Healthy Habits – Week 9: Watch Your Posture

One of the lessons I learned from my teacher in martial arts many years ago (let’s skip how many years ago that was to preserve my dignity and youthful image) is that your inside reflects on your outside and your outside reflects on your inside.

The important point here is that it goes both ways.

Your mind reflects on your body. Your body reflects on your mind.

When you have a great day and feel positive and strong it will show in how you stand, walk and smile. If you have a sluggish day, are frustrated or devoid of motivation, people will be able to tell and will react to you accordingly.

However, how you present yourself and how you hold your body and posture also directly and immediately impacts how you feel. Stand upright and you will feel more confident. Smile and you will feel more positive. Straighten your spine, pull your shoulder blades back and open your chest and you will feel ready and open for the challenges of the day.

The beauty is that it is very easy to control our body and posture. Everyone can smile. Everyone can straighten their posture up. It’s much easier and directly controllable than telling yourself ‘to be happy’ or to ‘feel positive’. The end result is the same and the effect is immediate.

If you don’t trust my martial arts teacher, you can also check in with Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy and her famous TED Talk or book (Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy). I like the science behind it, but at the same time I’m always fascinated how those old martial arts guys knew all those answers all along and way before modern science rediscovered them…

Healthy Habits – Week 8: Skip Seconds

Today’s food is tasty and richer in calories than it ever was. We want to eat it because it tastes great and we take calories in much faster than our body can notice and signal by feeling full. As a result all western societies have a major health problem with obesity today.

The equation for not gaining weight is dead simple. If calorie intake exceeds calories burned you will build up fat. That’s it. Nothing more fancy going on. Of course there are medical conditions that I’m excluding here, but for the majority of the population my statement holds true.

The problem is not that we want to over-eat and under-exercise. The challenge is that, if left alone, we will over-eat before we even notice. The meal is soooo good, we want to still eat more since we don’t feel full and take another serving. Half an hour later we feel tired, full, bloated and look back and scratch our heads why we took that last serving.

Modern food is rich in calories and our caveman systems are not used to such concentration and efficient absorption and hence don’t catch it quick enough to signal our brains that we’re actually good now. The brain still tries to get more energy in and asks for seconds (plus your caveman brain never knows when you will get food the next time).

Make a plan ahead. Skip the seconds.

There is a simple solution for this: make a plan BEFORE you start eating.

Take a decent and reasonable portion the first time. I cannot tell you how much that is, it really depends on your activity level. There is much guidance available though in books, the internet or from people who are smarter than I am.

Once you have filled your plate with your initial portion, stick to it. Enjoy your first serving and then stop. Marvel in the aftertaste in your mouth, your teeth don’t need to keep chewing to enjoy it.

If it turns out that the serving was not enough (unlikely), you will get hungry after an hour and can always eat an apple to fill the gap.

Healthy Habits – Week 7: Make Your Diet Personal

I’m a scientist at heart. Way back I studied physics and got my masters in it. The scientific thinking stayed with me as did the urge to explain things with data, observations and principles instead of beliefs. But science (and scientific history) has also taught me to be careful with what we ‘know to be true’. It turned out after all that the earth is neither flat nor the center of the universe. Bummer.

There is a new diet every year, that claims to finally have found the right way to eat. It’s always proven through scientific studies and better than anything we had before. Funny enough the next year it will be proven wrong. It’s also interesting to note, that humans survived just right for aeons before we had scientific diets.

I would urge you to take ownership of your nutrition instead of just following the latest craze. Watch what you’re eating and then listen to your body. What gives you energy without a feeling of fullness or being bloated. What gets you going instead of making you tired after eating.

Diet is universal for the most part, but in the details also personal to your body, lifestyle and goals. Learn what YOU need. Learn what helps YOUR body. No one else can give you the magic recipe, not even the scientists.

Take some clues from our ancestors though. They thrived and put us into this world after all. Don’t go for extreme one-sided diets (I could name a bunch but I won’t). Look for balance and variety. Don’t be a one-trick pony. Avoid processed food whenever you can, there’s little food left in there.

Many of the most long-living populations follow the same pattern: a variety of different foods, freshly cooked and seasonally adjusted. You can take clues from mediterranean, japanese or chinese 5 elements nutrition (sorry, the Chinese restaurant’s menu doesn’t count).

Take a balanced, fresh selection as a basis and then learn what works for you.

For example I observed that

  • A lite and healthy lunch (soup or salad) works well for me since I won’t get tired afterwards but have energy for the day
  • Rather than having one big meal I add nuts and apples in between when I get hungry
  • I also learned that I need to catch myself and have a snack before I get really hungry or I will lose all self-control (sad but true, I’m a weak person)
  • I reduced milk as it gave me a slimy feeling, although I loved my latte – no more lattes
  • I plan to reduce vinegar and spices as I noticed that I get heartburn from it (still working on that habit change)
  • I like to go with the chinese recommendation to follow seasons; in the winter I have more warm soups, in the summer I have more cold salads

Learn to listen to your body instead of listening to other people’s advice (including mine)! Only you can truly find out what’s right for you.

There is no one size fits all, there is only what works for you. Take ownership of your nutrition.

A little excursion and food for thought

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) there are two sources of energy: the one that you are given at birth (pre-natal) and the one that you get from nutrition (post-natal). If your energy source from nutrition is not good, you will draw from your pre-natal energy and that depot depletes without a way to refill it (pre-natal energy cannot be replenished according to TCM).

Don’t risk your precious pre-natal energy, have good food. Go for home-made instead of produced and know whats going into your food.

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

Healthy Habits – Week 6: Cut Down on Sugar and Salt

sugar-2263618_1920We all eat too much sugar. Way too much.

And the scary part is that most times we don’t even notice or know. Sugar is in sweets (naturally), in candy (of course), but also in soda (easy to forget) and pretty much all other processed foods.

There is so much sugar in everything that our taste buds got used to it and don’t even notice it anymore. When we moved over from Germany more than 10 years ago, we first couldn’t eat any sweets or cookies because everything was appallingly sweet. We still skip most store cookies, but it’s scary how quickly you can get used to too much sugar and won’t even notice it anymore. We just have to look at our kids to see living examples of a whole different sugar perception.

Sugar gives you a quick rush and then a big and deep crash. And longterm it harms your health in many ways.

Try to stay away from things that have lots of sugar added. Once you do it, your sensibility for tastes will come back again and you will sense sweetness even without crazy amounts of sugar. Drink your coffee without sugar and if you don’t like it that way, maybe you actually don’t like coffee in the first place.

Rather than ‘sweetening’ your life with sugar (or artificial sweeteners which are even worse) go for things that provide you with slow burning glucose to give you energy for the day and keep up your willpower (we’ll talk about that in a few weeks).

And while we’re at it – cut down dramatically on salt. Again, almost all processed food has way too much salt in it. Sugar, salt and fat make for great (i.e. strong) taste. They don’t help you at all to get consistent energy or have a healthy nutrition.

Skip sugar, sweetener and soda. Go for nuts, veggies, fruit and infused water or tea instead. Ditch the salt and add some pepper to your life.

Uli always uses only half of the sugar (sometimes less) that is called out in recipes. We don’t drink any soft drinks (they are way too sugary, I cannot even stand the taste). We replace most of the salt with pepper. It may be a big step initially, but you will get used to it in just a few weeks and a whole universe of new, more natural and subtle tastes will open up for you.