The five things that actually matter to start feeling better.
This is very long.. it won't always be this long, I promise!
First up, I wanted to extend a personal thank you for supporting my work with your paid subscription. It means a lot, more than I can probably express in words - thank you!
Every Friday (or maybe Thursday) you’ll get an email like this one with a little more substance and useful takeaways in it than the free email. I’ll be sharing research papers (the guts of them, not a 400 page novel!), an achievable tip, habit, behaviour or similar for you to try, maybe an exercise if there’s a particularly good one I discover, and also if a recipe I create turns out to be awesome then I’ll share that too.
If there is something you’d like to see here that fits into my wheelhouse of fitness, food, and feeling good, please let me know. Just reply to this email and it’ll get straight to me.
On with the show.
When we talk about things that affect our health, we can broadly put them into things we can control, and things we cannot.
We can control what we eat (to a point, I’m saving food deserts and poverty for another post).
We can control how much we move our bodies, again to a point, because injury, mobility restraints, access to equipment or a place to move, or even free time to move can be problematic.
We cannot control disease, injury, organ function. There are things we can do to sometimes improve situations like these but we can’t control them.
We cannot control our mental health. We can take medicine to help, but there is no on/off switch where we can suddenly be in a good place so it’s out of our control.
And so it makes sense that in our quest for health, we’d do things like eat better and move more because we can control those things and it would certainly be a good start to change things we can control.
Except 99% of the time we use the scale as a metric to measure the activity we can control like diet and exercise, to see if the activity and restriction is “working”.
And this is problematic because we cannot control the number of the scale, ever. There is not a single thing we can do that will predictably and reliably make a scale number go up or down, and because of this unpredictability, we will often have a go at changing our eating and exercise and become unsatisfied that the number is not doing what we want it to do, and will then blame the activities we could control for the thing that we can’t.
Phew! That was a mouthful, but are you picking up what I’m putting down?
The scale provides a set of data that over a long period of time can show an increase or decrease in weight of body. That’s it.
It doesn’t translate to health, and so knowing that, when looking to improve health, it really needs to be taken out of the equation.
Instead of focusing on the things we cannot control, let’s focus on the things we can.
My industry calls them healthy behaviours, they used to be called habits, but it really doesn’t matter what you call them. Because we control them, we choose when we do them or when we don’t. And being in control and having choice about things usually means more success, as we aren’t being told what to do or try to fit into a practice that isn’t us.
And so, in our quest for health (whatever that is, because let’s face it - it hasn’t really been defined anywhere) there are some entry level (doesn’t mean they are easy) practices which can make us “feel better” I put that in inverted commas because these following practices are not the be all and end all. It’s just a place to start, that isn’t the impossible, like trying control a scale for instance.
Or anything with water in it. We’ve been told it’s around 8 glasses of water or 3-4 litres, or whatever. But listen up. If you cannot drink water because it does not taste nice, but you can easily drink tea or soda, or juice or whatever, then go ahead and do that. Because there is water in all of those things, and you are far better off getting adequate hydration from other things than nothing at all because straight up water isn’t possible. Your hydration is key to feeling good. Get your hydration in where you can. Water does the job efficiently, but you can always make that a goal for later and just drink fluids that are achievable for right now. Hydration is by far the easiest thing to try and so this week we’ll focus on making it a thing as best we can.
Some people have a hard time sleeping - and I’m one of them. And so if it’s hard to sleep, we really need to figure out why and how to fix it so sleep is prioritised. We can control our sleep but it isn’t easy. I’ll tell you why I don’t sleep. I am not in a state of relaxation at bedtime largely because I am thinking of all the jobs I did not get done, and will have to do the next day. I am thinking of how many episodes I missed of Shortland Street (don’t @ me I don’t care for anti-shorty opinions). I’m aggrieved at just how long I’ve spent on level 1846 of Homescapes. I’m hungry. And thirsty. I just know that the puppy will wee or poop inside during the night and I’m trying to think of a solution for that.
However, when we make our sleep a priority - and I mean really make it a priority, it will get better. It’s hard, but it’s achievable with the right support. Putting your phone away an hour before bedtime, and getting into bed for sleep earlier is the “easiest” thing to change when it comes to getting good sleep. We’ll focus on more sleepy time strategies over the coming weeks.
This one is a lot like the sleep. Finding strategies to calm the farm and chill out is really hard, especially if you are approaching peri/menopause because all the things that worked to chill out a year ago or even last week, well they aren’t working now! Sound familiar? We want to chill out because a hike in stress can put pressure on our heart and we really don’t want our heart to be upset with us. My Ma used to say to me “don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff”. She was right, too. If we really ruminate on the things that stress us out, are they even worth the stress? I’m willing to take a stab at it and say probably not.
You could look at mindfulness, which is really just awareness of your surroundings when you’re paying attention to things (I know! Kabat-Zinn is amazing!) It can help, and you might wanna try it if everything else has gone to hell in a hand basket.
Healthy eating is flexible eating. It is healthy to eat cake at a birthday party or whenever you feel like it. It is healthy to eat for comfort - shock horror, but it is! It is healthy to eat fruits and vegetables and lean protein and carbs and fats. We start to come unstuck when we try things like the keto diet which is unsustainable for most of the population. Or you know, fill in the blanks - pretty much all “the ____ diet” types are unsustainable, hard to stick to, and probably will not help you in the long run for feeling good.
Eating well for me is eating what I want to eat and when, but also respecting my knowledge that as much as I would love to eat pasta for every meal of the day, veggies and fruit and lean meats (I don’t have a gallbladder hence the lean) all have those wonderful nutrients in them that our body needs to be in a good state. Eat what you want, when you want, but also find ways to get the veggies etc in as a nourished body really is a fun time. I have a cool strategy called the “add to your plate and don’t take things away because restriction sucks and doesn’t work” strategy.
Move your body
I’d say exercise as regularly as you can, but I feel that word seems to be synonymous with movement on your body that you do not enjoy. Exercise seems to be tied to the gym (I love it there but not everyone does) or running (I hate running) or something else that we do because we think we have to.
Here’s the secret.
Move your body as regularly as you can in way that gives you a laugh, a good feeling, a fun time. Yep, take from that whatever you wish to. Everything we do in our quest for feeling good has to be based on a dial that goes up and down, and while I will say that lifting weights has a million wonderful benefits, if you’re not at that point where lifting heavy things is your jam, you are better off to do body movement that you do enjoy, like shaking your booty to Wham while doing the dishes, or taking a walk to the end of your street each morning. I cannot stress this enough. Start from your own starting point that makes sense for you and you alone and not anyone else. As a personal trainer, I have a gazillion move your body things to try, and we’ll look at those over the next few weeks too.
Hydration station - the first thing to practice in our quest for health.
If your body is in a solid state of dehydration most of the time, you probably won’t recognise the signs. And if you decide that today is the day to address the dehydration that you’re not aware of by skulling back 3L of water, you are probably going to be very unhappy. Welcome to bloat city, my friend - it is not a nice place to be. Sipping is key, especially when reintroducing regular hydration to a potentially dehydrated body.
If you don’t mind the taste and texture of water, then let’s start here. We need to figure out how to get the water in, via a vessel that makes sense. Hear me out.. a glass or similar makes sense, but for me personally, I need to drink my water out of a plastic bottle at room temperature.
I will ignore every glass on my desk in favour of a plastic bottle. And I don’t mean those fancy drink bottles, I mean quite literally the 1.5L bottles of water from the supermarket for $2 bottles. There is something about those bottles that I love how fast the water comes out, I like the size and the shape - nice to hold etc. A glass will never cut it for me, and it could be the reason you can’t remember to drink water regularly either.
If water is not your thing, try a range of water based fluids that are. And if you’re starting today, try aiming for one extra drink that you had the day before, and sip it through the day. It’s ok if you manage it the first day and not the second. Changing anything isn’t easy and I feel we need to acknowledge that while we can do hard things, sometimes they are challenging and failure is ok.
And if drinking isn’t happening, try an ice block instead. It’s all fluid at the end of the day, and if we need that fluid to be a fun colour and on a stick, then so be it and it’s fine and better than not at all.
I’d love to know how you get on with this, and for those of you who are water drinking superstars and all of this info is a giant yawn-fest, try the practice of a five minute action, instead. The relevancy of this will come up later, and so you can get a head start.
Choose an activity that is quick and will only take five minutes, and schedule a time in your diary to do it. It could be as simple as flossing your teeth, or going for a 5 minute walk, or emptying the dishwasher, or even a 5 minute workout if you have space for that.
Give it a go.. and I’ll see you here next Friday (or maybe Thursday) with the next habit to focus on.
Thank you for being here, I appreciate all of you for your support of my work! Feel free to email by replying to this email, or send me one direct to firstname.lastname@example.org