I take a closer look at the systems upon which healthcare and politics function. When taking a more profound look at both them it quickly becomes clear how there is no reason for it’s players to resolve issues right its’ source. From my perspective there is too much to be gained from short term decisions in terms of money and power. However more importantly, it is that we humans are incredibly bad at dealing with pain and discomfort. This inability is being capitalized upon in a variety of ways. Read this extensive blog on the topic to learn more about my view.
On your quest for your best diet you will encounter low carb, high protein, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, keto, nutritional balancing, high fat, eggs, no eggs, and alcohol; yes or no? Then, to eat healthy, should you avoid night shade vegetables, dairy, gluten, and red meat? And what about the heavy metals in salmon and tuna; good, or not? If there is one area where there is a lot of contradictory information available, it’s in the field of dieting and nutrition. The everlasting search for the optimal diet seems to take you from left to right and back again. However, let me give you the best tip regarding the ultimate diet right now: the best diet doesn’t exist.
Yes, you heard that right, the optimal diet doesn’t exist. This means that there is no one best diet for everybody. However, there is an optimal diet for you. The question is however, how do you figure this out?
This blog is based on what I have learned from over ten years of personal research. This started for me as a teenager trying to reduce fat and increase muscle mass. This led me down the path of defining everything by its protein contents, at the same time only focusing on muscle and fat. Nowadays, I aim to feel good all throughout the day, perform well both cognitively and physically, and look for sustainable ways to live. Interestingly, barely anything that I believed at the start has made it to my current lifestyle. Nevertheless, over time I have come to understand quite well what works for me. In this light, I hope I can shed some light on the direction you could take in figuring out your optimal personal diet.
The Garbage That Nobody Should Eat
Before I continue providing information on how to figure out your personal diet, there are a couple of things that every single person should avoid. This might be the moment you tell me: “I have a friend that can eat anything he wants, it doesn’t do anything to him.” Well, in reality, he is not. The fact that you don’t see it, and he doesn’t feel it, doesn’t mean there are no detrimental effects.
Processed food of any kind, fried, packaged, ready-to-microwave is not food. These are products. As a rule of thumb, everything you are not buying the way it came out of the ground or of the animal, is not food. It’s best to avoid these foods all together, but depending on your situation there could be a place for pasta, chocolate, or fries. Every now and then.
Then what about sugar? No, fruits do not equal processed sugar. When you eat fruit you eat unprocessed sugar together with fiber, which gets digested the way it should be. However, processed sugar of any kind, in your coffee, in cake, cookies, or ice cream, is all far from being processed by your body in a nice way. What happens exactly is beyond the scope of this blog, but more about that here.
Processed foods and processed sugar often come together. A good rule of thumb on processed foods; anything with more than 4 ingredients, put it back. Anything with ingredients you don’t know, leave it be.
If you have cut the above out of your diet, you have made the biggest health gain already. Now, you are eating a diet based on whole foods. What follows, is just some tweaking to reach the full potential of your diet.
How Do You Decide What is Best for You?
The best diet for you is the diet that you can adhere to. It has been proven time and time again that it is not the diet itself that makes people lose weight. What is more important, is if somebody can adhere to his or her diet choice over a longer period. The only result you get from switching between diets is nothing. This also holds true for the people that are trying to gain weight. Therefore, it is all the more important to choose the form of eating that allows you to eat consequently as healthy as possible.
The next important factor to maintaining your optimal diet is, that of all the information coming your way, you should know its context. Where is the information coming from? Is it scientific research, your friend that read something, or is it your nutritionist giving you advise? In all cases, again, context. Who did the scientific research, how was it done, how many people participated? Where did your friend read about nutrition, is he or she able to tell you the full picture? And your nutritionist, what education did he or she have, and what are his or her personal beliefs and experiences?
The Life Your Food Had
Another thing that I believe to be very important is how your food was treated before it ended up on your plate. This could be the way the animal lived before it was slaughtered, but also from what source your fresh produce comes. The antibiotics that are put into the bodies of animals, the stress they experience living in closed environments, will all end up in that piece of meat on your plate. This also holds true for fruits and vegetables, that more often than not are covered in pesticides and could be imported from across the globe.
I believe it best to eat foods that grew as close to your home as possible and as little processed as possible.
So far I have mentioned the foods you should definitely not eat. However, there are a lot of foods that are heavily disputed. This became beautifully clear in a recent debate between Dr. Joel Kahn, a vegan heat doctor, and Chris Kresser, specialist in functional medicine, on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. Both Doctors are well read scientists but have opposing opinions based on scientific research.
The first one of the three disputed foods I will cover is alcohol. Alcohol, usually spoken about in the form of wine, is it good or not? As I mentioned in an earlier blog on the people that live the longest on earth, there is reason to believe that a glass or two of wine per day will do little damage. However, alcohol does disrupt sleep quality and is potentially very destructive if you are out of balance already.
Second, is meat consumption. Is meat consumption bad, or good? I think in this case it’s important to know, processed meat is carcinogenic, that means it’s just as bad as smoking. So leave the hot dogs, shoarma, and sausages be. If you have access to organic meat though, from as humanely possible raised animals, you should be fine. As long as you eat in moderation.
The third and final food I will get into is dairy. Again, just like meat I think it’s important to consider how did the animal live, where did it live, and to what extent was the dairy processed before it enters your body. It’s also important to consider that a giant percentage of the population is intolerant to dairy. In Eastern Asia 90-100% are intolerant, and in Africa 70-90%. In North Eastern Europe people seem to have less trouble with lactose. There, up to 73.7% of the people have the LCT gene that makes you tolerant to lactose.
I think that it’s important to realize that diet is a dynamic phenomenon. Your dietary requirements change over time as a consequence of aging and other lifestyle factors. The clue above all is therefore, to test things yourself. What works for you? To test foods optimally you should adhere to a change for 30 days to get at least some meaningful feedback from your body.
If you want to make a process like this easier, you could use either food trackers like myfitnesspal or Cronometer. You could also use the scale to see if you are gaining or losing weight, or use a centimeter to measure your waist. If you are not sure how certain foods make you feel, a diary might be a better solution. You could create scales from one to ten for your mood, level of bloating, or sleepiness, and track this for 30 days. After you’ll be able to correlate what you eat with how you feel pretty well.
More Important Than Diet
If it comes to what the most important building blocks are of your health, diet is among the most important. However, there are two things that are definitely more powerful, one of which is a good night sleep. A good 8 hours per sleep per night all by itself can help you lose weight, increase your focus, and make you a smarter human being.
Second thing is fasting. Call it intermittent fasting, time-restricted eating, or just not eating for a prolonged period of time. This simple act has amazing benefits. A daily fast between 12-16 hours will help you stay lean and regulate blood sugar. A prolonged fast a couple of times a year, raging from 24 hours to three days for example, helps your body repair old damage and increases the excretion of stem cells. These cells can form into any other cell and are therefore very valuable in regenerative processes.
Take Home Messages
To close this all down, here are the take home messages:
- Eliminate processed foods and processed sugar from your diet
- Try different things to figure out what’s best for you. Use diet trackers, diaries, and other measurements to generate objective findings
- If your body is out of balance, it could be useful to eliminate possible allergens like gluten, lactose, or night shade vegetables. That could be reintroduced later on.
- Generate an eating style that fits both your lifestyle and schedule
- Do not eat for 12-16 hours a day
- Sleep 8 hours a night
- Realizing step 1-6 above you already reached 80-90% of your diets potential
- Only after you managed to do the above, you can think about optimizing your diet to reach specific goals
This post was in response to a request of a client of mine. I hope it was useful to help you find a direction in discovering what your optimal diet looks like.
Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?
Matthew Walker. Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams
We tend to know more about things that aren’t part of our body than the things that are. Hammers, cars, politics and economics are usually better understood than what is going on inside of us. Interestingly, there is little education and mainstream information available on the thing that every single human (hopefully) spends one third of their life on. I am wondering therefore, how much do you know about sleep?
Before I started reading Matthew Walkers´ best-seller Why We Sleep, I knew that it was important to sleep between 7.5 to 8.5 hours a night. I knew that screens from laptops, telephones, and tablets radiated blue light that mingles with your circadian rhythm (wakefulness rhythm). This is a natural part of our life that is influenced by sunlight but doesn’t depend on it. Also, I had recently come to believe that “night-owls” (late sleepers) didn’t exist. They were just people that ignored their sleep impulse earlier in the evening.
Before I bought the book I was trying to optimize my sleep for a while already. I keep my phone away at night, and I engage in little demanding activities. Preferably I eat early so that I don’t go to bed on the verge of explosion and I aim to go to bed at the same time to stay in my rhythm. Let’s see what remained of that after reading Why We Sleep?
Waking Up in the Morning
To figure that out, let’s go through a day of sleep. Are you with me? 06:00 BEEP – BEEP – BEEP. Wake up, you get out of bed after falling asleep at 23:00. Did you sleep enough? Regardless of how you feel, you didn’t. Every human being needs around 8 hours of sleep each night. After a couple of days sleeping 7 hours, only one hour less, you perform like you didn’t sleep an entire night. How crazy is that.
When you come into the kitchen you pore yourself a cup of coffee – why? Because you like it, or because you can’t wake up otherwise? If it’s the latter, you are sleeping too little. Coffee increases your wakefulness, but it doesn’t decrease your sleepiness. It also stays in your system for a long time and modifies your sleep quality, unless you are a genetic outlaw. Which you are probably not.
Time to get into the car to work. Hopefully you are awake now, because there are more car accidents happening in the U.S. as a consequence of drowsy driving, than of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs together.
Sleep is Your Solution
When you fall into your desk chair, and you login to you computer your brain starts to make weird noises. Still this issue you can’t find a solution to. Why haven’t you found a solution? First question that should follow after: did I sleep enough?
During our REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, or our dream sleep, our brain becomes highly active. It starts reorganizing, activating, and connecting neurons. New knowledge gets transferred from your short-term memory to your long-term memory and your brain integrates this new knowledge with what already was. If you sleep well, this sleep feature greatly increases your creativity and the probability that you solve that issue at work.
For lunch you eat a big sandwich and talk to some colleagues. After you feel sleepy. You always eat to much for lunch. That could be, however you are also experiencing a natural dip in wakefulness under influence of your circadian rhythm. The best thing to do right now is to lie down and do a nap. Humans are biphasic sleepers (two times per day) even though this is not recognized in today’s (western) society. From now on you never have to feel guilty again for napping during the (preferably early) afternoon.
Let’s say you did nap, and you return to your computer. All of a sudden you find the solution to that everlasting problem. I told you sleep would help you..
Getting Ready to Sleep
When you arrive home in the evening you crash into the couch and get out your phone. Finally time to binge on social media and check what your friends are up to. Don’t do that too long because the bluelight coming out there reduces your sleep quality. At the very least install Twilight on your Android and F.lux on your computer to filter this light out, if you must use them at all. Better read a book, or talk to the person(s) you live with.
If you did that well you will get sleepy. During the day the hormone adenosine has been accumulating in your brain, creating an ever bigger sleep pressure. At the same time your wakefulness has been reducing. Depending on what type of person you are, the rhythm in which this happens is different. If you are an early sleeper this would be around 21:30, when you are a late-sleeper around midnight, and if you are in between around 22:30.
Interestingly, children around 15-16 years old usually get sleepy later than their parents. A significant amount of time that should be honored according to Matthew Walker, also a UC-Berkely Professor. Early school times have disastrous effects on the development of the brains of our children. Later starting times have been shown to result in an increase of SAT score of 200 on average. Finally I understand, why I would fall asleep every single time I sat down in the bus to high school.
You made it to bed. As soon as you really fall asleep your sleep pressure is going down and your brain starts doing some valuable maintenance. It cuts away what is not being used, it clears out plaque that might turn in to dementia later on and it processes emotional experiences.
The Power of Sleep
Emerging from this research renaissance is an unequivocal message: sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day—Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death.
Matthew Walker. Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams
Why We Sleep has immensely increased my believe in the value of sleep, and how it all by itself can counter a lot of the issues thatmost of us encounter in our everyday life. Be it from feeling depressed, to diabetes to our performance on the soccer field. Sleep is the basis for everything to thrive upon. The single most important thing you can do according to the book is go to sleep at the same time and get up at the same time. Also during the weekends.
Oh and yes, read the book yourself. If you are going to read one book on health this year, or in your entire lifetime, read this one. Otherwise as well.
One moment or another, all of us get sick. How you deal with it, depends on where you are from, how you were raised, and what medical knowledge is available in your environment. Sometimes it is useful to consult a healthcare professional. However, in most cases you can easily figure out what is going on by yourself.
This does not mean you will be able to diagnose yourself, but it will enable you to make better decisions. A diagnose is the nature of your illness identified through the symptoms you suffer from, and it is actually not necessary for a successful treatment. As things go, the symptoms are not the reason you are getting sick or injured, that is usually something else.
Underneath you will find three tips to consider when you feel off, and three ways to deal with it. Hopefully this will support you to make better decisions in painful and uncomfortable situations.
1. Elevated Heart Rate
A lot of people nowadays use heart rate monitors to track their fitness. This way you can get a better idea with which intensity you should train and how quickly your heart recovers. But not only can you use it to track your fitness, you can also track your rest. This way you will get a better idea when you are getting sick or when you are over-training.
Before you are getting sick your resting heart rate might be off already. You can measure this right after you wake up in the morning. If you are wearing any form of heart rate monitor, you can check the designated screen, otherwise you have to do a timed count (count your heartbeat for 15 seconds and multiply this number by 4). This method is less reliable though. After a week or two you will have a solid idea of what your resting heart rate is.
Then, when you notice that your heartbeat is around 5 beats less or more than normal, you know something is going on.
2. Weird Gut Feeling
Feeling full in moments you didn’t eat a lot, you can’t really say whether you are full, or when you have an out of the ordinary appetite might indicate there is something going on under the hood. The gut does not have the capacity to tell you what is going on in words, but it can communicate with feelings.
Around 80% of our immune system is situated in the gut. When you get these uncommon sensations might indicate you need to take it easy for a day or two. Your immune system might be busy fighting off some bacteria. Important to consider is that stress has a significant impact on gut function as well.
3. Consider the Past
A little while ago I arrived at the home of a client of mine. He told me that since two days his shoulder had started to hurt a lot. There were some plates and screws in there to help heal a recent fracture. He believed these were now the cause of his problems even though the 5 months before they weren’t. I found this weird and started to ask what he did yesterday; nothing. The day before; nothing. Really, you didn’t do anything out of the ordinary? Aaah yes, he had helped a family member in the garden.
How easy we forget what we did yesterday or the day before. Blinded by our pain and discomfort we start assuming and diminish important parts of information. However, your feeling sick or pain is always a consequence of what went on before.
Before might be yesterday, it might also be half a year ago when you took antibiotics, and it might mean that car accident you had as a child. It doesn’t matter if it is physical or mental, both can have an equal impact on how you feel today. Therefore, the stress from the previous weeks is just as relevant as a childhood trauma, and your strenuous work-out yesterday just as relevant as the moment you fell off your bike 2 years ago.
Here are three tips to help you deal with the above.
This tip couldn’t be more cliche, still it is often overlooked in any health issue. If you sleep too little your immune system weakens, your concentration is reduced, and the body has a diminished capacity to deal with stress. However, when you sleep between 7.5 and 8.5 hours the chances that small issues will become big ones decreases. Your body will have sufficient time to repair daily damage and recover from hard work. If you maintain a regular sleep rhythm (go to bed the same time, and get up at the same time) your body will quickly go in to god-mode. If your body would be a personality by itself, it would be that person that never wants to do something new, and always does things at the same time. It loves rhythm.
The first response of the immune system to damage of whatever sort, be it a virus, a bacteria, or a fall on your knee, is inflammation. The amount of anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed feeds the assumption that inflammation is bad. It is not, without it there would be no healing possible.
However, it might be useful to support your body kill that common cold or bacteria that is undermining your gut. A well set cup of tea might be a good way to go.
Throw two liters of water with a thumb of ginger, some chili flakes, and cinnamon (stick) in a pan and make tea out of it. Add some honey, lime or lemon, and curcumin when you fill your cup, and you have your natural inflammation killer.
3. Respond To The Why
To respond to what makes you sick means dealing with the symptoms. Oftentimes this means taking a pill or two. However, when you respond to the why, your way of dealing with disease or injury will be entirely different.
What makes you sick is a headache, but why you have a headache, is because you drank too little. What injured you, might be a soccer opponent, but why you are injured might be because your core musculature is weak.
If you manage to consider your past, as I mentioned before, you can figure out why you are sick. As a consequence you will understand your problem better, which allows you to make the right decision with more confidence.
Usual why’s to consider in any problem are; reduced water intake, lack of fresh air, too little sleep, bad nutrition, lack of, or too much movement, and distress. If you manage to keep these five parts of your life in check you will steer clear of plenty issues.
For a while already, I have been fascinated by the so called Blue Zones. Places like Okinawa in Japan, and the island of Sardinia in Italy. Here, people live the longest, with very little years fighting of diseases. The life these people live, seems to be the contrary of what is generally perceived as important in western culture.
Our culture mandates the importance of work, engagement, money, to spend it on the next big thing afterwards. We are developing a better computer and phone every day. There are cameras that can watch straight through our body and there are chips we can put under our skin monitoring everything that goes on in our bodies.
We admire the quickest athlete, the fearless soldier, the innovative businessman and the confident leader. At the same time, there are people fascinated by eternal life, looking for possibilities to freeze their dead body, so it can be revived later on. With exoskeletons we might be able to walk forever as long as our neurological system is intact, and we have created the first piece of meat from a petry-dish already.
Not long and we could be called super humans, but to what end? Does one really live a more fulfilling life than somebody who does not engage with all these activities? If you feel like your purpose is figuring out the next step in human innovation, go ahead. However, is what we perceive as innovation, truly innovation?
This eagerness in developing us as humans, has already been catching up with us. Pollution, hours spend in heavy traffic and depression are on the rise. However, there are some communities that seem to have been living the solution without doing any of the above.
Perks of these communities are; people tend to have a sense of purpose, they eat a largely plant-based diet, have strong relationships, sleep enough, do low intensity exercise over long periods, and they are part of a spiritual or faith-based society. At this point I wonder therefore, why do we pursue the fully chipped superhuman, when one can have equal results without all the superfluous effort?
I believe it to be a matter of perspective. What does eternal life really mean? We experience so many sick years nowadays, that when I manage to live to a hundred without getting chronically ill, that could be perceived as eternal already. The idea that we can outsmart nature is another core concept I could only believe if I blind my eyes forever. Plants and trees survived Chernobyl, we did not. We might kill all the animals, including ourselves, but there will always be this tiny being, adapted to the conditions we have created, here after re-evolving in to something new.
Lost in the process of going forward, becoming a “better” self, developing and innovating, it is very easy to forget what already is. The idea of what a superhuman is, you can define for yourself. I can see sunsets kilometers away, I can train my brain to do the most complicated formulas or understand 7 languages at the same time, I can hear an insane amount of frequencies, sense the smallest piece of sand, I can experience connections that are invisible, I can laugh, and I can walk up straight for up to 110 years. I ask therefore, am I not a super human already?