I recently posted in our membership site Fitter 365 about the importance of individuality when it comes to your nutrition and training. We can all be guilty at times of constantly comparing ourselves; our physique, our training achievements, the ‘cleanness’ of our eating regimes, the number of steps we’ve taken and it can all get a bit out of hand. Changes you once felt proud of suddenly don’t seem enough and you’re racked with guilt about not putting in enough time, effort and energy. You need to try harder!
This is where it gets a little daft as the person you’re trying to catch up with likely has a different hormone profile, gut microbome, body composition, routine and lifestyle to you. What they are doing is NOT necessarily what you should be doing. Besides that, there is no race, a day where you don’t make it to the gym or get 8 hours sleep isn’t going to ruin all your efforts, this is not a competition and there is no prize, everything we do to be healthy is simply to enable us to live awesome, happy lives.
Functional Medicine – Treating The Individual
One of the reasons I embraced functional medicine in my own approach as a practitioner is because there is a strong emphasis on treating the individual and personalising any guidance offered with regard to nutrition, lifestyle changes or supplements.
It involves considering all the biochemistry that goes on behind the scenes, including hormones, neurotransmitter balance, digestion and absorption, detoxification, your structural health (joints, tendons, etc) and all this information and details of events that might have impacted upon your health (illness, medications or stressful events) are collected via a thorough questionnaire and clinical assessment to build a picture of your current physical and mental wellbeing.
Your Snowflake Story
Functional medicine also uses a timeline to put together a health biography for you, I depicted mine at the last Fitter Food academy and called it my snowflake story because some things that affected my health and determine what works for me now cannot necessarily be replicated for you. They are part of my detailed and intimate history with my body and my health. There are some obvious factors like taking antibiotics for 18 months for teenage acne that wrecked my gut health or prolonged period on the contraceptive pill coupled with a running addiction that disrupted my hormone health but also factors like a phase of disordered eating at university when I was homesick or during relationships where I craved security, I would control food at these times instead. These emotional factors are important because my background experience means I need to side step anything too prescriptive or strict because I could fall back into these destructive habits and right now I’m in a place where I’m much happier without them. This is the reason tools like MyFitness Pal, calorie counting and other tracking devices might be useful for some people and disastrous for others.
The Relevance of Genes
Throughout history different cultures have existed and evolved on a wide range of diets. Human beings have often adapted their intake based upon their environment and availability. Our genetic background can be relevant when it comes to figuring out what might work best for you. Nutritionally certain gene types like ApoE4 carriers may fair better on a low fat diet as their LDL cholesterol shoots up in response to higher saturated fat intake. Similarly genetic variants on the BCM01 gene make it difficult for some people to be a veggie. We source preformed vitamin A from animal foods or the body can convert beta carotene (found in plant based foods) into vitamin A. If you have this mutation and opt for a vegetarian diet you run the risk of vitamin A deficiency.
You can investigate just by asking family members or digging a bit deeper with the gene tests 23andMe or DNAfit. BUT you don’t have to, you can also read the work of Dr Weston A Price, a dentist and one of the first people to explore the epic variety of traditional diets that exist across the world. He conducted an assessment of dental health as an indicator of nutritional status and observed the high fat, raw dairy nutrition of the Swiss, the porridge loving Gaelics, the starch based diets of African tribes and high fat, seafood diets of the eskimos. He didn’t assert dairy free, gluten free nor paleo as a superior approach but rather emphasised the nutrient density of the diets and the significance traditional cultures placed on fat soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E & K) found in dairy, organ meats and seafoods and the absence of refined vegetable oils, flour, sugar and other processed foods. Most of these diets were neither vegetarian nor solely animal food based they were a combination of both.
I touched upon this earlier but your timeline will give you clues to some habits and behaviours you have adopted along your journey so far. We pick up many from our parents, both positive and negative, and they influence our relationship with food and our body. Matt’s mum and his Nan love spoiling him with big meals and I’m convinced it’s turned him into a comfort eater. On the other hand I always noticed my parents would go to the gym to make themselves feel better and used endorphins to help them in times of pressure. It’s perhaps the reason I become Mr T and Matt curls under the duvet with a tub of ice-cream Bridget Jones stylee when we get stressed. These different attitudes and coping mechanisms mean we need to do different things to manage stress, Matt should probably head to the gym and I should head home and get some ice cream for us both to stay balanced 🙂
The same thing applies to tools and methods you might use to support your health goals. Some people need an element of accountability with the weighing scales and tracking devices or calorie counters, they can be a useful motivator and help to educate you about how much you’re currently eating and exercising. Other people have a lifetime’s worth of experience and feel totally brain fried by it all, they have become too attached to the outcome and results, they have targets and PB’s. These then become tools that create negative emotions like guilt and stress which often act as a catalyst for more unhealthy behaviours including binging and sacking off the gym because you’ve failed already today….what’s the point.
Lifestyle and Routine
Some people work from home they have time to batch cook and eat meals at their chosen time, others have shifts, set lunch breaks and long commutes. Your bodies are working to completely different clocks and there is no perfect eating or exercise pattern for you. You simply have to experiment with a nutrition and training routine that causes you the least stress, keeps you energised, positive and adds to your life, not rules it. You can adapt EVERYTHING at ANYTIME. If eating late makes you’re bloated, eat your dinner at work or chose a lighter dinner like fish, soup or a slow cooked meal. If you know you’ll be time poor and have no time for food prep, get savvy with 5 minute meals e.g. pan fried sea bass with tamari, spinach and microwave plain rice. Some days for us it’s a microwave baked potato and pot of cottage cheese for a meal and remember a salad takes next to no time to prep at all! It might not get a 1000 likes on instagram but it’s a nutritious meal that does the job.
The same goes for training. A busy mum on the go most of the day probably doesn’t need to schedule in any exercise whereas a sedentary desk worker probably needs to add some movement to their daily routine. The type, duration and intensity completely depends on the individual, of course! Stressed out individuals shouldn’t be participating in much HIIT training or cardio sessions, an early night, yoga session or Epsom salts bath will have a much more positive impact on the body in these situations, you just have to be strong enough to ignore the other gym feats you see on Facebook, say “no” to your trainers and have the confidence to do the right thing for your body that day.
Word From Bowie : Pride Yourself On Individuality
He prided himself on being an individual, being different and not comparing himself or striving to equal or please others. Nowadays social media really compels us to follow and fit with norms and trends, we lose sight of our own needs, usually to the detriment of our own health. We think we need to be taking the same supplements, running the same distances and eating the same controlled portions as everyone else appears to be. I say “appears to be” because remember with social media it’s often not the truth, not the whole truth and can sometimes be anything but the truth 😉 We could all benefit from being more intuitive about what makes us healthy and happy. In the words of Bowie:
“All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience. My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it”
“Make the best of every moment. We’re not evolving. We’re not going anywhere.”
Make Nutrition Work For YOU
One of the reasons we wrote our second book was to help you out with tonnes of awesome recipes of course but also to share how we’ve evolved our own nutrition journeys and give you some key steps to establish your own macronutrient and calorie needs. There are tools but perhaps more useful are the visual guides that allow you to be a little more instinctive and intuitive about the nutrition and lifestyle that brings out the BEST in you. If you have a copy be sure to read the front section and not just skip to the Snickers In a Twist recipe (easy we know!) or you can grab a copy HERE.