Let me guess… you are trying to be “healthier”. You’d like a little more energy and a few less pounds, but you’re confused. The buzz words floating around the health and wellness space make it impossible to keep up. We are bombarded with the latest studies, fad diets, and expert opinions, and are left not committing to anything and not seeing results.
The truth is, if you want to get serious about your health, nutrition is something to take seriously, but it doesn’t have to be confusing. Let me make it simple for you. You need to approach nutrition with what I call the Three Core Pillars of optimal nutrition—what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat. If you aren’t considering all three pillars, you are missing a big part of the picture.
Pillar 1: WHAT to Eat
This is where the vast majority of “experts” spend their time and where most of us think nutrition begins and ends. An endless array of words like protein, carbs, fats, fibre, sugar, whole-grain, organic, saturated/unsaturated, vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, and Keto live here! Although what we put in our mouths is important, it is not the end of the story. Pillar 1 of proper nutrition is identifying which foods work for you, which work against you, and with what quantities your body functions best. With this pillar, everyone is yelling at you and you can get stuck before you get started.
Pillar 2: WHEN to Eat
This pillar is often overlooked, but it is critical to optimizing your health. Although there is less noise here, there is still enough chatter to cause confusion: terms like Intermittent Fasting, Extended Fasting, Time Restricted Eating, and Eating Windows. Pillar 2 is about understanding when meals and snacks should be consumed to work best with your lifestyle and energy requirements, and when to allow the body to rest and repair.
Pillar 3: HOW to Eat
This is the pillar no one talks about. It is by far the most overlooked aspect of nutrition, but can be a gamechanger for those with busy and stressful lives. How we eat deals with the science of stress and how it affects our metabolic and digestive processes.
Our sympathetic nervous system is the fight or flight mechanism that reacts to stress. It turns off digestion by moving blood flow away from the stomach and to our limbs. It was designed to support us in life threatening situations, like the textbook example of meeting a lion. We don’t want our body wasting energy on digestion when we need to run! In today’s culture we are under attack daily: a looming work deadline, screaming children, a toxic relationship, or a traffic jam. But here’s the secret: our body can’t tell the difference between the lion and the deadline! So your sympathetic nervous system is activated, and digestive upset and poor nutrient absorption result.
Around meal times we need to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and digest” system. It directs blood to the stomach and prepares cells to refuel. Luckily, this system is easy to activate—just slow down and breathe! You don’t breathe deeply and slowly when you are rushing out the door spilling coffee, reading a text, yelling at the kids, and eating a bagel! Slow down. Breathe. Connect with your food. Breathing with intention is a powerful metabolizer.
These three pillars all have one thing in common—you have to turn off the noise and be present. So stop reading that latest diet book and googling “fat loss”, and start paying attention to the only expert’s opinion that matters: your body. Take the time to reintroduce yourself; it’s been trying to talk to you for years.
Eating is an act to provide your body with fuel. Start with that solitary premise. Then listen for what the resident expert (your body) has to say, and the results will be amazing. It really is that simple. Slow down and take a deep breath. Observe and be curious. Listen to what your expert says about what you eat, when you eat, and how you eat. Trust the innate wisdom your body has to offer. The answers are right there.
Jason Podollan is an NHL alumnus, father of three sons, and Founder of Up My Life, an online holistic health coaching service. Jason believes there is a superhero in all of us and the greatest gift you can offer your loved ones is your best self. Jason is a respected voice on men’s health issues and coaches healthy and sustainable lifestyle design. upmylife.com