So, you want to feel better. Want to know how and where to start? Living an 80/20 lifestyle means that you are going to be doing the right things for your health the majority of the time (at least 80%) but with some wiggle room.
Achieving 100% compliance with a diet or lifestyle is hard and can lead to burnout if the effort required exceeds your available mental energy. Being on the right path 80% of the time isn’t an exact proposition, in fact as you progress it will get easier and easier to get closer to 100%.
There are a few simple steps to get started that you can take that are cheap and easy ways to feel better fast and get the process of improving your health and happiness started.
- What is Keto? A keto 101 guide
- Don't drink your calories, drink water
- Eat right, or at least better than last week
- Tracking your progress
- Digestive health
- Decision fatigue and setting hard rules
- Stress management
This is probably the most important and at the same time easiest thing to work on. If you aren’t getting the right amount of quality sleep every night your hormones can be negatively affected, your mood will likely be worse than when well rested, and recovery from stress, illness, and workouts will all be limited.
I have noticed that when I don’t get enough sleep my appetite increases, my temper gets short, and I have a harder time mentally. Difficulty retaining information and focusing are also subtle, but noticeable side effects of sleep deprivation that I have experienced.
There are many things you can work on to improve the effectiveness of your sleep and help you wake up feeling refreshed. Learn more about Sleeping Better.
Proper hydration is essential for feeling and performing your best, and the simplest solution (some high-quality H2O) is almost always the right one when it comes time to choose a drink. When I'm off the health wagon the single biggest source of junk calories, I consume is soda, and I don’t think I’m alone.
Sugary coffee drinks, sweet tea, and sodas large enough to drown in add to our waistlines while subtracting from our health. For more thoughts on what and when to drink including more information on alcohol and a healthy diet check out and article I wrote on what to drink on a low carb diet.
This is the main focus of this website because this is where I think it’s hardest to keep focused and consistently achieve our goals. Changing how you eat too quickly can easily lead right back to where you started. Do this too often and you might convince yourself that it isn’t possible to make a new diet (or eating lifestyle) work. I actually don’t like to think of what I eat in terms of a ‘diet’. I enjoy many types and styles of food and even still eat junk from time to time. Everybody is different though, and for some it’s easiest to stay completely away from unhealthy food. Dive into Eating for a Healthy Lifestyle.
You can outrun a bad diet, but it’s going to take a lot of effort. Eat a bad enough diet and you may need more exercise than your free time allows. Why put all that time in just to get back to even out the field when you overeat? Keeping your calories down makes the exercise that much more effective towards changing your body composition. Your goals are going to determine what exercise plan you choose, but the best exercise is one that you enjoy and will continue to do. A perfect plan isn’t worth anything if you can’t make yourself follow it.
Hopefully you already have an exercise practice, but it’s okay if you don’t. Walking is a great place to start, it’s low impact, you can easily vary the intensity, and with the right clothes you can do it almost anywhere at any time. Taking a short walk after meals is one way to begin. Many cultures worldwide practice this, in Italian it’s known as a passeggiata and can aid digestion and help regulate blood sugar levels. If you're more advanced or are trying to shed weight more quickly, a more intense exercise practice can help you feel better, get stronger, and reach your body composition goals faster.
Some weeks you might not make any headway on your goals. This doesn’t always mean that good things aren’t happening. If you are only watching the scale you won’t see that your muscles are getting bigger and your waist smaller. If you are only looking at the mirror, you won’t know that your blood work is getting better and better. Tracking is psychologically important for me, I don’t like wasting time and effort so it's vital for me to know if what I am doing is working.
Tracking progress can be as simple as a scale and a tape measure, or as complicated as a DEXA scan and full blood panel. Figure out what you need to track to keep yourself honest and motivated, how often you want to track, and then do it and WRITE IT DOWN. Seeing the your progress will reinforce what you are doing right and help figure out what isn’t working before you waste too much time. More details can be found in an article I wrote on Tracking Progress on a Low Carb Diet.
If your digestive system isn’t ready for your diet it can be very unpleasant. Anyone who is lactose intolerant can verify this. Gluten intolerance and celiac disease, sensitivity to nightshades, caffeine, and hops are few things friends and family have had to deal with. If you're having symptoms it would be helpful to track everything you eat for a couple of weeks and see if any patterns emerge. Some symptoms can take up to 48 hours to appear so it may not be obvious what is causing them.
Changing what you eat too quickly can lead to upset stomach, bloating, brain fog, migraines, and other less pleasant symptoms. The microbiome in your digestive system changes with your diet and can be negatively affected by sudden changes.
Oral antibiotics can also wreak havoc with your digestive health. It can take months for your digestive system to recover after antibiotic use. Other conditions like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and candida overgrowth can also occur at higher frequency with the standard American diet and may require professional help to control.
Fermented foods can also be helpful for gut health in addition to being delicious. Some people may find them to be an acquired taste, but there are many varieties to choose from. Sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt are all easily found in most supermarkets.
This process is about making your life and/or body better. The motivation to do this should be personal, making changes for others can work, but I think the results will last longer if the changes are made for you. Whether your goal is to feel better, look better, or compete in a race, figuring out what you are in this for will help orient you in the right direction. Whatever it is that you are working towards, the process hopefully will lead to lower stress and higher satisfaction.
Where do you want to be in 5 days, 5 months, 5 years? Deciding what you want long term can help you make short term decisions to move you towards that long-term goal. If you want to retire early maybe the first step is opening up an IRA. If you want to compete in a major marathon finding a local 5k race to sign up for and start training.
When I don’t have a goal in mind I find it very easy to gradually taper off from my plan and not really realize it until I have completely stopped what I was doing. Having a target in front of me keeps me focused and makes me think about what I need to do next.
Life is stressful and depending on your responsibilities it’s easy to give in to temptation at the end of a long day. The phenomena of decision fatigue means that the more you have to think and make decisions the more likely you are to underthink and make snap decisions as time goes on.
This can lead to giving in to temptation when you are tired or stressed. One simple way to avoid some of these situations is to make decisions before you get to the question. For example, deciding that you can’t have sugar during the week can make it easier to resist that milkshake on the way home versus having to recall all the things you had that day to decide if it fits into your diet.
Committing ahead of time to a workout schedule can help when deciding if you feel like going to the gym that day. One helpful tool set is accountability apps. The simple act of writing down goals and forcing yourself to check in with them can be a huge motivation and these apps can add some automated check in to help.
Stress eating is real, I’ve done it. Hangry is real too, and can cause its own stress. Modern life is stressful, having kids is stressful, work is stressful. Its important to have a way to deal with it. Some of our stresses are self-imposed and we should be working to avoid unnecessary additions to our stress load. Social media can be useful for keeping in touch with friends and family but getting wrapped up in drama for drama’s sake is bad for your mental health. Sleeping in and then rushing to get ready for work in the morning is a bad start to the day.
Having excess energy can also be a stressor. When your body is always ready to go and you are just sitting around it can make you antsy. I feel much more bored and ready to burst when I’m full of energy with no way to burn it off. Exercise in this situation can really help calm you down, recess helps kids stay calm in the classroom and pay attention better and I don’t think we grow out of this.
Walking and thinking go together well as practiced by philosophers Aristotle, Nietzsche, and many others. It’s instinct to go out for a walk, hikers do it just for the sake of walking with some taking months at a time to just walk great distances on major trails like the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail.
Finding healthy ways to de-stress is an important step in your self-care plan. Log out. Take a walk. Turn on some good music. Meditate. It’s critical to find a way to lower your stress level that really works for you.
Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. There really isn’t a most important meal, and for many people breakfast is not even part of the routine. Being a bit of a night owl, I would naturally rather stay up a bit later and sleep right through breakfast.
I usually don’t have anything other than black coffee until lunch time. Once you have trained your body to burn fat for fuel, skipping a meal doesn’t really mean skipping a meal, just that your body will be using its fat stores to provide your energy needs. Fasting comes in many varieties, including intermittent, one meal a day, and multiple day.
At their core they all share the same idea but vary in length between meals, with intermittent fasting having a daily feeding period of between six and eight hours. A typical eating day would start around lunch and end at dinner or a little later. One meal a day is self-explanatory, with practitioners getting all their food in at one sitting. Multiple day fasts are less popular for obvious reasons and require proper lead up, this is NOT something to jump into unprepared.