This is the third installment of my Simple Checklists for Better Health series.
And in this article, I’m going to share with A Simple Checklist for Better Nutrition.
Nutrition is a big topic. And frankly, as a science, it’s still in its early days. Which means it can also be confusing to navigate.
I’m not a doctor or a dietician. But I have spent the last 5+ years researching best-practices, carefully observing how my body and mind feel while experimenting with these practices, and scanning for clear signals amidst the chaotic noise of the nutrition world.
I created this list with a few principles in mind:
1 – Focus on the 80/20. We’d be wise to focus on the 20% of things that get us 80% of the impact. Nutrition is way more difficult than it needs to be for most of us because we overcomplicate it.
2 – Ground it in Personal experience. All items on the checklist must have been personally validated in the laboratory of my life.
3 – It Will Evolve. When I learn more, I fully anticipate updating this checklist.
How to Use this Checklist
A checklist is nothing more than a set of best practices.
There are two main ways to use this one.
First, as a scorecard. Take a pass through these practices, and evaluate where your current behaviors align with or diverge from them. This gives you a high-level look at what might be opportunity areas for you to play with. (As with everything I write, I encourage you not to take my word for any of it. Experiment with what I share in the laboratory of your own life. And notice how you feel.)
Second, as a checklist. Action is the bridge between ideas and results. Checklists are an underrated tool to help us take consistent action. So when it comes time for you to rock some experimentation in your life, use the checklist as support.
That’s enough context for now. Let’s dig in!
A Simple Checklist for Better Nutrition
There are only three categories we need to think about when talking about nutrition.
0 – Strategy: Other practices that help make the other three easier to follow.
1 – Selection: What you eat. And more importantly, what you don’t eat.
2 – Timing: When you eat–and don’t eat–throughout the day.
3 – Quantity: How much you eat.
Those four categories set the container within which we can talk about food. The checklist of practices nest within that structure.
Strategy: What to do on a High-Level
Creating a healthy relationship with food + drink is easier when you put a few strategies in place upfront.
- Eat for Something Bigger Than Yourself. Why do you want to eat better? Who are you capable of being when you’re fueling your body and mind well? How are you capable of showing up? What are you capable of accomplishing? How do you engage with food when you’re performing at your peak? Clarifying your “Why?” makes everything easier.
- Meditate Every Day. Meditation trains your self-awareness, self-control, and somatic awareness. All of which are crucial skills that help create great food habits.
- Create Crystal-Clear Rules. “I want to eat less sugar” is a foggy rule. How do you know when you’ve broken? “I will eat no food products with added sugar” is crystal clear. You know when you’ve done it, and you know when you haven’t. Paradoxically, these hard-and-fast rules save our willpower and make it easier to stick to healthy habits.
- Do More of What Works. I eat a similar set of meals nearly every single day. Following these practices, I’ve found foods that A) I feel great eating, B) Help me meet my health goals, and C) Taste great to me. Eating the same meals makes everything easier (planning, shopping, cooking, etc.) and means I can give more energy to my other priorities in life because I’m not overthinking food.
- Treat it as an Experiment. What you eat and how you feel is all just data. Notice what works, notice what doesn’t, and have fun playing with new approaches.
Selection: What Not to Eat
When it comes to nutrition, there are no fountains of youth. But there are toxins + poisons. So instead of searching for magic pills to add to our diet, we’d be wise to consider what not to eat, first.
- Don’t Eat Sugar. This is one place that everyone agrees. Sugar is toxic and wreaks havoc on our body + mind. I feel like an entirely different person when sugar is in my diet, vs. when it’s not. It feels like my self-control goes out the window because I experience such strong cravings that are non-existent when I don’t eat sugar. (Plus, I hardly ever get sick when I don’t eat sugar.)
- Don’t Eat Flour and Fast-Acting Carbohydrates. These are metabolized just like sugar and have a similar effect on our body + mind. When I eat these, my gut feels off, I experience more cravings and reduced clarity of mind.
- Don’t Eat Vegetable, Seed, and Bean Oils. This includes canola, safflower, soybean, corn, sunflower, etc. These oils didn’t exist in human diets until we invented machines to extract them within the last 100 years. Which means we didn’t evolve to consume them. They’re overloaded with Omega 6 fatty acids, which contributes directly to excess levels of inflammation in the body.
- Don’t Eat Factory-Farmed Meat Products. Lots of reasons to avoid this, but in my experience, it’s the same thing as vegetable oils. The byproduct of an animal eating crappy food is that they are a poor choice of food for a human. I feel signs of inflammation in my body that aren’t there when I eat well-sourced animal products.
Timing: When to Eat
All of our biological processes operate on a circadian rhythm. The timing of our food intake can influence these rhythms positively or negatively.
- Eat First When You’re Actually Hungry. Instead of eating at set times, pay attention to the sensations in your body and gut to understand when you’re actually hungry. This is particularly salient in the morning. Oftentimes, I wake up feeling sensations that seem like hunger. But after drinking my morning Nalgene of water and meditating for 20 minutes, I no longer feel them. I was in need of water, not food.
- Don’t Eat Too Late. One of the keys to having great sleep, which also helps regulate our hormones so we don’t feel hunger cravings, is to stop eating multiple hours before going to bed. I target ~4 hours before bed to stop eating. But stopping 2 hours before bed is a great place to start.
- Don’t Eat Too Often. Snacking between meals throws our hunger-related hormones out of whack. If meals aren’t satiating enough for us to feel comfortable not eating between them, we’d be wise to focus on eating more nourishing meals (instead of filling in the gaps with snacks.)
This one is self-explanatory.
- Don’t Eat Too Much. It’s easier to eat the right amount when we aren’t eating processed, hyper-palatable foods. A good rule of thumb is to stop eating when we’re feeling about 80% full. There’s a delay between when we eat something and when our body signals how full we are. This helps even that out.
- Drink Enough Water. This is great for a number of reasons, but in the context of food, it helps us better-understand how full we actually are. Which makes not eating too much way easier.
With the explanations listed out, it might not seem that simple at first glance.
But if we just focus on the practices themselves, they’re very simple. Of course, simple doesn’t always mean easy. But over time, it does become easy.
Hal Elrod’s frame on behavior change comes to mind. At first, it’ll feel unbearable, then it’ll be uncomfortable, but soon enough, you’ll be unstoppable.
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These practices make a big difference in the quality of my life, in every way. I hope they help you rock it, and do what you’re here to do, even better than before.
Lots of love,