5 Health Secrets of Living at your Highest Energy and Fullest Engagement in 2011

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5 Health SecretsTrue confession: I love the idea of using the New Year as a starting point to clean out your diet, your body, and your attitude towards your own health. I love how it provides a specific emotional point that many of us crave to take on new challenges, not to mention perfect timing to refresh your body after all the food and drink fests that we cram into December. And this year, I’m taking on a big one: total HEALTH.  So here’s my definition of HEALTH for 2011: It’s broader, deeper, and richer than what most of us typically think of (seeing a specific number on a scale, meeting a certain metric in weekly gym visits, or ingesting a certain volume of vegetables a day). Actually, it’s Andrew Weil’s definition, but it’s one of the best I’ve seen:

“Health is more than just the absence of disease. Health is wholeness and balance, an inner resilience that allows you to meet the demands of living without being overwhelmed. If you have that kind of resilience, you can experience the inevitable interactions with germs and not get infections, you can be in contact with allergens and not suffer allergies, and you can sustain exposure to carcinogens and not get cancer.  Optimal health should also bring with it a sense of strength and joy, so that you experience it as more than just the absence of disease.” - Dr. Andrew Weil, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health.

Your health is a dynamic, flowing state-its abundance or its absence will have a profound ripple effect across your whole life - your level of performance, your level of engagement, and most of all, your sense of joy and purpose in the daily actions that make up your life. With that in mind, here are 5 Habits that I’ll be following this year as a blueprint to HEALTH.

5 Health Secrets for 2011

Secret #1: Eat Food. Mostly plants. Michael Pollan said this beautifully and perfectly in his wonderful tome In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Eat real food that’s minimally processed or refined. And following a plant based diet is not only greener, it’s a hallmark of one of the healthiest diets on earth.  Pack your plate with plant foods (fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds) at every meal and snack to start creating your best health at the deepest levels.

Secret #2:  Every 3-4 hours. As they say, timing is everything. No matter how hectic or harried your life may be (my problem), or if you’re trying to skip a meal or snack in the name of “dieting”, eating regularly pays off in higher energy and better performance throughout the day. You should eat every 3-4 hours, 3 meals and 2 snacks. I promise, promise you-if you are currently a breakfast skipper, you’re paying for it somewhere later in the day by eating too much (and often being so hungry you’re eating the wrong types of food). Jumpstart your metabolism and your energy levels with a breakfast within 1 hour of waking-and pack high energy snacks  like fruit and nuts, Greek yogurt, or a mini whole wheat pita with turkey and chopped avocado. And just as with meals, when it comes to snacks, it’s real food-not junky snack food-that will most powerfully nourish you between meals.

Secret #3:  Eat until you feel satisfied, not stuffed. There’s a big difference between eating until you are full, versus eating until you are no longer hungry. Americans like full- but a better strategy for optimal energy is simply eating to feel satisfied.  The Japanese call it “Hara Hachi Bu” - eat until you are 8 parts full.  This does two things: first, it gives your brain time to catch up with your stomach. Second, it ensures you don’t overeat to the point where you feel sluggish and lose your energy while digesting that mega meal.  How do you do this? Stop multitasking and eat slowly so your body’s natural signals can kick in telling you to stop eating, enjoy meals on smaller plates, and order half portions at restaurants when possible. And most importantly, the signal "I'm finished, the meal is over" should come from YOU, internally, not external cues like the food finally being gone, or when your dinner mates clear their plates.

Secret #4: Sleep and Rest: Aim for 7-8 hours a night. Food is only part of the picture, of course. Rest is another cornerstone to thriving at your optimal HEALTH. And I’m talking about high quality rest-sleep-not zoning out in front of the TV or YouTube.  Sleep is also a key to staying slim.  It’s a critical time of rest, repair and renewal for your body-skimping on it is a surefire way to undermine your energy for the entire day. Lack of sleep has also been linked to higher risk of type 2 diabetes.  And most importantly, I find that many people engage in late night couch eating- a double whammy for both energy levels and health. Set up a nighttime ritual that ensures you carve out space for rest-it will powerfully reward you with benefits ten times over, and is a cornerstone of health and healing.

Secret #5: Joy and Renewal. In what turned out to be the perfect year end gift to myself, I just finished a revolutionary book: The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz of the Human Performance Institute. In it they share their powerful concept living a life of Full Engagement - which requires us take time to renew at regular intervals during each day and week. It’s a radical shift from the way most of us schedule in time for ourselves - in annual vacations, holiday weekends (which usually aren’t very restful), or a weekend trip to the gym. By fully engaging for periods of time, and then fully disengaging for even brief recovery periods during the day, (doing something that brings us joy, renewal or physical activity)  we tap into significantly greater quantity and quality of energy available to us - with a powerful ripple effect across all aspects of our lives. Indeed this practice of cultivating joy and renewal daily is one of the keys to finding that elusive “balance” many of us crave but feel absent in our overscheduled, overconnected lives, and a true sign of HEALTH at a deep level.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions? I’d love to hear about them!