What’s the healthiest diet and workout?
That question gets asked a lot, mainly because people struggle with both.
There are many opinions on what the healthiest diet and workout are, and it can get really reductive and personalized, depending on one’s level of motivation and other factors such as access, available time, and income. If you want the healthiest diet that has the most peer-reviewed research behind it, I’d say it’s the Mediterranean Diet. But if you have a particular health issue, perhaps it’s a different type of diet. For example, if you have high blood pressure, you may want to follow a low-sodium diet. If you have Type 2 Diabetes, you may follow a low glycemic diet. And the same thing for workouts: If you have a particular injury or a strong preference for one thing over another, your “best” workout might not be someone else’s best workout.
But I must say…for the big picture, I think the healthiest diet and workout are the ones you can stick with for the long-term. If you can stick to a mostly healthy routine for the long-term, that’s where the magic happens. It’s less about starting healthy than staying healthy, and no matter what you choose, all of it takes time, hard work, discipline and commitment. The biggest reason people fail to stay healthy is that they don’t pick a healthy diet or healthy workout plan that they can maintain for the long-term. We see this in action every year around New Year’s. Many people will make new year resolutions around eating healthier and exercising more. And they will start the resolution, as noted by the influx of people hitting gyms across the world for the first few weeks of January. People will also shop and eat healthier during this time. But then what happens? As time marches on, the gym numbers get less and less and the people eating vegetables and lean protein start giving in to their cravings for sugar, salt, fast foods and processed pastries. Starting is not the issue: Sticking with it is.
What’s the healthiest diet and workout for me?
I get asked this a lot, and I never make the answer as simple or specific as the person asking the question wants. I suppose I could try to do that, but then I’d be sacrificing honesty.
I can tell a person that I incorporate intermittent fasting into my diet, because I do. I generally eat 2 big meals a day, between the hours of 11 AM and 6:30 PM. I eat mostly everything in moderation, though I avoid processed and fast foods and try to cook at home with organic foods as much as possible. I use olive oil, a little salt and throw in herbs like a mad scientist, but for the most part, my meals aren’t swimming in sauces or marinades. They aren’t fancy. Mostly plain. I eat a lot of fruits as part of my first meal and a lot of vegetables as part of my second. I don’t eat a lot of sugar. I don’t eat a ton of gluten. I can’t say I’m gluten-free. The closest thing I can say is gluten-sometimes…as if I’m testing an imaginary threshold in my head. After heavier meals, for example when I go out to eat with friends, I will drink a mixture of warm water, apple cider vinegar and ginger. (The blog I wrote here explains why.) Throughout the day, I drink spring water with a squirt of lemon juice from a real lemon and often with fresh ginger. I start my mornings with coffee and for those who think coffee is a vice, it’s one I graciously embrace. I eat dessert, usually homemade brownies with flax seed and hemp milk with a scoop of organic, vanilla ice cream.
Sure…, I can give you little details like that. But maybe most helpful for the long-term, and perhaps this comes from overcoming a long, tough battle with an eating disorder, I prioritize enjoyment: the joy of eating. We don’t talk about the joy of eating that much when we talk about healthy foods, dieting, and weight maintenance but take it from someone who used to fear food and break out in anxiety at meals: the joy of eating is a gift. And so I prioritize that when I prepare food or share a meal with others, as strange as that might sound in a fast society that confidently categorizes foods as “bad” or “good” and with a diet culture that cultivates stress and fear around eating too much of the wrong thing. This doesn’t mean I indulge and eat whatever I want. (That would probably make me feel gross anyhow.) I am extremely conscious of the choices I make related to my health. It just means that maintaining a healthy diet for the long-term should not be without joy. I’d argue that the healthiest diet and workout should both cultivate joy.
So what about the healthiest workout?
I exercise every day. Every day I do something, and I mix it up: One day, I run. The next day, I’ll lift heavy weights. I think weightlifting is especially vital to health as one gets older. The day after, I’ll do yoga or jump rope with sneakers or slide around in my socks. I stretch for a lonnnnggg time. I’m a big fan of resistance bands. I love to go for long runs outside and capture funny things or birds with my phone camera. (I am always looking for birds when I run!) Treadmill running depresses me. It makes me feel like a gerbil or like I’m part of an assembly line shedding fat. I like to swim but not when a pool’s too cold. (I’ll still do it, but I won’t like it for the first two minutes.) Sometimes I’ll dance on the turf with my soccer ball or dance in my living room to 80s music or jazz from the 1940s. For an outdoor workout, I might crawl around like a bear. Or a crab. Forwards, backwards and sideways. If I’m wearing a hat, my hat-obsessed dog will steal it. (Heck, dodging the hat thief is a workout in itself…) I wouldn’t call my workouts mainstream…but you can decide for yourself here. Maybe I’ll throw punches and kicks and pretend I’m in the John Wick series. I’m a former Division 1 soccer player and did martial arts as a hobby, so kicking is fun for me. I’ll fight off monsters with heavy ropes and twirl around in fast, dizzy circles while making wishes and working on my balance. (The fairy dust is in my head.) There’s leg day, arm day, chest day…but imagination day? That’s everyday. Always. A little playfulness…a little flex of the rusty imagination does a body, mind and soul good. And it even makes what some people think is impossible: Having fun while working out.
On top of all that, I maintain an active lifestyle. We are a laptop-driven nation that sits a lot, so working out for an hour a day won’t cut it. I often say that the decline of physical activity in our world is the new smoking, so make every effort to move more during the day. For me, that includes walking my dog, walking or standing as much as possible, doing chores and skipping the elevator for the steps.
Don’t forget to rest. Rest is part of any healthy workout.
So…whatever turns out to be your healthiest diet and workout is whatever you can maintain for the long run. Prioritizing joy and imagination helps, and the formula will always require time, commitment, hard work and discipline. Avoid all the shortcuts and false profits who tell you otherwise.
Thanks for reading.
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If you are interested in reading a strange and uncomfortable novel about being in the throes of bulimia and depression and ending up in a world you never thought you’d end up in…, I invite you to read my first book, Manic Kingdom.