If you knew absolutely nothing about health and fitness and set out armed with Google to learn how to live your healthiest life, you might not get very far. Go vegan! No, go vegetarian! No, eat lots of meat! No, eat only fish! Exercise every day for seven minutes! No, exercise twice a week for two hours! There’s no shortage of information on health out there, but much of it is completely contradictory. If you then found yourself determined to dig into the science, you’d find the same thing. Beyond a few commonly accepted truisms (don’t starve yourself or over-stuff yourself, move your body consistently, eat more vegetables), even the science seems to give different answers.
For a lot of people, this leads to decision paralysis. Well, if I can’t figure out what’s best, they think, I guess I just won’t do anything at all. Or, maybe worse, I’ll try everything but give up before I have time to make any progress. All this conflicting information causes you to self-sabotage from the very beginning.
The Importance (and Non-Importance) of Science
Science is awesome. The amount the human race has learned about ourselves and the world around us is staggering. Pretty much once a week, I read about a new study that was done or a new innovation and think, Wow. We’re living in the future.
But unless you’re a nutritionist, personal trainer, biologist, or something along those lines, here’s the thing about the science: you don’t have to know exactly what it says about everything. You just don’t. Your goal shouldn’t be finding out what works to make every human being healthy (unless that’s your life mission). It should be to find out what works for you. In fact, trying to discover broad, sweeping generalizations about what works can be a delay tactic to avoid finding out what works for YOU.
Different bodies are different. I know, mind-blowing revelation. That means that what worked for your friend, or your boss, or your trainer, or that celebrity may or may not work for you.
But How Do I Know What Works for Me?
Here’s the tough part: you have to actually try it. You will never know how your body reacts to things unless you give it a chance to show you. Interested in going vegan, paleo, gluten-free, whatever? Give it a try. For this to really work, though, you have to go all in. I would suggest trying it for a minimum of 30 days to give your body time to adjust. And don’t cheat! You won’t know what’s affecting you if you don’t give it a fair shot.
A great example of this is the Whole 30. I’ve just started my second Whole 30 because the last one was so successful for me. It’s essentially a pretty strict version of the paleo diet for 30 days, after which you reintroduce foods slowly to see how your body reacts to each type individually. The Whole 30 confirmed for me that the paleo diet is something my body really likes.
During the 30 days that you’re trying your new eating plan (in this example), stay conscious of how your body feels and how it’s functioning. I would recommend keeping a log of your experiences. You don’t have to write every day, but try to do at least one or two entries a week for an accurate record of how it’s affecting you. This will be helpful when the 30 days are up!
After the 30 days, you get to decide on your next step. Didn’t love what you tried? Find something else to try (but be gradual in your transition). Feel better than you did before? Decide how to integrate your new knowledge into your life. The point isn’t to be super strict about your eating habits forever — it’s to learn how your body reacts to different things and act accordingly.
What If That’s Too Much for Me Right Now?
Not at a point in your life where you feel comfortable making a huge change to your eating habits? That’s okay! Another option is changing one small thing and seeing how that makes you feel. But you still have to go all-in, even to a really small change. Decide to add one serving of vegetables to your day? Commit to that, publicly if possible. Journal about it. Follow all the steps you would if you were completely changing how you eat. Notice how your body feels.
This is still a way to figure out what works for your body. I did a 30-day green smoothie challenge and discovered that consuming fresh fruits and vegetables at the beginning of my day, with no other changes, made me feel way better. That works for me. Maybe you’ll discover that drinking water instead of one of your daily sodas works wonders for you too, or at least makes it a little easier for you to sleep at night.
What About Exercise?
The real secret to exercise is to do what you like. Hate running? Don’t run! Think there’s no exercise you actually like? There are tons of things out there for you to try. Hop on Groupon and see if there are any cool local fitness classes on sale — you can try things like aerial yoga, rock climbing, ballroom dance, martial arts, or outdoor boot camp. Keep trying things until you find something you enjoy, because I promise you, there is a healthy way of moving your body that you can actively appreciate.
After you find something (or several things) you like, the trick is to keep doing them. Make them a priority. Schedule time to make it happen. Go to classes with friends, or find a fitness app you really love (my favorite is Zombies, Run!). Take the time to actively enjoy your exercise — like when you’re changing eating habits, you may benefit from journaling about this experience so you can refer to it later.
The Bottom Line
All that really matters is what works for you, because the point of health isn’t to be right — it’s to be healthy enough to enjoy your life! If other people try to argue you into the “right” way of eating, exercising, sleeping, or anything else, but you feel good and your body does what you want, you can just smile and say, “Well, I’m glad that works for you!”
What about you? Have you ever done any personal experiments? What works for you?