3 simple ideas that will change your life
Every Xmas I get into something. I’ve done Sim City. I’ve done ‘collecting obscure mid-90’s hip hop vinyl from eBay’. The downtime, the happy Sydney weather – it always gets me into something. Luckily, my Xmas past was filled with a beautiful meeting. I was doing a mass clean and stumbled on a book I bought when I used to train a lot. It’s called ‘The X Factor‘, by Leslie Kenton. I was about to pass it on but decided to finally read it… and loved it.
At the same time, I started going to the gym in our apartment block and reading up on sports science that I’d slept on for years. It seems that right now, there’s a global food and exercise epiphany about to happen; an epiphany that’s evidence-based but only just starting to gain popular momentum despite much of the research being around for decades. Tim Ferris’ new book ‘The Four Hour Body‘ may not be a tipping point but I’d put money on his book and others coming out this year around these topics may actually start pushing governments to embrace a lot of the new research. They have to.
So, with two weeks off to put the thinking to the blade, here are the big ideas guiding me right now. If I’ve got something wrong or you have more ideas, please leave a note in the comments.
Idea 1: Don’t commit accidental foodicide
The one thing that I took out of reading the decades of research collected in ‘The X Factor‘ is that the way I eat could kill me. Simple. Highly processed, white carb food, bad fats, too much sugar. Dead. Nothing like a bit of apocalyptic drama to spark some behavioural change!
The main science that stuck with me is called The 20 Year Rule, coined by a researcher who went into the health records of countries that previously had little Western influence and noticed that the incidence of ‘Western diseases’ (as Western food arrived) dramatically increased in the first 20 years and then became on par with the West in the second twenty years.
A friend recently told me that the Chinese refer to breast cancer as a rich woman’s disease because only rich Chinese women can afford the diet that they believe causes it.
Anyway, there’s a lot more science that shows the downside of what’s become the Western diet and Kenton goes into the history of the agricultural revolution and how that affected our diets… and health. Read it if you’re interested.
So, having read all of that, I couldn’t keep eating the way I’ve been eating. Here are the basic rules of thumbs I’m trying to follow (without being too anal):
1. Eat organic
The main reasons to eat organic meat that stuck with me are: it’s better quality protein (game animals that run around are best) and it doesn’t have antibiotics in it (if you eat meat with antibiotics in it then you risk medication not working on you down the track).
The two main problems with organics are: availability and price (ouch).
On finding organic food, I had these recommendations:
- Urban Food Market (via Sarah Campbell and Kelly Hartigan)
- Coles (via Elizabeth Webber)
- South Melbourne Markets (via Mandy McEvoy)
- AG Meats (via Chantelle Ellem)
- Big Blues Meats in Taren Point (via Jordan Sim)
- Glenmore Meat (via Benjamin Ruhe) – when I visited they didn’t have much in stock
- Woolworths (via Stephen Collins)
- Organic Direct (bulk delivery once a month)
Having lived most of my life in the inner city, I’m enjoying this lifestyle. I take the kids along and treat it like going to Sydney Wildlife World or the Sydney Aquarium – we talk about things, they throw tantrums… it’s win-win really. But every now and then there will be a breakthrough and a new food will get eaten (choy sum and feta cheese were recent winners).
OK, so having tracked the organics down, the next thing that happens: an allergic reaction to how expensive it all is. I thought buying direct would be a bit cheaper but I don’t see the difference yet! I’m yet to bring myself to buy much organic fruit and vegetable ($1 for a tomato!) but will hopefully find some affordable stuff soon.
The way we’re justifying the extra cost is:
- We’ll save money on eating out (if you call Chinatown food courts eating out!) so we’ll hopefully spend the same amount on food across the week just in different places
- Insurance: the long-term health benefits are worth it (from the science I’ve read)
Smart Company recently listed organic farming in the top 5 growth industries in Australia – I’d definitely invest in this area based on my own experience just over the past few weeks (open to tips!). Point being that hopefully the prices will reduce in years to come.
The big shame about the prices is that the bad food will continue to go to (if not surround) people who can’t afford to eat well, and the disease cycle will continue. The government needs to do more on this.
2. Eat high protein, low carb meals
I never read into the Atkins Diet because it seemed so faddish, however ‘The X Factor‘ touches on a lot of the science that pre-exists the Atkins Diet and makes similar points.
The rules of thumb I’m trying to follow are:
i. Five meals per day: 3 main meals and two snacks
ii. One palm of high quality protein, two palms of vegetables three times per day
iii. Low glycemic index vegetables: broccoli, boy choy, spinach trump peas and corn
iv. Get some good fat from foods like macadamias, almonds, natural yoghurt, feta cheese
v. 3 litres of water per day: it sounds like a lot but if you exercise a few times a week and stick at it, your body just fiends for water
vi. Take supplements: I’m currently taking flaxseed oil, multivitamins and magnesium
vii. Bye bye bread – I’ll eat a bit of rye once or twice a week
How much protein?
I’ve read a few formulas for this and am aiming for somewhere between The X Factor’s formula (which takes into account your body weight in pounds, lean body mass and daily activity) and the convention of 1g of protein per pound of body weight. And, yes, I got myself some protein powder from eBay (awesome tagline on the tub: ‘Life’s too short to be small’) to make sure I get adequate protein (otherwise you’d be eating a lot of food).
So, that’s the food. Now, the activity.
Idea 2: There are smarter ways to exercise
I used to train a lot but I allowed marriage, kids, GFC and work… you know, all that adult stuff… to distract me from being healthy. I’m going to do my best to not let it happen again.
I haven’t set a specific exercise-related goal yet – other than doing it 4-5 times per week. I’m just trying to have fun with it, mix it up and not get bored.
The four things I’ve been looking into are:
1. High Intensity Interval Training
I used to do a bit of this but am now looking to make it core to what I do. Since my focus is a broad health one rather than sports-specific, I’m simply looking for a good calorie burn, plus good muscle and cardiovascular benefits.
The research on HIIT is pretty interesting and has consistently shown good results. In short, it involves sets of sprints mixed in with sets of medium-level activity.
I have repeatedly tested it on rowing and elliptical machines in the past month and have found that exercise done with sprint intervals burns 20-30% more calories in the same time as exercise that may have intervals in them (eg more incline on the elliptical machine) but not sprints. So, theoretically, if you’re looking for general health benefits, get some sprints in there and save yourself some time.
The Tabata Method is named after a researcher who found that a specific approach to interval training derived the most cardiovascular benefits. In short, you pick an exercise and go hard at it for 20 seconds then rest for 10 seconds – and you do this 8 times (4 minutes). I’ve been doing it with burpees, bodyweight squats and other bodyweight exercises and am enjoying it. There are lots of Tabata videos on YouTube.
A good friend, Derrick Wong, took me through some basic kettlebell training last weekend… and it felt good. Apparently a lot of Russian power-lifters train exclusively with kettlebells when they’re not in competition because it develops practical muscle, uses compound body movements and a lot of core muscles.
I’m completely new to it but am trying to dig up research on workouts that involve only bodyweight exercises and kettlebells. Any suggestions?
Derrick mentioned that two of the leading kettlebell people to look into are Pavel Tsatsouline and Steve Cotter. Tim Ferris (‘The Four Hour Work Week’) has some videos here too – so it must be tried and tested.
4. Stronglifts 5×5
I also came across this classic approach to muscle-building called Stronglifts 5×5. It’s not something I’m going to do right now but the community and approach at the Stronglifts website are great.
So far, in 3 weeks (with a lot of exercise), I’ve lost 5kgs and gained a bit of muscle. Good times. I’m finding it much easier to sleep and feel pretty centred most of the time.
So with one eye on health, it’s time to turn the other eye onto people.
Idea 3: Self-expansion grows the relationship
Two bits of relationship research have stuck with me recently. The first bunch says that new experiences are key to fulfilling relationships. The second lot I came across via another New York Times piece: The Happy Marriage Is the ‘Me’ Marriage. It says, at its simplest, that good relationships stem from couples extending each other into new areas (the ‘Michelangelo effect’). It’s an interesting read and makes me realise how I’ve always been attracted to people (as friends) who I think I can grow through.
I think this has been a real weakness in my relationship with my wife in the past 7 or so years. As two full-time working parents, we’ve forgone our relationship too easily – tired, distracted, weekend and late-night pitching, keeping mental tallies of who does what around the house. On top of that, we’ve always been so independently spirited that I feel we’ve failed to build a support network around our little family so rarely – until the past month – get any time to ourselves.
So, we’re looking into this. The family focus on food and exercise is definitely a step in self-expansion. I keep exposing my wife to the stuff I’m reading and food we should buy; she shows me how not to ruin it when I’m cooking it.
A week back she picked up a group discount to Zumba – and I have to admit, the kids and I love that she’s doing something for herself for possibly the first time in almost a decade.
Once we’ve got momentum with food and exercise, I think the best way to address this third area is through scheduling activities and making it routine. Any suggestions?
So, there you have it. Three big things to incite really important life change. I’d love to hear suggestions, corrections or tips. The big challenge is going to be to make sure these changes last.
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