Taking Care of Your Body is More Important than Your Bank Account
I write a lot about personal finance. I even wrote a book on the topic. Not only is knowing how to manage your money important, but lets face it, we all want to be rich. I want to be rich. I want you to become rich. Money is great.
But it’s far from being the only important thing. There are plenty of other things that are more important than money, such as deep relationships and emotional well-being. But today I want to focus on one that people today too often let slide in their pursuit of wealth: their health.
Health is the Key to Enjoying the Richest Resource
Ironically, most of us trade our time to get money hoping to one day have enough money to get back our time when we retire. Having enough money represents freedom, and freedom really means being in control of your time. You can use it to pursue the projects that are meaningful to you, spend it with the people you love, or devote it to adventure and the pursuit of wonder.
Time is what we are ultimately after. Poor health robs you of time. The most obvious way that it does this is through an early death. When you look at the most common causes of death, six of the top seven are directly related to chronic diseases. That includes all of the top three, which together account for more than 50% of deaths.
If you die early, there’s a chance it will be a fluke accident (the #4 cause of death), but it is much more likely that it will be the culmination of a lifetime of poor habits that does you in.
The other way that health robs you of time is by preventing you from enjoying the time that you have. Sometimes this happens directly through hospitalization, sometimes more indirectly through a general growing lethargy.
Healthy Living in an Unhealthy World
The world around us is becoming more and more unhealthy. That means in order to escape the trend, we need to adopt some uncommon habits. In other words, if you do what everyone else is doing, you’ll become as fat* and sick as they are.
*The concept of body image is beyond the scope of this post. I’m using the phrase “fat and sick” here because it packs a punch and grabs your attention. For the purpose of talking about health, it’s important to note BOTH that your body fat is an essential part of your body AND that obesity is a risk factor in the top two causes of death. Of course, not all fat is a precursor to disease. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that is essential for life and, according to Dr. Robert H. Lustig’s book Fat Chance, several studies show that having more of it is actually correlated with longevity. Visceral fat in and around your organs which takes the appearance of a “beer belly” is a sign of metabolic dysfunction and an indication of impending chronic disease. For the purposes of this article, bug butt = no problem, big belly = big problem.
Fixing Your Diet
The typical Western diet is widely regarded as just about the unhealthiest diet you can dream of and with good reason. Whenever an isolate people group switches from a traditional diet to a Western one, chronic disease quickly ensues. To take care of your health, you want to start eating less like a typical Westerner.
Eating Out Less
The easiest thing you can do to fix your diet is to eat out less (this one helps both your body and your bank account — eating out is unquestionably more expensive than eating in). The vast majority of dining establishments don’t care about your physical health, they care about their bottom line.
You’ll get a meal that is far bigger than what you need, often made with cheap heavily refined ingredients like sugar, flour, and vegetable oil. Not only are these ingredients cheap, but they save dining establishments money by avoiding waste, since unlike real food, they don’t spoil.
Make Water Your Default Drink
I’m not going to lie to you, I really like beer and I love Coca-Cola. Here’s the problem, alcoholic beverages and sugary drinks are two of the prime suspects behind the development of visceral fat in and around the organs, especially the liver.
If you’re going to even pretend to take your health seriously, you need to impose limits on the beverages you consume. My personal limit is one day a week. If I want a beer or a coke, I can have it on Saturday. The rest of the time, I drink water. Sometimes I add lemon and/or mint. Once you get used to it, water is delicious.
Eat More Protein
Lost in the loud debate between fat and carbs is the fact that protein is really useful. I like starting my day off with an omelette made of three eggs, extra sharp cheddar cheese, green onions, and Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. I call it the Buffalo Breakfast and I guarantee that it will keep you full until lunch.
Eat More Fiber
Fiber is interesting in the sense that it’s not a nutrient. In fact, by definition fiber can’t be digested. This is not usually how we think of nutrition. Usually we look at food as fuel for the body (most of it is), but surprisingly the part that our body just disposes of is an essential component of the total package.
Fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels, and having stable blood sugar levels is important for your long-term hormonal and metabolic health. Oh, and it keeps you regular.
I like getting fiber from beans, vegetables, and fruit (one of the reasons why whole fruit is so much better than fruit juice is because fruit juice has been stripped of its fiber).
Wherever you choose to look for your fiber, narrow your search to whole foods instead of something in a box that claims that fiber was added. Eat More Real Food and Less Processed Food
I have two main issues with processed foods: quantity and quality. One of the things that I mean when I say “quantity” is that you are going to eat way more than you need to when you have ample access to processed food.
I also mean that you’ll overdo it on things that shouldn’t be mixed in large quantities like carbohydrates and fat.
Through the many books I’ve read, I’ve gone through a bit of an evolution when it comes to my stance on these two polarizing macronutrients. I was never sold on the evils of dietary fat, but I have come to view certain kinds of fat as bad. For a while, I was pretty tough on carbs. I’ve warmed up to carbs, although I’m still suspicious of their most processed forms, especially sugar.
One thing that has slowly become clear, is that humans weren’t meant to eat large amounts of fat and carbs together.
I was first exposed to this is Denise Minger’s excellent book Death By Food Pyramid and have since encountered it in several other books. Think about this for a second, we have plenty of examples of both diets that are high fat/low carb (keto, atkins, paleo, slow carb, etc.) and diets that are low fat/high carb (such as vegetarian and vegan diets).
Think also about this: most foods are heavy in either fat or carbs, but not both. Meat has lots of fat, but hardly any carbs. Vegetables have lots of carbs, but hardly any fat.
Are there exceptions? Sure, but usually the exceptions are foods that you wouldn’t base your whole diet around such as nuts. You also have a notable exception in milk, but there is debate about whether humans should even be drinking milk (I’m on team milk, but it’s important to note that the debate exists).
Consider on the other hand, the things that we intuitively know are bad for us, like ice cream and baked goods (cookies, brownies, cake, etc). What do they have in common? Lots of fat, lots of processed carbs, little protein and virtually no fiber.
There’s also the issue of quality. Many of the fats and carbs that make up processed foods are heavily refined.
Think for a second about vegetable oil. What does that even mean? Vegetables don’t have oil. Oh, it turns out that “vegetable oil” comes from seeds and it’s just called vegetable oil for…reasons? But wait a minute, that still doesn’t solve the problem, because there’s no oil in seeds right? Well, it turns out that if your equipment is sophisticated enough, you can extract oil from nearly anything.
When it comes to a good oil like olive oil, there’s a small amount of refining happening, but it’s far less problematic. Any one of us can look at an olive and say “I can see how you would get oil from crushing that.”
Most of the carbs that a typical Westerner probably eats are the most refined variety as well: sugar and flour, stripped of all nutrients and fiber.
So think for a second about a Big Mac Combo Meal at McDonald’s (Big Mac, medium fries, medium Coke):
You’re getting a lot of Calories (1090), a bunch of fat (44g) — likely mostly coming from heavily processed industrialized oils, a ton of carbs (148g) — including 68(!)g of sugar, only a little protein (29g) and a tiny bit of fiber (7g).
When you consider the fact that fat has about 9 calories per gram while protein and carbohydrate have around 4, a Big Mac Combo meal gets roughly 90% of its numerous calories from low-quality fats and carbs.
When you eat real foods, you get high-quality marcronutrients, plenty of fiber, and are likely to stick to reasonable quantities. Because of this, you can probably do fine with a “mixed” diet (one where you don’t consciously restrict either fat or carbs).
When you eat processed foods, you get enormous quantities of low-quality fat and carbs while not having nearly enough protein or fiber.
Getting Enough Exercise
It’s no secret that Westerners aren’t active enough, but I don’t think much of the normal solutions. Treadmills and stairmasters are boring and aren’t going to be enough to offset the sedentary lifestyle of a desk jockey. Here are a couple of things that might help:
The Daily Walk
Probably the best thing that you can do for your health period is to make sure you are getting at least 30 minutes of low dose exercise a day.
What do I mean “low dose”? Well, it could means various things, but my suggestion is taking a walk.
I won’t go into too much more detail on the benefits here, but I’ll point you to this excellent video that sums them up nicely:
Personally, I make sure to devote half of my hour long lunch break at work to taking a walk (one the weekends I easily get my 30 minutes playing with my kids )
Your muscles are way more important than you give them credit for.
Without muscle, there is no movement. To a large extent your quality of life depends on the state of your muscles.
We often miss the raw displays of strength we see everywhere, mistaking them for something else.
Yes, that sprinter is fast, but what’s really going on is that she’s really freaking strong.
Yes, that gymnast is graceful, but what’s really going on is that she’s really freaking strong.
Basically every single feat of athleticism amounts to muscular strength and control.
Don’t have a lot of time to devote to strength training? No problem. There are ways to do things super minimally.
The king of all minimalist lifts is the hex bar deadlift. Halfway between the hip hinge archetype of the traditional deadlift and the more knee-dominant archetype of the squat, the weight is lifted by 90% of your skeletal muscle.
If that doesn’t work for you because you can’t get to a gym or store a hex bar and plates at your house, no problem. There’s an amazingly effective exercise you can do that only involves one small piece of equipment, and doesn’t even involve lifting anything outrageously heavy: the Russian kettlebell swing
If you can’t even afford a kettlebell, you can always just do calisthenics. Whatever you do, don’t neglect your muscles.
Get Some Sleep
Go to bed early. Wake up at the same time every day. Make sure you are getting enough sleep in between.
Sleep is tricky, because the effects are there to observe if you aren’t getting enough, but they are easy to ignore. For instance, you will be less productive, but you won’t have any way of knowing you’re being less productive. Get some sleep.
Prioritize Your Mental Health
Being married to a psych nurse and hearing stories from the psych ward has taught me one very important lesson: none of us are as far from mental illness as we’d like to believe.
A major part of mental health is forging deep relationships with people that spur you on to greater success rather than drag you down to their level. As clinical psychologist Jordan B. Peterson says in his bestselling 12 Rules For Life:
“Much more of our sanity than we commonly realize is a consequence of our fortunate immersion in a social community.”
I’m going to guess that you have a deliberate daily practice for your dental hygiene. Something like brushing your teeth every day.
That’s good. Your teeth are important. If your teeth are important however, how much more important is your mind? If you have a daily dental hygiene practice, why not have a daily mental hygiene practice?
For me this takes the form of a gratitude log in my journal. Every day I list three things that I am grateful for. This does wonders for your state of mind.
The habits you adopt for supporting your health might be different than the ones that I’ve described, but the important thing is that you have some.
You won’t be able to adopt them all overnight, but slowly start integrating as many as you can into your routine and your health will see dramatic improvements.