Do you get overwhelmed by all the conflicting diet and lifestyle information in the world these days? One person’s telling you to eat vegan and the next is recommending a paleo diet chock full of animal protein. They all claim to be the most ideal human diet – it could make your head spin. Here’s the thing, after many years of trying everything under the sun and using my body as a human guinea pig, what I’ve found is the best diet and lifestyle on the planet is the one that works for you! We are all unique individuals with unique lifestyles and no one simplified diet theory works for everyone. It can certainly take time to discover and navigate what works best for you but in the meantime, you can start your journey with some simple truths that transcend all dietary theories and that anyone can live by to improve their health and also support our planet and all the creatures on it.
#1: Go Organic
There are so many chemicals we are exposed to in our daily lives that we have little control over but when it comes to our food choices, we can make a difference. Up until about 100 years ago, all of our food was essentially organic. Most families grew their own vegetables and herbs, maybe raised animals and/or accessed most of what they ate from their local surroundings. Yet, thanks to the world being flipped on some bizarre axis, nowadays eating food that isn’t sprayed with harmful chemicals and pesticides is considered elitist (insert eye roll here).
Not only has organic food been proven to be more nutrient dense (which is important in our nutrient depleted world), eating organic also drastically reduces your exposure to the huge amounts of chemicals and pesticides sprayed on conventional crops. These toxic substances contribute to systemic inflammation and have a large negative on our immune systems, gut health, and hormones. Yes, eating organic can be more costly but aren’t we worth it? The money we’re ‘saving’ buying conventional produce and animal products isn’t really so impressive when we consider the litany of health and environmental problems that arise as a result of adding this massive amount of chemicals to our lives. Feeding your body the best quality food should be one of your top priorities in life. Examine your current budget and if money is tight, see if you can cut spending in other areas so that you can purchase better quality food. If money is a true struggle, make baby steps and find other creative ways to get more organic foods in your life -plant a small garden or grow some sprouts and herbs in your kitchen.
#2: Choose Non-GMO
GMO stands for genetically modified organisms. While nature and humans can naturally select crops to breed them for better taste and more yield, the bigger issues come in when biotech companies breed the DNA of one species into another in attempt to make them ‘pest resistant’. Hmmm or is it an attempt to sell their toxic pesticide which is the only thing that works on their patented seeds?? Make no mistake, the biotech industry is not about solving world hunger – it’s about making a big profit and we are the guinea pigs who are being fed these unnatural foods covered in toxic chemicals.
Of course the biotech companies are going to insist that these foods are ‘safe’ while our highly problematic FDA backs up their claims. Without an unbiased, long term, comprehensive study, it’s difficult to prove that these GMO foods are one of the major causes of our modern health crises. However, glyphosate – a broad spectrum herbicide and the main active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup (boo, hiss) – has been tied to many gut disorders, especially in children. Many integrative practitioners believe exposure to glyphosate is a large contributor to infertility, autism, ADD, depression, IBS, even cancer. If you truly believe that genetically modified crops sprayed with a toxic pesticide made by a company that is routinely losing huge lawsuits as correlation between their products and cancer is proven, then go for it. I refuse to be part of a giant frankenfood experiment and so I avoid GMO foods as much as humanly possible. In order to ensure you’re avoiding GMOs, always choose organic. If you can’t do that at least look for the Non-GMO seal on packaged goods and avoid the most commonly GMO plants like corn, soy, wheat, sugar and canola.
#3: Manage Your Stress
Ok this is a big one, maybe the biggest of all. I’ve learned first hand that stress is the single most harmful thing we do to our bodies. Stress affects us in so many ways from suppressing immune response to over-stimulating the nervous system, disrupting hormones, sleep, energy and on and on. It can be hard to avoid stress in our daily lives but it is SO essential to manage its affect on our bodies. You can read my full stress support article here but here are some of my top tips for managing stress:
-Meditation – even if you ‘suck’ at it, getting still, quieting the mind and relaxing the body has proven to be excellent at reducing stress response.
-Yoga/Exercise – Most people are clued into the benefits of yoga for mind and body health. This practice pretty much saved my life during one of the most stressful periods I’ve ever gone through. It’s the combination of movement, stretching, strength and breathwork that’s the true magic of yoga and why I think it’s such a great tool for managing stress. There are all different styles so find one that works for you and if none of them are a fit, just find the exercise or movement that works to help you release endorphins and alleviate stress.
– Adaptogens – a class of plants that help the body handle stress. There are many to choose from and you should find the ones that work for you. Some of my personal favorites: Reishi, Holy Basil, Rhodiola, Eleuthera, Ashwagandha
-Nervines – Herbs that work specifically on the nervous system to calm those frazzled nerves throughout the day. Faves include: Milky Oats, Skullcap, Passionflower, Lemon Balm, Lavender
-Community – having a support system of friends and family is essential to helping us navigate the stressors of daily life. One of the key similarities in cultures with long life expectancies is a strong sense of community and connection.
One of the biggest shifts we’ve experienced as humans in the past hundred or so years is the lack of movement we experience in our day to day lives. Functional movement and fitness which used to be an inherent and necessary part of our every day lives has become almost non-existent. The shift in our economy to largely office based jobs has eliminated almost all movement from our day. The average American sits over 9 hours every day and this stagnation is literally killing us. Dr. James Levine coined the term ‘sitting disease’ to describe the myriad of harmful impacts that excessive sitting and lack of movement has on our bodies.
Now the solution here isn’t necessarily the obligatory hour spent at the gym lifting weights or running on a treadmill. First of all, studies have shown that one hour at the gym does not do enough to offset the negative impact of sitting all day long. Also, for a lot of people, that gym workout is torture and I don’t blame them. Incorporating movement should not be a chore or obligation and it doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. Do you love to swim or play basketball or garden or ice skate or run after your kids at the park? Yes! Do that, do what you love and do it often. The key here is to incorporate more movement consistently – even the simple act of taking walks throughout the day is an incredible practice.
#5: Spend Time in Nature
Picture this: you’re walking through a forest, the shine is shining through the trees, the only sounds are birds chirping and plants rustling, there’s a slight cooling breeze. It’s still and quiet and beautiful. Now tell me, how can you possibly be stressed or anxious or worried about anything?! Forest Bathing is a literal practice popularized in Japan and used for preventative health care. Scientific research has shown that the simple act of walking through a forest can boost the immune system, reduce blood pressure, alleviate stress and anxiety, and improve energy, focus, sleep and mood!
This can be true of virtually any experience in nature. We are meant to be connected to the Earth and there is a literal energy field that grounds and resets us. In our modern world where we’re surrounded by the buzz of technology, pollution, noise, light, and non-stop stimulation, it’s more important than ever to unplug in the great outdoors. If you live in a city, get to a park, go for a hike, take a day trip or weekend away and immerse yourself in nature as often as you can! For me, there is no better medicine than fresh air and my bare feet on the grass.
#6: Use Natural Beauty Products
The skin is our largest organ and pretty much everything we put on it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. The average woman uses several dozen products every day and is exposing herself to a huge amount of potentially harmful chemicals. Slow toxicity build up over time and the lack of research on the use of ALL these products at once has made it hard to correlate their connection to disease and to truly educate women on how important it is to avoid them. One of the biggest issues here is the exposure to chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors which mimic our hormones, can wreak havoc on the endocrine system and potentially cause PMS, PCOS, infertility, endometriosis, cancer and many other health issues. Natural skin care is one of my biggest passions and I have loved using only clean beauty products for the past twelve years. There are so many amazing natural skin care lines so instead of buying your beauty products at a drugstore, try a local health food store or farmer’s market.
#7: Choose Natural Remedies
Nature is pretty darn amazing. Our beautiful earth has provided us with pretty much all the tools we need to heal ourselves of day to day ailments and even serious conditions. Once you discover the healing powers of plants, you’ll be amazed at how safe and effective they can be and how compatible they are with our bodies. Of course, sometimes western medicine is a necessary option – or even just the convenient quick fix we need – but please be aware of all the potential harmful side effects that come with regular use of these isolated, synthetic and chemical laden products. NSAIDS (like aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen) which are generally considered ‘safe’ and used with reckless abandon in the United States carry black box warnings from the FDA. Here is just one of the many warnings they emphasize, ‘NSAIDS increase risk of serious and potentially fatal GI adverse events including bleeding, ulcer and stomach or intestine perforation.’ I mean that is insane and personally, I want no part of it! Also, did you know that many of our modern western medicines were inspired by or even created from plant constituents? Pharmaceutical companies have been able to isolate one compound or derive a synthetic version which they can then patent and make a killing (pun intended) off of. This is about profit, not wellness! My favorite remedies to keep on hand are of course herbs- tinctures and teas are my go to. I also love colloidal silver, CBD, homeopathy and many more. To discover some of my favorite natural remedies, download my Natural Medicine Cabinet ebook, visit my resources page and head to your trusted local health food store to makeover your medicine cabinet now!
#8: Eliminate Processed Foods
Ok guys, we all love snacks, I LOVE snacks but when it comes to processed, packaged foods in the United States we need to be so wary about what we’re putting into our bodies. It’s always best for whole, fresh foods to make up the bulk of your diet but when you are craving some snack foods or need something convenient, start to explore the organic options at your health food store or on an online marketplace like Thrive. Our commercial food industry has gotten very clever about getting us addicted to their junk food and they use the absolute worst ingredients to make their products as cheap as possible. It should infuriate you that the same products have different ingredients in Europe than the United States because of the much stricter standards that the EU has for their food supply. Amongst the many issues with processed foods:
-The majority of commercial snack foods contain GMO ingredients and their accompanying chemical residues
-Processed salt and sugar has been stripped of all their natural mineral content creating an incomplete and harmful food that creates imbalances in our bodies.
-In order to make these foods more palatable they tend to contain high amounts of grains that have been stripped of vitamins and minerals only to be added back in a synthetic form. Folic acid is one of the most problematic given that a huge percentage of the population cannot convert folic acid into the active, usable form.
-Most of these snack foods contain cheap, inflammatory oils like soy, canola, vegetable, peanut, corn and palm. The American diet is crazy high in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids which contribute to systemic inflammation in our bodies. We are learning that inflammation is the root of pretty much all disease. It’s like your body is constantly on fire!
-The use of colorings and dyes is rampant in processed foods. Once again, these are banned in many countries. Side effects have been linked to asthma, allergies and hyperactivity in children.