3 Rules For Better Health
As a personal trainer at Equinox Downtown Los Angeles, I interact with people from all over the world. Regardless of where they come from, pleasures and principles rule them. In my experience, the people who value principles over desires tend to be more successful in achieving their weight loss goals. A pleasure-based value system directs you to eat whatever tastes best, regardless of the calories and nutrients. You smell pizza and boom! You are faced deep in some cheesy goodness.
Unfortunately, a pleasure-based system fails to acknowledge the consequences of its actions. Whereas a principle value system questions each decision, "Does this push me closer or further away from my goal?" Goal achievement is primary, and pleasure is secondary. Thus, you don't just eat for taste. You eat for nutrition and goal accomplishment. However, don't get it twisted; the food should be edible and enjoyable. Steak and broccoli anyone? I believe healthy principles are the key to weight loss and wellness. What are the principles you follow? If you can’t of any, than check out my three below for some ideas.
Principle #1: Put Your Fork Down After Each Bite
My appetite is voracious. I have been cleaning plates since 1992. The habit is wired inside of me. My mom always told me, "Don't waste food, people are starving." So I didn’t let any go to waste. Regardless of how full I was, I would do whatever it took to finish the food on the plate. Growing up, my mom tried to slow me down, but it hardly worked. "Do you even taste the food?" The question hardly slowed me down or changed my habit. It has taken me 26 years to slow down my eating, and all it took was the lowering of a fork.
I have come to realize that knowledge alone doesn't do much. However, when you combine education with actionable principles, then you have something powerful. So let's bring you up to date with the research. Studies have shown eating slower to be associated with weight loss and appetite reduction (1). I have found that putting my fork down after each bite forces me to eat slower. With each passing day, the habit is becoming easier to do. So next time you have a meal in front of you, take your time and put the fork down.
Principle #2: Eat Fruits or Vegetables At Each Meal
The key to weight loss is to increase the amount of food you eat while reducing calorie consumption. How do you accomplish this? By eating nutrient dense food instead of calorie dense food. Which foods have the highest nutrient density and lowest calories? Fruit and vegetables! From a calorie perspective, a pound of broccoli has about 100 fewer calories than two tablespoons of cooking oil. The broccoli leaves you full for hours, whereas the oil does very little for appetite suppression.
Also, fruit is nutrient dense too. You could eat about 180 blueberries before reaching the calorie equivalent of two tablespoons of almond butter. Crazy, right? The benefits of fruit and vegetables aren’t just limited to body composition. Research shows fruit and vegetable consumption improves mental health (2).
“This meta-analysis of observational studies provides further evidence that fruit and vegetable intake was protectively associated with depression. This finding supports the current recommendation of increasing fruit and vegetable intake to improve mental health.”
However, this knowledge alone won't do much for weight loss. We all know we should eat more fruit and vegetables, but we hardly ever do. In 2015, the CDC reported that 1 in 10 adults eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables (3). "This report highlights that very few Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables every day, putting them at risk for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, said Seung Hee Lee Kwan, lead author of the study.
An easy way to increase fruit and vegetable consumption is to create a rule that states you must have a fruit or vegetable at each meal. The key to behavior change is repetition. Thus, each meal will serve as a reminder to eat healthier. Overtime, fruit and vegetable consumption will become second nature. And isn’t that what we want?
Principle #3: 7500-10,000 steps per day
Did you know that the number of steps you take per day can influence longevity and the risk for cardiovascular disease? Recent research has shown that a higher step count can have a protective effect against disease (4,5). The first study looked at how a daily step count affected mortality in older women. From 2011-2015, 16,741 women wore pedometers for one week. Four years later, the researchers analyzed the step data. The authors found 4400 steps to be significantly related to lower mortality rates compared to 2700 steps. They stated, "With more steps per day, mortality rates progressively decreased before leveling at approximately 7500 steps per day"(4).
However, the study was done on women in their 70s. So most likely, younger ages will benefit more from a higher step count. The latest research supports this notion. A meta-analysis was done on ten studies looking at the effects of a daily step count on arterial stiffness and cardiovascular disease risk. A daily step count of 7500-10,000+ correlates with less arterial stiffness and a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease(5). Whereas, a lower step count ( <5000) increased the risk for cardiovascular disease. Another study found that a decrease from 12,000 steps to less than 5,000 steps over ten days led to a 2% decrease in VO2 max (6). Higher levels of physical fitness and VO2 max correlate with longer life (7).
Based on the studies presented, I am confident in recommending 7500-10,000 steps per day to improve one's health. I believe a step count less than 7500 per day increases the risk for disease and mortality. Thus, we should do everything in our power to hit the recommended step total. To track your steps, I recommend using the pedometer on your phone or any other device that tracks steps. Research shows that smartphones can be a useful tool for increasing physical activity(8). Setting reminders and checking the step count throughout the day can help boost adherence. But start small and increase the step count slowly or you risk injury.
How To Get Started
Behavior change is a muscle, one that can be trained. And just like any other muscle, it needs constant stimulation to strengthen it. Every decision you make is either strengthening a behavior or making it weaker. Habit formation takes about 10 weeks (9), so you must be patient with the process and not give up too soon.
In the beginning, the goal is to gain momentum through adherence to the principles. The "workout" is following the rules you set, but I recommend not making the guidelines too challenging. It seems silly, but small wins keep us motivated and determined. So start small and keep it realistic.
Also, don't freak out if you don't hit the goals you set. I do the best I can to adhere to my principles, but I am never perfect. Environmental and social factors play a huge role in how disciplined I am. There are weeks where I do really well, and then there are those other days where impulses take over. When those days happen, I accept the loss and put my attention on the next task. I always learn a little bit more about myself through my mistakes. Failures and the urge to quit should be expected. But they can be reduced with proper planning. Use the toolbox below to help you implement one of my three principles.