In my last blog "Should I Worry About Calories?" I briefly teased something called the Basic Nutritional Guidelines. This is something created after working with folks to have lasting success, not a quick or short-term fix. In a nutshell, it is a habits-based approach to coaching, built on a foundational layer of awareness. That last part is key because it brings you to the center of the process, ensuring sustainability for the long run.
The BNG's are a set of four simple areas that, if implemented, will lead you to nearly anything you want from a health improvement standpoint.
Said another way - any goal you have (body composition change, inflammation reduction, gut improvement, autoimmune condition, improved blood markers, reversing metabolic dysfunction, etc) is on the other side of mastering these areas.
Let's break it down.
FIRST, THERE IS FOOD HYGIENE:
No, this isn't about washing the dirt off your foods (dad jokes, I'm working on em.) This area is all about maximizing digestion and nutrient absorption. The actions you take here are designed to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for helping you 'rest and digest.' Here are some things to implement:
- Sit down to eat. This helps your heart rate come down and readies your body for meal time. Don't eat while you're walking to a meeting, and no, sitting in the car doesn't count.
- Remove electronic distractions. No phone, TV, iPad. When your brain is constantly bombarded by all the stimuli from a screen, it literally can't devote the energy required to putting the PNS into drive.
- Enjoy your meal with others. Have conversation. Assuming the company is good, this will extend your time to finish a meal. This gives your food time to hit your stomach and activate the hormones that tell your brain you're full.
- Be a part of the preparation of your food. Shop for it, chop it up, and cook it up before you eat it up. This all aids in the anticipatory process of digestion, activating the salivary glands that aid in, you guessed it, digestion.
- Chew each bite of food 20-30 times. This allows even more of the salivary juices to go to work in your mouth, where digestion actually begins. (Take note of how hard this is to do when you eat highly processed foods.)
- Reserve liquid consumption to before or after the meal. If you feel like you need water to moisten your palate, it's because you haven't done all of the above.
SECOND, THERE IS WATER:
You've probably heard that your body is made up of at least 60% water. Along with macro- and micronutrients, it's a major nutrient category that the body needs to survive. You can go weeks without food, but hardly a couple days without water.
We didn't even touch on all the good it does for digestion, supporting the area mentioned above!
And if you care about performance, consider this: degradation in power output begins with a 1% loss in hydration😱
So how much should you drink? And when?
- Aim to drink half your bodyweight in oz, per day. So a 160lb person would shoot for 80oz of water. Now here's the kicker: If you barely drink any water at all, you shouldn't jump right to half bodyweight. That's a recipe for failure. Instead, make incremental adjustments. If you currently drink 10oz, try 12oz a day for the next 3 days. Then add another 3oz for 3 days. Then rinse and repeat until you hit your goal. While it might take a while, your body will adapt to it much better, making it far more sustainable in the long run.
- Set up your environment for success! Instead of running out to buy a new water bottle that you'll leave places constantly (I've got 3 or 4 in the lost in found here!), make this habit much simpler. Put a glass of water next to the sink that you brush your teeth, so each morning you get up that glass is right there waiting. Same with the coffee pot. And your workstation? Speaking from experience, use a closed top bottle! I know it seems crazy - I'm asking you to leave glasses all over your house, but I promise this isn't a long term thing. We just need to ingrain the habit, and the best way to do it is by making it hard not to do it.
NEXT, WE'VE GOT MEAL RHYTHMS:
This is one of the coolest area within the BNG's because we get to discuss circadian rhythm, energy levels, and reverse engineering! The last piece of the rhythm puzzle is the plate method, which is also a huge bonus!
Don't run off just yet, we're not going to go too deep in the woods. To put it simply, circadian rhythm is just a way to assess how well we're honoring our body's natural sleep and wake cycle. And what is the natural cycle? Put simply: when you go to sleep when the moon comes up (and sun goes down) and you wake when the sun rises (without the aid of anything that puts you to sleep [meds, alcohol] or helps wake you up [alarm, caffeine]).
I'm very aware that putting out a beacon such as this can be overwhelming and discouraging, but it's not intended to be. Just like a lighthouse in a dark storm on the ocean, it's meant to be a guiding light, something to strive towards!
Now for circadian rhythm: For energy levels, you should be at your most alert 1-3 hours after waking, keeping this good mental acuity until you feel sleep slowly tugging at your eyelids in the early evening. You should not experience peaks and valleys of energy throughout the day.
This brings us to reverse engineering. What this boils down to is looking at the earlier mentioned sleep/wake cycle and energy rhythms of the day and figuring out why something is out of alignment with the ideal. It could be related to a number of things: your meal before bed, meal makeup (the foods themselves), shift work, kids, etc.
The first goal is simply to become aware of the root of the problem; solving comes later!
For instance, if you are having trouble waking up with energy in the morning, the solution is not more caffeine or setting 39 alarms (this used to be me and my college roommates hated it). The first step is looking back to the prior evening and asking a few of the following questions:
- What did you eat for dinner?
- How much time elapsed between your last bite and when you went to bed?
- What is your sleep hygiene routine? (when's the last time you're looking at screens, how much light in your house)
- Did you read a stressful work email before bed?
- Do your kids start back at school this week?
You see, all of these things can have an impact on your sleep, which will impact your body's production of leptin (the hormone that tells your body that you're full) and ghrelin (the hormone that tells your body that you're hungry).
If you can improve even one of the bulleted points above, it will dramatically improve your sleep which is one of the most critical factors towards reaching your goals!
FINALLY, WE NEED VARIETY:
This final area speaks to the importance of maximizing the nutrient density of the foods we eat - the macro- and micronutrients themselves.
This means that when it comes to fruits and vegetables, we should strive to "eat the rainbow." No, no, not taste it, put those skittles away. Basically, don't just eat red strawberries and green lettuce. Shoot for foods across the colors in the rainbow: red peppers, orange carrots, you get the gist.
As for the macros (protein, carbs, and fat), you should get each of them from different sources as often as you can. Why? Because the nutrients you get from chicken are different than those in red meat... which are different from what you get in an egg, etc. Same goes for olive oil vs. ghee vs. raw dairy. All are great sources of fat, but have different nutrient profiles.
I hope that you've found value in this and will go out and start implementing some (shooting for all!) right away! Do it and I know you're well on your way to achieving what you want most - sustained results. And if you need some help or guidance, you can always book an intro to come and talk with a coach who will get you there.