other thing in the past 5 years. Also, by the way, something like 95% of the high performers in the world meditate. And guess what? Now there are great, easy apps to help. Headspace is pleasant, easy to use, almost fun. Sam Harris’ Waking Up is much more intellectual, and digs into the nature of meditation itself, good if you need the reasons to believe. Please just try it for a month, 10 minutes a day, and then look back and see if it has helped you.
That’s it. I promise you, if you can do a good portion of these things, your quality of life will improve. And go easy on yourself. Commit. Make the time, but don’t kill yourself (or give up!) if you slip. Self-love should be a given with all of this, but that’s a whole other topic.
PS: I realize that sleep should be on this list. It is a major epidemic these days. The reason it is not, is because it is not an easy fix, like most of these are. AND, if you do 90% of the above, chances are you will sleep better. Bonus.
Founder, Plant Society