Nowadays, it seems like everyone’s a guru, and they each have that special pill or potion or never-before-seen exercise technique that’s going to revolutionize your life. However, the truth is that every person’s body is different, which means that there are different “rules” for taking care of that body. What works for one person might not work for you.
To make matters worse, it’s not like your body comes with an instruction manual for you to automatically know how best to take care of yourself. Your body is a system, made of several “systems”, and they’re all working synergistically together to make up your overall health.
So to help you start understanding your own body better and what you need to do to truly look, feel, and function at your best, following are some tips for taking care of yourself – your whole self. They’re broken down by “system” to more easily see how it all works together, and they’re just general guidelines as your body will have its own unique “settings” and requirements.
First, let’s start with the most obvious, but most complex one, nutrition. You know you need to eat to stay alive. However, not everything you eat will give your body the fuel it needs. Sure, you can get by on a poor diet, but you definitely won’t look and feel your best. What’s important for proper nutrition is not only what you put into your body, but how much, when, and how often.
WHAT TO EAT
There are three main categories of foods – protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Those are called “macros” (short for macronutrients) because they’re the major components that comprise a balanced diet and proper nutrition. Although fats and carbs often get a bad rap as being unhealthy, and popular diets like Keto promote a high-protein diet, it’s actually essential to include a balanced ratio of all three macros in your diet. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or a meat-eater, there are healthy options for everyone.
Proteins are the building blocks for your muscles, organs, tissues, and even your skin. Healthy protein sources include eggs, chicken and turkey, fish, grains like oats and quinoa, legumes (soybeans, kidney beans, lentils, and chickpeas), dairy like milk, cheese, and Greek yogurt, nuts and seeds, and even some vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts.
Carbohydrates are what give your body energy to perform its daily functions. Your brain, especially, uses a lot of energy supplied by carbs. Healthy carbs include foods high in fiber like vegetables, most fruits and berries, brown rice, white and sweet potatoes, oats, quinoa, legumes, and even pasta (in moderation). The carbs you want to watch out for are the “white” foods like white bread, white rice, and white sugar because they break down too quickly and will spike your blood sugar and insulin levels, leaving you feeling sleepy, lethargic, and foggy-minded.
Lastly, fats have several crucial functions including giving your brain and body energy, producing hormones and supporting cell growth, and protecting your organs. It’s tempting to eat low-fat foods, but the important thing is choosing good quality fats like olive and coconut oils, avocados, nuts, fish, chia seeds, cheese, and even eggs.
HOW MUCH TO EAT
Instead of just counting calories, it’s more effective to make sure you’re focusing on balanced meals that include each of the macros. An easy way to control portion sizes is to use your hand.
The palm of your hand is roughly the equivalent of 6 oz. (170 g) and is a good way to measure a portion of protein like fish, chicken, or steak. The size of your fist is a good measurement for carbs, like how big a scoop of vegetables should be, or the size of a baked potato. For fats, it’s better to be more conservative and stick to half an avocado, a drizzle or small spoonful of olive or coconut oil, or one whole egg.
WHEN AND HOW OFTEN TO EAT
Social norms have taught us that proper nutrition means eating “three square meals” a day and that breakfast is the most important meal. However, depending on your body type, eating your first meal in the morning might not be optimal, and eating dinner close to bedtime can affect the quality of your sleep.
Your own body’s needs highly depend on your hormones and your natural cycles, including sleep and menstruation. So determining when to eat is subjective and requires knowing and understanding your own body. If you’re in tune with your body, then the simplest guide is to just eat when you’re hungry. However, if you’re not eating high-quality foods that keep you feeling full and energized, then you run the risk of succumbing to cravings and overeating.
To keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day, it’s best to space your meals out more evenly. Proper portions that include high-quality macros will keep you feeling satiated for longer and will sustain your energy. When you start to feel your energy dropping off, eat healthy snacks like high-fiber fruits and vegetables, unseasoned popcorn, nuts, a hard-boiled egg, or some jerky. To get ideas on simple, healthy recipes, use apps or blogs for guidance.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s essential to include all of the macronutrients every day in order to keep your body looking and feeling its best. Choosing high-quality foods will help you stay energized, focused, and clear-headed throughout the day, and you won’t feel hungry as often or tempted to reach for unhealthy, sugary snacks. The best way to do this is to understand your body’s natural cycles in order to find the nutrition and eating schedule that’s right for you.
How much water do you drink every day? Is it enough? Too much? How do you know?
Staying hydrated is not only vital for keeping your body alive and functioning, but drinking the right amount of water at the right times helps your body maintain optimum performance. When you’re properly hydrated, you feel more alert and focused, your mind is clear, you physically perform better, and you have fewer cravings for sugary or salty foods. Being well-hydrated is even good for your skin and complexion.
The key, however, is to drink water regularly throughout the day. The general rule of thumb is to drink eight to ten glasses of water each day. However, if you have a habit of not drinking for several hours and then guzzling a whole bottle of water at one time, you actually put a strain on your kidneys to filter so much all at once. So it’s better to pace yourself and drink roughly one glass of water every hour.
The problem is that it’s hard to remember to drink water regularly, especially when you get busy or have other things you need to focus on throughout the day. To overcome this, try to always have a refillable bottle of water with you, and whenever it’s empty, immediately refill it. An app that has hydration reminders is another good way to not only get notifications to drink water but to track how much water you consume each day.
THE BOTTOM LINE
By keeping yourself hydrated, you’ll definitely start to notice positive changes in your appearance, your performance, and how you feel. You’ll have fewer headaches, you’ll be able to ward off daytime fatigue and drowsiness, and you’ll even experience more positive moods. The important thing is to pace your water intake throughout the day by always keeping a bottle of water on hand and setting drink reminders every hour or so.
Like nutrition and hydration, exercise is another critical component of any holistic wellness routine. However, as with everything else related to taking care of your body and mind, it’s not always clear how much exercise you need, what kinds of exercise are best, how often you should exercise, and how long each session should be.
This also very much depends on your body type, your muscle and bone structure, your metabolism, and, once again, your hormonal cycles. As much as fitness gurus want you to believe that their way is the only right way, the truth is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
The short answer would be to hire a personal trainer who can give you a full, personalized, body assessment and a detailed nutrition and exercise plan. However, unless you have a money tree in your backyard to pay for 24/7 coaching, you’ll probably see your trainer once a week for a one-hour workout and then you’ll be on your own the rest of the week to stick to the plan yourself.
In lieu of this, it’s best if you can do some sort of movement activity for at least 15-20 minutes every day. Even doing laundry, cleaning house, or doing yard work count as movement. If that’s not possible, then try to do some other sort of exercise at least three times a week, including sports, gym classes, or yoga. If you need ideas for what exercises to do, or to find guided workouts, use apps and blogs for inspiration.
THE BOTTOM LINE
We all know we need to exercise in order to maintain a healthy body and mind, and there are plenty of experts and gurus touting what they believe to be the best way. However, the specific regimen that’s best suited for you very much depends on your unique body type. Instead of guessing and haphazardly trying different things, you’ll get the best results if you can get a personalized assessment, as well as a fitness and nutrition plan tailored just for you, along with daily guidance, encouragement, and feedback.
As long as you’re getting eight hours of sleep a night, you’re good to go, right? Unfortunately, that idea is a bit outdated. The truth is, everyone is different when it comes to their individual sleep requirements, and your sleep needs vary depending on how much physical activity you’re doing, the quality of your nutrition, how well-hydrated you are, your stress levels, and even where you are in your monthly menstrual cycle.
On average, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but more importantly, your brain needs to go through complete sleep cycles throughout the night, including getting at least 1-2 hours of deep sleep. However, that varies from one individual to the next, and getting too much sleep is just as bad as not getting enough. Women are more prone to gaining belly fat if they don’t sleep enough, and too much sleep can lead to metabolic syndrome, which includes weight gain and feeling tired no matter how much you sleep.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know the quality of your sleep and if you’re completing all the cycles unless you use a sleep tracking device. However, even with these devices, you receive data on the night’s sleep, but it doesn’t take into account things like your menstrual cycle, stress levels, hydration, etc. In addition, the devices don’t give recommendations on how you can make adjustments to improve your sleep or how much sleep is optimal for you.
Without more specific data and recommendations, your only solution is to shoot for the 7-9 hour range, and try to go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, even on weekends. To ensure better quality sleep, turn off any screens at least 30 minutes before bed, including any TVs in your bedroom. Don’t drink too much water close to bed time, make sure your room is completely dark, including covering any lights from electronics or clocks, and keep your room at a cooler temperature than during the day. If you’re a light sleeper, use a sound machine, white noise app, a fan, or earplugs to cover any outside sounds that might wake you.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Getting good quality sleep is so much more than just the number of hours you’re in bed each night. As with fitness and nutrition, sleep is another system that depends on the care and function of all the other systems in order to be optimized. In order to feel your best, it’s important to do everything you can to ensure that you complete a full night of uninterrupted sleep cycles.
Although it’s not often given the same level of focus and priority as nutrition, hydration, exercise, and sleep, stress-relief is another huge component of total body wellness. When you’re stressed, your body releases the “stress hormone” called cortisol, which is linked to your adrenal system.
At normal levels, cortisol is a highly important hormone that performs many functions all over the body. It regulates metabolism, reduces inflammation, helps control blood sugar, blood pressure, and the balance of salt and water in the body, and for pregnant women, supports fetal development.
However, like adrenalin during a fight or flight response, cortisol gets released during periods of stress. As a stress response, cortisol increases blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, as well as tension in the muscles for faster reaction. It also temporarily stops non-essential functions like the digestive and reproductive systems. If cortisol levels remain high during prolonged periods of stress, long-term health issues can arise, including anxiety, depression, digestive and reproductive issues, weight gain, and an increase in belly fat.
Because cortisol plays such a big part in overall health and well-being, it’s clear how stress affects the entire system. If you don’t have a way to relieve stress, then your own body’s natural stress response will undermine any effort you make to stay in shape, be healthy, and look and feel your best.
The most effective, and easy, ways to relieve stress are to do meditation and breathing exercises. Even a few minutes a day can have a dramatic impact on your stress (and cortisol) levels, which will help you reduce anxiety and get your metabolism back on track. Yoga is another great stress-reliever, as well as deep stretching. Although you can do all of these activities yourself, it’s even better to have an app to not only guide you, but to remind you to take a few minutes each day to focus on stress-relief.
THE BOTTOM LINE
When thinking about health and wellness, it’s easy to forget the role that stress plays. Although nutrition and exercise certainly help reduce stress, the easiest and most effective stress-relief methods can be done in just a few minutes a day without even leaving your chair. The best solution is to use a good meditation or breathing app with reminders to take some mental health time for yourself every day.
The last “system” in the total body wellness approach to self-care is your menstrual cycle. This one might not seem as obvious as the others, but it’s equally important. When you think of your menstrual cycle, you probably only think of your period, and maybe PMS if you happen to suffer from it. However, whether you realize it or not, your menstrual cycle affects you all month long.
If you’ve never tracked your cycles, you probably haven’t noticed any patterns in your moods or behaviors, but almost like clockwork, each week of your cycle brings a new set of feelings and experiences. From anxiety and depression to libido to irritability to feeling energized and on top of the world to feeling emotional and exhausted to even headaches and insomnia, all of those moods and conditions are thanks to your hormonal cycle.
So how can you get on top of your cycles and work with them instead of being at the mercy of your moods each week? Well, the first thing is to start tracking your menstrual cycle and to start noticing the moods, emotions, energy levels, and physical symptoms you feel each day of the month. It may sound tedious, at first, but it will give you a good base line to start noticing patterns.
Once you have an idea of your cycles and how each stage affects you, then you can plan around them. Perhaps on the weeks that you know you’ll be feeling more fatigued, you can take it easy and do yoga and light stretching instead of a rigorous gym workout. If you’re trying to get pregnant, you can track when you’ll be ovulating. If you tend to get cravings before or during your period, you can plan ahead and be prepared with healthier snacks.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Your menstrual cycle is an often-overlooked key component to your overall wellness. So when you’re planning your fitness, nutrition, exercise, and other aspects of your health routine, remember to take your cycle into account. It has a huge effect on how you feel, and even how your body looks and responds, week by week. Start tracking your cycle and moods with an app to help you notice patterns that you can then plan around.
As you can see, your body really is a complex “machine” of systems that all work together. So when making a plan to get in shape, or lose weight, or increase energy and focus, or even to eat better, it’s important to take all the systems into account to see how one affects the other.
There is no one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach. Each body is different and unique. The diet and exercise program that works for some celebrity, or for your friend, may not work for you. So instead of guessing and wasting time with trial and error, take the quiz to learn more about how to work with your own body to create a complete health and wellness program that is tailor-made just for you.