Becoming Health Literate - Diet, Sleep, Fitness & Fasting

2017 was all about financial literacy. It’s the final day of January 2018 and I’m 60 days into my 2018 goal of becoming health literate. This first article is going to outline the things that I’ve taken on in the first 60 days of my 12 month challenge. In this time I’ve also been to an Exec Care 6 hour medical review which I’ll discuss throughout and later in this post. 

Diet

The first major thing that I have changed is my diet. For the past year or so I’ve cut back on red meat but still occasionally eaten a steak or some other form of red meat. My body hates it and hates me every time. Within minutes I’m battling with a stomach ache and my body is trying to kill me. 

So on 1 January 2018 I decided to cut out all meat. I’m eating fish occasionally (once a week or so) but overall I’m eating a vegan diet most of the time. I am not a vegan, they are a cut above and it requires a special level of dedication to remove all animal product from your life. 

I’ve also removed a lot of diary from my diet. I don’t particularly crave dairy products so this has been easy. The tough ones are coffee when I’m out, I always default to ordering a flat white or cortado or some other milk based coffee drink. I am trying to shift my mind to black coffee with soya milk or another milk alternative. I find this one to be simple, except when I crave pizza. There is no replacement for an amazing cheesy pizza. 

With dairy I have a simple rule: If it feels unnecessary I don’t consume it. The example is YogiSip — it’s a milk based yogurt type flavoured drink. It’s unnecessary and provides nothing of value to me. It has too much sugar in it anyways. The more I think about how unnecessary so much of what I consume is, the less of that shit I eat. 

I have also removed processed sugar from my diet. This is a biiiiig one for me. I eat chocolates by the slab, literally. Before removing sugar from my diet I would easily eat a slab of chocolate before going to bed. I would then toss and turn and wonder why I couldn’t sleep (more on sleep later). I have replaced processed sugar with fruits when I’m craving something sweet. I recently read a Scott Adams (Dilbert creator) book and in the book he explains that humans have a finite amount of willpower. So if I’m giving up chocolate I can’t also give up fruit. So I decided it’s better to eat fruit than chocolate. As you’ll read later on, the doctors at Exec Care told me that too much fruit can also be bad for you. 

The final thing that I have given up simple carbohydrates. Yes, there are different types of carbohydrates, they are not all made equal. This month I also completed a great book by Valter Longo wherein he studies centenarians in the world (people older than 100) and figures out what makes them live so long. This is a great book if you’ve never thought about what you eat and why. 

Here’s a brief guide on simple vs complex carbs: 

Simple = sugars and are bad (mostly) - cookies, cupcakes, sodas, white sugar, pies, juices, concentrates, etc etc. You know them. You love them.

Complex = good (mostly)- Broccoli, beans, apple, quinoa, grains. 

I’ve given up the simple kind for the most part. I do have one day (half a day) a week where I eat what I’ve craved throughout the week; a piece of cheesecake, or a chocolate, or a coke. 

The diet has been surprisingly easy to manage and maintain. Mainly because my partner and I cook our meals from scratch using fresh ingredients every night and we eat those fresh leftovers for lunch the next day. 

Fasting

This is all the rage right now and I’ve hopped on the bandwagon. I am doing a 16 hour intermittent fast every day. This sounds tough but basically, I skip breakfast and eat my first meal at about 1pm and my last meal at about (or before) 8pm. That means that over 24 hours, I’m fasting for 16 of them. 

This cuts down my caloric intake every day. I’m literally eating less food every day by skipping breakfast. It is not the most important meal of the day. That’s old school thinking. Do your research and find out which type of fasting would work best for you. I find this easy because I generally don’t like breakfast anyways. 

Added to the fasting I’ve also started to manage my portions when I do eat. I am not weighing everything I eat, that’s unsustainable, I just dish myself less food and don’t go back for seconds. Simple. 

I drink a lot of water to help me pass the hunger. 

Fitness

I have issues with my shins. Over the years I have developed stress fractures from lots of stupid things. I’ve used this injury as a reason not to train for years. On 1 December 2017 I decided that I had to start doing exercise because I was feeling fat, lame and unhealthy. 

I signed up with the Armoury Boxing Club in Woodstock. I also read a fantastically funny and informative book by Jesse Itzler. He hires a Navy Seal to train him for 30 days. 

My routine is repetitive and simple: 

Cycle for 25 minutes.

100 pushups or as many as I can do in 6 minutes. 

200 squats with 8kg kettle bells. 

As many kettle bell swings as possible in 6 minutes.

Punch a bag for 15 minutes. 

I do this 4 times a week. It’s simple but I have been getting a bit bored. I have been advised that I should mix up the routine and instead of only going for endurance training (how many can you do) I should also go for strength (how heavy can I go). So I’ll try that going forward. I am constantly amazed at how much you can achieve through consistency. I have started to do pushups as often as I can. I started off struggling to do ten in a row. I’m not comfortably doing 30–40 pushups per set and hitting 100 without too much strain. After only a month of doing them every day, that’s quite surprising to me. 

Sleep

One of the major things I’ve tried to rectify is my sleep patterns. Over the past two years I’ve worked hard to get a consistent 8 hours of sleep. Most of the current research indicated that the longer you sleep, the longer you live. I’m taking that seriously and doing everything I can to get my sleep right. 

The first thing I did was remove my TV from the house. Yep, I no longer have a TV and my goal is to watch as little TV as possible in 2018. So far, I’ve watched two 30 minute episodes of Modern Family after two tough days. That’s it. The basic idea is that your body produces melatonin which helps it sleep. The more you watch TV late at night, the more the artificial light prevents your body from producing the levels of melatonin needed to get your body to feel sleepy. This applies to any and all screens that are backlit (iPads, phones, etc). 

I have also stopped checking my phone after 8pm. In fact, I don’t even use my phone to wake me up in the morning. I got an old school alarm clock. Yep. Now my phone is charged in a different room to where I sleep. I have removed all temptation to look at a screen after 8pm. I still read my kindle but it’s not backlit. 

Finally, one of the things that keeps me up at night is anxiety. I’m an anxious guy by nature so when I browse social media I get more anxious and then stay awake. You guessed it right: I’ve deleted Instagram, Facebook and Twitter off of my phone. I did not die. I have not lost touch with the world and everything has been OK. 

Am I sleeping better? Hell yeah. 

I attribute the sleep to a combination of everything I’m doing: Exercise makes me physically tired, no social media and no screen time makes my brain tired, no bullshit sugar makes sure that I am not buzzing when I get into bed. These things all make me sleep better which makes me wake up better which makes my day better from the moment I’m awake. 

Help

I received a lot of positive feedback from my last article about my financial education. One of the people who contacted me had read about the financial stuff but was more interested in helping me with my health journey in 2018. His name was Jedd. Jedd is the COO of Health Insite and offered up the services of the Exec Care part of their business* to help me through my year of health. 

I’ve never really considered myself an executive but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a doctor, biokineticist, dietician, personal trainer and psychologist give me the once over and tell me about my health. 

I agreed to participate and began the six hour physical and mental check up. 

The Exec Care team is extremely impressive. The specialists are the best in class and the service was impeccable. I was greeted in a friendly and sincere way throughout the process. In fairness, I’m a tough patient for them to manage because I am fairly well rea, enquisitive and engaging. I also live with a vegan, eat healthy, train often, cook fresh meals from scratch daily and don’t eat shitty and unhealthy foods. Compared to some of the executives I’m sure they deal with on a daily basis I must be a freakin’ dream patient. 

 The reason that Exec Care exists is really simple: they want to help executives in businesses become healthier. If you asked me if I thought was relevant 12 months ago I probably would have scoffed at the idea. But the truth is, many executives and entrepreneurs are too busy to be healthy and it’s an ironic mistake. The less healthy you are, the less productive you are and the more risk you run of ruining your business. 

The day starts off with blood tests and this pretty insane machine that you place your hand over. The machine reads the anti-oxidants in your skin. Apparently this is a great broad way to decipher if your diet over the past 4 months has been healthy. I received a score of 49 000. This, apparently, placed me in the top 1% of people eating healthy. I was not surprised to be honest, since I live with a vegan, we eat healthy and fresh food every day of the week. 

The next step was the psychologist. To be honest, I didn’t find too much value here but I think the aim is to ensure that the people coming through the Exec Care physical are taking care of their mental as well as physical health. The process was short, simple and easy enough. There was no uncomfortable prodding and mental gaming. Straight forward assessment of my ability to cope with stress. 

After the psychologist I went to see a biokineticist who was extremely friendly in the face of me having to take off my shirt and have lots of sticky ecg machine things stuck to my hairy chest. I have good blood pressure and a good resting heart rate apparently. I could do with sitting and standing up straighter and am not as flexible as I should be, apparently. 

The dietician and personal trainer were exactly what you’d expect them to be in a facility like this. Engaging, energetic, experienced and curious about my lifestyle and training habits. Neither one contributed anything earth-shattering to my daily habits but considering all of the changes that I’ve recently made for the better, it’s no surprise they struggled to really alter my frame of reference much.

Amazingly, by the time I went to see the doctor he already had the results of my blood tests. I’ve never had anyone test my blood or review those tests so thoroughly. Together we figured out that increased consumption of red wine led to my uric acid being high and that inspite of my slightly elevated cholesterol levels I was a healthy mofo. Anton (the doctor) emphasised that health is an algorithm. There isn’t a single way to be healthy. A single reading on a bloodtest isn’t going to make you unhealthy. You have to look at your entire lifestyle and existence to determine if you are a healthy human. For example, if you are physically fit enough to compete in an ironman event but can’t make it through the day without crumbling from stress and anxiety, then you are not healthy. 

I’m happy to report that I am, as of right now, a healthy person. 

I will be returning to Exec Care every few months to see how I perform over time and if my changes are having material results. In truth, results kind of scare me because all I really want is to feel healthy and in control. I don’t want to feel fat, I don’t mind if I am a little weighty around the stomach area, I’m not trying to have 8 pack abs. 

For me, health is about how I feel more than anything else. Sure I’m losing 1kg a week and sure I am starting to fit into my pants properly but I also feel a lot more like myself and that’s important. 

If you want to continue following my progress you can sign up to my newsletter or follow my podcast.

 

*Exec Care is in no way sponsoring me to promote their business or their services. I received my physical at their expense with no obligation to communicate my experiences, good or bad. 

Nic Haralambous