A couple months ago, I asked the Instagram audience what they wish they had known sooner in terms of taking care of their health. I really enjoyed hearing what you all had to say, so I’m going to share some of the replies here.
My motivation for asking was two-fold. One was simple curiosity, the other personal. Now that I’m a grandparent, I find myself thinking more and more about how to get the Primal message out to the younger generations so don’t have to spend their middle age or retirement years trying to fix problems that could have been prevented. How can I (and indeed, all of us) support parents who want to build a solid foundation of health for their kids? What information and interventions would be the most impactful for today’s youth?
While I like to think that we’ve made a dent in the problem with Mark’s Daily Apple, Primal Blueprint, and Primal Kitchen, there’s still a lot of work to be done to improve the average person’s health. I’m sharing these responses with the hope of spurring more conversation, more brainstorming, and, dare I say, more change in the future.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of the responses I received can be summarized as, “I wish I hadn’t followed conventional wisdom.” You and me both. What’s that saying, when you know better, you do better? Live and learn. Anyway, I hope these get you thinking.
Question: “What do you wish you had known about being healthy when you were younger?”
A: Eat more protein instead of carbs.
So “Meat-free Mondays” are a bad school lunch idea? (Sarcasm.)
A: Always thought processed foods were healthy.
Who can blame you? For decades, the only medical advice for people struggling with metabolic health was to lose weight by cutting calories and eating low-fat. (That still seems to be the standard rhetoric, unfortunately.) All the foods marketed to that end were uber-processed, “portion-controlled,” and not at all satiating. We were all sold the lie that these ultra-modified foods were better for us than the options nature provides. Too bad that those “diet foods” were stripped of nutrients, fiber, healthy fats, and often protein. And oh, by the way, they tend to lead to eating more calories and losing less weight.
A: Micronutrients matter.
Again, I blame the old “a calorie is a calorie” dogma, when the diet industry tried to convince us that 100 calories from broccoli is the same as a 100 calorie snack pack of low-fat chocolate chip cookies. Micronutrients fell by the wayside as calorie counting took precedence over food quality.
A: That healthy fats are good.
A: Meat is good for you.
A: That you can celebrate without food.
That’s a good one. Listen, I have no problem with food being a part of festivities. It’s been that way throughout human history, and I’ll take every opportunity to enjoy a celebratory steak dinner with friends. But I do object to how celebrations, holidays, or really any milestone have become excuses to engage in sugar-and-booze free-for-alls. Many of you can attest to the fact that celebrations are just as celebratory without going buck wild—and paying for it the next day.
A: The benefits of fasting.
Interest in intermittent fasting has taken off in the past several years, not just among self-experimenters like myself but also with an explosion of scientific research. I love to see it. Unfortunately, the wheels of science turn slowly, but I anticipate that I.F. will continue to gain momentum as the results roll in. We’re just scratching the surface.
Q: “What do you wish you had started doing sooner?”
A: Strength training. / Lifting heavy. / As a women, to lift heavier earlier.
One hundred percent yes, and it’s never too late to start. How do we get these young ‘uns building muscle sooner? And not just for aesthetic purposes but to maximize metabolic health and lay down a foundation of functional reserve as early as possible?
A: Skip cardio, focus on strength training.
Maybe don’t skip it entirely, but definitely prioritize appropriately and avoid chronic cardio.
A: Learn to cook.
Love this one. As much as I’m a fan of trying different restaurants and eating out, home cooking has many advantages. Preparing your own food connects you to what you’re eating, starting with the grocery shopping and mindfully choosing what to bring home. Mastering basic kitchen skills imparts a sense of agency and self-confidence that can carry over into other aspects of life. Even if you never become a gourmet chef, you may find you’re more motivated to engage in other healthful behaviors since you’re already taking the time to prepare healthy, nourishing food for yourself. Plus it’s a great way to impress potential romantic partners.
A: Focusing on adding nutrient-dense foods, not just eliminating.
This one is pretty profound. A lot of health advice focuses on cutting out damaging elements and behaviors. Quit smoking. Eat less. Stop eating gluten. Even the Primal Blueprint starts with eliminating the “Big Three” of grains, excess sugars, and pro-inflammatory fats. This step is important, but in the long run, focusing on avoiding harm can keep people in a state of vigilance and even fear that can be detrimental in and of itself, leading to things like orthorexia.
Ideally, once you get through that initial phase of removing unhealthy or unhelpful choices, the focus should be on building positive behaviors—keeping your eyes on where you’re going instead of what you’re leaving behind.
A: Flexibility and mobility.
Absolutely, and not just for physical health. Flexibility and mobility practices often have a meditative component. All the better if you can work them into a morning or evening routine.
A: Blood panel testing.
Always a good idea to know your baselines, especially if you’re going to be trying something new. Here are seven biomarkers I think are worth following.
A: Daily walks.
Couldn’t agree more.
A: Follow the Primal Blueprint.
Can’t argue with that!
Question: “If you could give today’s teens one piece of health advice, what would it be?”
A: Sleep is important.
Not just important, critical.
A: Get off your phone and get outside more.
I endorse this one wholeheartedly. “Get off social media” was another common theme among respondents, but that’s probably unrealistic for the younger generations. Technology and social media are here to stay. (And there are good aspects to social media, but the bad aspects are worrisome, to say the least.) A more realistic goal is to moderate your use and be discerning about what you post and who you follow.
A: No smoking.
A: Gut health is everything. It causes acne and mood swings.
The only advice I remember getting as a teen was to avoid eating greasy foods to prevent acne. Of course, we didn’t know anything about the microbiome back then. Now that we do, how many teens are being encouraged to try dietary modifications with the specific intention of fortifying gut health?
Question: “What’s one thing you’ve learned from Mark that you think everyone should know?”
I asked this question for my own benefit to see what information or pieces of wisdom have been most impactful. I wasn’t intending to post the responses, but if these were the things that helped your fellow readers most, they’re also the nuggets most worth sharing with the people you’re trying to help in your own life. Presented without comment:
- You are in control of your genes.
- 80/20 rule.
- Metabolic flexibility.
- Bodyweight workouts for when traveling or on a budget.
- Look for hidden sugar in sauces and packaged foods.
- The eat every two hours theory is incorrect.
- Aging doesn’t have to be a bad experience.
- That it is not one size fits all.
- Have fun no matter what you do.
- You deserve to eat well and live your best life at any age.
That’s a perfect note to end on. Tell me in the comments what you would add to these lists. I look forward to hearing your additions.