Is our 21st century society a good fit for our ancient physiology? Many fitness professionals, eaters, and scientists are considering the question, including us.
That’s why, last month, we accepted an invitation to present at PaleoFX, an ancestral health event bringing together everyone from doctors and university professors to chefs and “natural exercise” advocates; all there to talk about what it means to eat, move, and livase in in “Paleo”-friendly ways.
Now, let’s be clear. At PN, we don’t necessarily identify with the more dogmatic “Paleo” factions, which is one reason we like to use the terms “primal” or “ancestral” instead of “Paleo”. (For more on our thoughts on the topic, click here).
However, we do think everyone can learn from the primal or ancestral health movement. Heck, we even incorporate many elements of this approach in our Lean Eating Coaching Program, the world’s largest body transformation project.
That’s why we chose to present. We wanted to share what we’ve learned from our 8,000-plus clients. And show how understanding the reality of change can help us incorporate the best elements of life-changing, research-driven nutrition coaching for everyone… without getting bogged down in details or dogma.
If you’re interested in learning how we — as coaches — can adapt the ideas of healthy living (including ancestral health) in a way that supports a client’s own ability to change, this is a must-see video series.
But even if you’re not a coach, you’ll gain some important insights on how the change process really works, and how you can use it to set yourself up for success.
To get started with Part 1 of this presentation, click the play button below. Today’s video is about 10 minutes long.
Old school: Some basic principles for good health
The research in favor of a “primal” or “ancestral” style health approach is piling up. And scientists from a variety of fields — nutrition, physical education, biochemistry, anthropology, agriculture, genetics, medicine, etc. — are working together to figure out how this approach can help us understand and improve people’s health, fitness, nutrition, and overall wellness.
Researchers are still figuring out the details, but in general, here are the key ideas:
- Evolution is slow and our “old” bodies are trying to cope with “new” demands and routines. These include novel foods, technology, and modern environments.
- The mismatch between what we evolved to do and the challenges of our new environments can cause stress and a host of unique health problems.
- With some simple changes that bring us more in tune with our evolutionary past, we can improve our health and our well-being.
Now, there’s some debate about what, exactly, these changes should involve. Yet there’s general agreement that the changes should be things like:
- getting outside regularly for sunshine, fresh air, and natural surroundings
- eating whole, unprocessed foods that our bodies digest and use properly
- reducing technological distractions and “noise” as much as possible
- working to improve our mindfulness, awareness, and focus
- staying in tune with natural cycles of light/seasons (e.g. go to bed when it’s dark)
- minimizing stress — mental, emotional, physiological — especially chronic stress
- moving in natural, functional ways; using our whole bodies in complex movements
- … and playing as much as possible
Applying the basic principles above will probably make you a lot healthier and happier. There’s just one challenge:
How do you do that?
Think about it: Have you ever tried to implement a big lifestyle change, only to struggle with sticking to it or getting overwhelmed by details? Yeah, us too. Doesn’t matter if you think the change is awesome, good for you, endorsed by “experts”, or a smart idea… the challenge is the same:
How do you do that?
Well, rather than focusing on all the details, the process actually begins by thinking about the nature of change itself.
Precision Nutrition’s take on change
Change is hard. And that’s OK. It just means there are some crucial steps we need to know about along the path of change.
We, here at Precision Nutrition, have a lot of experience with these steps since they form the foundation for our Lean Eating Coaching Program…and they’re what make our coaching so successful.
Our mission is “life-changing, research-driven nutrition coaching for everyone”. And the “research-driven” part is important here, because it provides the basis for understanding change.
In other words, our understanding of how change happens isn’t founded on flimsy guess-work or an embarrassing tradition of fitness authoritarianism. Instead, it’s based on the behavioral sciences, psychological sciences, and neurosciences. And driven by our own research with thousands of clients.
Recidivism is a big problem in the field of weight loss and body transformation. People traditionally go on a diet or a program, go off it, bounce back, lose some weight, gain some weight, fall off the wagon, feel badly, go back on another diet or program, stick to it, fall off the wagon again, feel badly again, and so forth.
That’s not how we do things. After working with PN, clients are well on their way to permanent change. We really do help transform entire lives – environments, behavior, mindset, one’s whole identity — so that going back to the old way of being is next to impossible.
We can do this because we’re obsessed with 3 questions.
- How do people change?
- Why do people change?
- How can we help?
By answering these questions, things like weight loss, body composition changes, improvements in blood markers, and developing a healthier relationship with food come as an easy and immediate consequence.
The evolutionary paradox of change
Evolution is a tricky balance. We need discomfort and challenge in order to adapt. We’re often at our best when faced with new circumstances. At the same time, all organisms resist change in order to protect themselves. Organisms prefer homeostasis, or the status quo. Generally, no organism wants to change. We just prefer to cruise along, keeping everything in steady balance.
This means we have a paradox:
- We want to help people eat and move in ways that suit their evolutionary heritage.
- But people are also going to resist this change for very good evolutionary reasons.
How can we reconcile this paradox? Again, we have to begin by understanding change.
That’s why, in this 3-part video series we’ll:
- describe how people generally think change happens
- explain how change really happens
- demonstrate how this tension can leave us confused
- share stories from our clients, showing how this tension is reconciled
How we think change happens vs. how it really does
Most of us think change is a product of rational choice.
For example, in nutrition we think that all we need to do is present people with a rational argument. From there, they’ll see the supreme value in our logic, they’ll get super motivated to overhaul their entire lifestyle, they’ll change everything at once, and they’ll go on to tell a glorious change story, never looking back.
Our expectation is that people are already inclined to fitness, that they’re highly motivated, that they’re driven by challenge, and that they’re 100% ready to get started today.
(We also assume that people are scientifically literate and interested in details and debate. So we heap science and logic on them).
Unfortunately, if we assume change is straightforward and that everyone can be convinced by logical argument about the scientific merits of a particular practice, we’ll be left scratching our heads and wondering why people are so illogical. Shortly after, we’ll be wondering why we just can’t seem to help people make change in their lives, no matter what we try, no matter how much we care.
That’s why it’s important to see change as it really happens.
Meet Maria and Dave
By way of example, today’s video introduces you to Maria and Dave. Each has a unique, but fairy common, set of barriers to success. Whether it’s the fact that Maria works full-time while also caring for an aging parent and small child. Or that Dave is not only a parent but carries a tremendous amount of job stress and lives in a community where a very, very small percentage of his peers exercise. Both Maria and Dave have many good explanations for having poor health and being overweight.
When you start to look at the demands on the lives of real people – like Maria and Dave – we shouldn’t be surprised when people don’t change. We should be surprised when they actually do.
Sure, most perceived barriers – time, energy, resources, stress, identification, ability, understanding, confidence – are all overcome in our long-term success stories. But these often require help. A 4-day workout split and strict set of dietary rules isn’t the kind of help we’re talking about here. For people like Dave and Maria, help comes in a different form.
Rather than foisting upon them some extreme exercise plan or restrictive dietary plan that we think they “should” be following, Maria and Dave need to be met where they’re at today. And that means listening to find out what “is” instead of what “should be”.
(Note: Meeting clients where they’re at is the only way to help them overcome their lack of confidence, as well as the profound ambivalence, that accompanies change. More on this in the upcoming videos).
Summary and quick take-aways
That does it for Part 1 of this video series.
In Part 2, we’ll get deeper into change process. We’ll show how understanding the psychology and neuroscience of change can help us change better, without getting overwhelmed. And we’ll also discuss how to guide others to change too.
For now, here are today’s take-aways:
- With some simple principles, an “ancestral” approach can improve our health. And we don’t need to live in a cave to do it. All we need to do is incorporate some of the best practices most experts already agree upon.
- Even though we know what we/clients “should” be doing, very few actually do it. And that’s okay because change is complicated. Instead of assuming change happens in an easy and seamless way, we just need to see it for what it is and guide the process effectively.
- At Precision Nutrition, we know change. We coach more clients than any other nutrition coaching company in the world right now. And the success of our work comes from a deep understanding of the change process.
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