Dancing to Your Own Tune: Personalize Your Healthy Living Routine

As some of you know, I like to eat Paleo and one of our chief gurus, Robb Wolf, recently published a new book, Wired to Eat, about customizing your eating plan.  The book has been out a little over a week and I downloaded the audio version.  I confess I am not a big fan of audio books, but what the heck! I can give it a listen on the drive home.  One of my favorite people (Elizabeth Benton, Primal Potential) is also reading it and I’m looking forward to hearing her thoughts on it.

From having read the opening chapter (thank you, Kindle sample!), it looks like the point of this book is that no matter what eating plan you follow (Paleo, Keto, LCHF, etc) you need to find what works for you! You would think this would be a no-brainer, but many times we just “follow the rules” or “follow the crowd.”  For example, “my sister does keto and she doesn’t eat any veggies at all! I must be doing it wrong since I usually have salad once a day!” This is where so many of us run into problems, and not just with eating.  It’s that syllogism again: All poodles are dogs but not all dogs are poodles.  We are all human, so there are some foods that are better for other species than for us (ie eucalyptus leaves are not high on our diets!), but we are not all the same, so there are some foods that are better for me than for you, and vice versa.  Even among poodles, there are variations, so we need to account for these variations when we start making improvements to our routines.  Sometimes, following the crowd and/ or rules will not work for us, and it’s okay to customize our routines.

We often forget that when we try to adopt a healthy new plan. For example, another one of my favorite people (Alan Misner, 40+ Fitness) was giving some tips on how to stick with your workout routine, and one of his tips was to get it done first thing in the morning. Honestly, I hear a lot of advice about getting your workouts done first thing in the morning, doing your journaling or gratitude or meditation, etc, first thing in the morning. For a while, I just figured I was out of luck, since I am the antithesis of a morning person.  The old expression “I’m allergic to mornings” is the best descriptor for me. Listening to their podcasts, I pretty much came to the conclusion that as a night person, if I tried to do the routines Alan and Elizabeth were describing, it would be a disaster for me. I am not awake in the mornings, so when they gave advice about doing self-care and journaling and workouts, it would be the same as a morning person trying to do it at night.  Most people come home from work and they are pretty worn out, ready to have dinner, watch a little tv/ internet and go to bed.  I am more awake in the evenings: I come home, do my journaling, get online, watch tv, have dinner, play with the pets, do my workouts, make my phone calls and if I had my way, I would go to bed around 1:00 a.m. or so. Going to bed by 11:00 p.m. is a sacrifice for me!

So, instead of setting up an evening routine that’s pretty much on autopilot, I set up a morning routine that is on autopilot.  Before I go to bed at night, I set out everything I need to pack for breakfast and lunch.  All I need to do when I get up is turn on the coffee maker and grab my lunch bag.  My gym bag gets packed the night before and left next to my purse.  My clothes are laid out the night before.  The only accommodation I really make is I get up a bit earlier to I can do my version of gratitude.  “Gratitude” is a practice that focuses on things and people you truly appreciate in your life and it starts (or ends) your day on a positive note.  I don’t write anything out or pray or meditate: I spend a few minutes each morning playing each of my pets individually.  The rest of the morning is pretty much on autopilot for about an hour or so, until I really wake up sometime after coffee and getting on the highway.

The reason most people do an autopilot routine in the evenings is that this is the time of day when they are most likely to veer off track and away from their goals because they are emotionally and physically drained at the end of the day.  Alan refers to this as “decision fatigue.”  This is when you’re asking yourself what to have for dinner, should you go to your workout? what should you do to keep on track to your goals versus what feels easier for you to do right now?  This is when they stop for fast food or call for pizza or blow off the gym.  I know from my own experience, these ‘evening’ pitfalls hit me more often in the morning: if I didn’t pack my gym bag the night before, I am more likely to blow it off in the morning because I’m tired, not awake, I have too much to do, etc.  It’s easier for me to make excuses in the morning.  The same thing happens with breakfast: if I didn’t set it up the night before, I can pretty much guarantee I am getting it to go at some fast food place.

Plain and simple, I don’t fit the norm, so following the routines that all the “professionals” advocate is almost impossibly hard for me. The idea of my working out in the morning is pretty much laughable: I’d never get there on time and I’d probably hurt myself being half awake.  I customized my routines to fit what works for me and after a little practice, they are working out really well.  But for some of us, we have never thought of customizing a plan to fit our own needs: we just follow what everyone else says is “the right way to do it.”  If it doesn’t work for us, we scrap it and try another routine from someone else.  We forget that we can modify things to fit our own schedule, (although both Elizabeth and Alan will remind you to do what works best for you.)

One of the other hot topics in the health & fitness media is sleep, both the quality and the duration.  I have never been a good ‘sleeper’ since I have been told since childhood that I am ‘doing it wrong’:  I sleep in the day; I am awake at night; I sleep with the lights on, with all kinds of noise, in a warm room and with all my pets jumping around the bed.  “Well no wonder you are sleep deprived!” they tell me. “You need to sleep in a cold dark soundless room during the night without anyone else in the bed!” Ummm…….no.  When I make my own schedule, I sleep just great: in the day, with the noise, the lights, the pets and the heat on. I sleep until I wake up naturally and I have lots of energy.  Trying to do it ‘the right way’ is an exercise in agony for me.  When I force myself to sleep according to the rest of the world’s day-night routine, I end up sleep-deprived. I am foggy-headed when everyone else is wide awake and I am wide awake when the “experts” tell me I should be getting my best sleep. I sleep just fine with the lights on (after a lifetime of pets sprawled out on the floor) and the lights going off will in fact wake me up.  The pets wrestling on the bed aren’t a blip on my radar. I wake up and find the ones who were on the bed are on the floor and the ones on the floor are on the bed, and I never even budged! How can I be doing it ‘wrong’ if the routine I use gets me the results that I want? [FYI: I was told the same thing by my study skills professor in college: studying in a noisy room while watching tv is “not effective!” Guess I just imagined graduating magna cum laude! My sister has the same habits I do, and she graduated summa cum laude, but what do we know!]

Robb’s book seems to be about taking this customization idea a little further to include your eating plan.  For most of us who eat Paleo, there are some foods that are simply off the menu if you follow the strict diet, like bread, wheat/ grains, refined sugars, beans/ legumes, etc.: “Completely non-Paleo! Bad food! Bad food!” But the truth of the matter is that if my sister and I eat a food like corn, I might have an extreme blood sugar response and she might not.  The corn will effect me negatively but she might be fine with it.  On the other hand, if we both have something like cherries, my sister might have more of a blood sugar response than I do. Sometimes, it’s not the foods, but the amounts of foods, and although most people focus on carbs and blood sugar, it’s not just the carbohydrates that effect us. Some of us don’t react well to fats or proteins.  MCT oil is not my friend and neither is coconut oil.  They don’t make me sick exactly, but I don’t like the way I feel after eating them.  If you listen to a lot of health gurus, both of those are really pushed at people as being “superfoods” (like kale, also NOT my friend-yuck!) and I am really “missing out” by not including them in my diet.  I beg to differ: why eat something supposedly healthy and good for me if it makes me feel awful?  “Awful” is not how I want to feel; if I wanted to feel awful, I would go back to eating the way I used to eat when I weighed 375+.  At least I was eating food I liked back then )although I have since lost my taste for it.) The point is that if your healthy routine and/ or eating plan make you feel miserable, awful or is just too awkward or difficult to maintain, then try changing it so it does work better for you.  Healthy living is supposed to make you feel better physically and mentally: if it’s not doing that for you, then you need to change what you are doing! You might be doing it “the right way,” but if your routine, whether eating, sleeping or working out, isn’t giving you the results you want, then you aren’t doing it the right way for you. You don’t win any prizes for following the rules; you only win the prize when you get the results you want.

I have to admit that the idea of creating something completely tailored to your unique lifestyle and metabolism can seem a bit daunting at first.  Everyone likes something custom-made just for you, unless we have to do the work to make it ourselves! Then it’s just too much work or too confusing: “Where do I start?”;  “What if I’m doing it wrong?”; “How do I know if it’s right?” Robb’s book gives you a great starting point, but even if you don’t decide to use his book, there are a few out there that will give you an idea of how to develop an eating plan that works better for you than a more generic “one size fits all” plan.  Dr. David Ludwig’s Always Hungry? is also very comprehensive and it gives you a structured format to start you off before you learn to fly on your own. The important points to remember are: 1) it takes time to get all the kinks out before you find the routines and foods that work best for you, so be patient!; and 2) simpler is always better! It’s generally easier and more convenient.  The more you overhaul the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain! And not just the drain: if something involves too many steps or is just too inconvenient, what are the odds you will stick with it long term?

In the end, it’s all up to you: only you know what works best for you: eating, sleeping, being active- all of it!  It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work for others or if they are telling you to try what works for them, even if it’s a family member who’s telling you. If what you are doing is getting you the results you want, then stick with it!  If it’s almost there but not quite, then give it a tweak and see how it goes.  Don’t abandon what you’re doing until you have given it enough time to know that yep, not working! Then you can try what your brother or your friend recommended, but since we are all unique, there is no ‘one size’ for everyone.

 

 

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