9 Steps to Perfect Health: Introduction

perfecthealth

In April, The Healthy Skeptic blog will turn three years old. During that time I’ve written 157 blog posts and eight special reports on topics ranging from heart disease to depression to essential fatty acids and fish oil.

Those of you who’ve been following the blog for most of that time, or who’ve had the chance to go back and read a lot of those articles and special reports, probably have a pretty good idea of what my philosophy on health and nutrition is. But a lot of newer subscribers and visitors might benefit from a condensed summary of the ingredients I believe are essential to optimal health.

I often find myself wanting to refer to something like this – a quick primer that gives readers an overview of my approach – when I’m responding to comments or emails. Because let’s face it, not everyone has the time to go back and read 157 blog posts and 8 special reports to get a sense of what this blog is about.

I also want to create something that you all can easily share with friends and family who may be completely new to this stuff. In those cases I think it’s better to start with a broad, not-too-technical overview of the approach we discuss in more detail here.

With this in mind, I’m going to write a series called 9 Steps To Perfect Health. After I’m finished, I’m going to repurpose that series into an eBook and make it available for free. This way you and I will have something concise and easy to read to send to those loved ones who still think eating saturated fat causes heart disease, or that soy products are healthy alternatives to animal protein.

The conventional approach to healthcare has failed

There’s no better or more important time to get this information out there. Our health continues to deteriorate at an alarming pace, and the incidence of chronic, degenerative disease is skyrocketing each year. Consider the following:

  • Diabesity (obesity + diabetes) affects more than one billion people worldwide, including 100 million Americans and 50% of Americans over 65.
  • More than half of Americans are overweight, and a full one-third are clinically obese.
  • Recent reports suggest that one-third of people born in 2010 will develop diabetes at some point in their lives.
  • 9 out of 10 Americans will develop high blood pressure before they die.
  • 4 out of 10 people who die each year in the U.S. die of heart disease, and rates of heart disease are projected to double in the next 50 years.
  • Rates of infertility are expected to double in the next decade.
  • According to the World Health Organization, depression is now the leading cause of disability, affecting more than 120 million people worldwide.

I could go on but I think you get the point. Our health is getting worse, not better.

Over the last 50 years the medical establishment has vigorously promoted a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet, claiming that it would protect us from heart disease and diabetes and make us healthier and happier. How has that worked out for us? The statistics above make it clear that the conventional approach has been a dismal failure that has not only failed to protect our health, but has directly contributed to the epidemic of modern disease.

All modern diseases share a similar cause

One of the most glaring mistakes conventional medicine makes is to assume that all of these modern diseases – diabetes, heart disease, depression, autoimmune disease, etc. – are unrelated conditions that don’t share a common cause. This is a convenient fiction created by the pharmaceutical industry (and perpetuated by the medical establishment) to sell more drugs.

The truth is that while these conditions do have unique features, they all share a common origin: the modern lifestyle. Poor diet, nutrient deficiencies, stress, lack of sleep, lack of or the wrong type of exercise, toxins and medications all directly contribute to the problems that are ruining our health.

The conventional approach is to treat each of these various problems with different drug, and ignore the fundamental factors that are at the root of all of them. That has been a stupendously unsuccessful approach. It’s time to replace it with a more holistic view of health, and to empower people to prevent and treat disease without unnecessary drugs or surgery.

Introducing the 9 steps

Here are the 9 steps we’ll be covering in the articles to follow:

  1. Don’t eat toxins.
  2. Nourish your body.
  3. Eat real food.
  4. Supplement wisely.
  5. Heal your gut.
  6. Manage stress.
  7. Move like your ancestors.
  8. Sleep more deeply.
  9. Practice pleasure.

I’ll try to cover one each week, so we should be finished with the series by the end of March. If you know anyone you’d like to introduce to this material, please send them over to the blog and have them sign up for email updates.

And for those that were looking forward to the series on treating male and female hormones naturally, don’t worry! It’s coming up.

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  1. says

    Chris, I’m really looking forward to this series. One minor nit with your introduction above. You write:

    ” Over the last 50 years the medical establishment has vigorously promoted a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet, … The statistics above make it clear that the conventional approach has been a dismal failure …”

    I do think it’s important to consider promoted diet versus actual diet. I’m not sure the increased rate of obesity in disease is primarily a result of people following a low-fat, high-carb diet … it’s more like folks interpretation of this is actually a high PUFA fat, high refined grain and sugar diet. That (as you suggest with the “don’t eat toxins” step) is likely the real culprit.

    Anyways, I suppose this is a bit of semantics, but I do think compliance in terms of promoted diets (e.g., USDA pyramid) is an issue. To me, the problem with the promoted low-fat high carb diet is that it has led to processed foods that make $$ for big business but aren’t healthy for us.

  2. Chris Kresser says

    I see your point, Beth. But another way to look at it is that it’s almost impossible for most people to be compliant with a low-fat diet over a long period of time, and it drives them to crave and eat processed and refined foods that are toxic. So the promotion of a low-fat, high carb diet has to some degree as optimal for health has to some degree created the high PUFA, high refined grain and sugar diet that is causing our health problems.

    It’s a lot easier to comply with a high-fat, nutrient-dense, moderate carb diet than it is a low-fat diet.

  3. says

    Absolutely agree! Like I said, it’s a bit of semantics. I just think it’s important to be clear that the problem is the compliance with the conventional diet and not suggest that it’s inherently that diet per se that’s harmful … it’s what people wind up eating when they try and follow the recommended low-fat, high carb diet.

  4. Jen says

    I am so excited about this… I feel like I have way too many questions all time and this will be a great resource! Really looking forward to it!

  5. says

    This will be a great series. There is just too much nonsense information available for mass consumption: (all together now, repeat after me) eat low fat, lots of “healthy” whole grains, no saturated fat, blah, blah, blah.

    I will be sure to tweet your posts to spread the word so that people can read about the very doable alternative to eating bad tasting “low fat” food and wasting half their lives on a treadmill.

  6. says

    Really looking forward to this series, and I will definitely send some friends and relatives your way! With all the marketing and mainstream opinions on “healthy” diet, it still seems like we are fighting a very uphill battle, but it is encouraging to see that more people seem to be taking control and responsibility for their own health.

  7. Mar says

    Will post in my facebook account, thanks!

    @ Beth: let me slightly disagree :)
    At a certain point in my life I totally stopped eating processed foods and spent many years eating a “wholesome diet” based on whole grains, tofu, veggies from my CSA, fish, and occasional meat. Not touching a bit of soda, everything organic, etc etc. Today I’m a celiac. So I believe Chris has a point. Compliance is not nearly enough for a lot of people. Whole grains and soy can also promote bad nutrient absorption. Plus I was shy on the fat! And hardly ate any probiotics at all. The food pyramid is useless, at least for me!

  8. says

    Mar, no problem, I’m with you. If we ranked foods, I would certainly put soy near the bottom of the list. Re grains, I totally get they aren’t healthy for some folks, though I tend to be sympathetic to the Weston Price folks.

    Like I said, I was just really being a bit pedantic. If you look at diet as a continuum, I totally agree with Chris that a healthier diet is high fat, moderate carb and nutrient dense (and per the discussion on Robb Wolf’s site, agree on the dairy too ;).

    I just think that the DASH diet — or the USDA pyramid diet — is not the other endpoint. Some people do seem to do well on these (look at Ornish’s success stories), and I expect that it’s because if you really follow those diets, you omit or minimize the food toxins.

    But there’s the rub … those diets are a bear to really follow, mostly because of the lack of good fats I bet. And when folks fail on them, they wind up on what I think *is* the endpoint of the continuum, which is the high PUFA, high sugar/fructose, low nutrient SAD.

    Anyways, sorry to take folks down this path … just a slow day at work I guess ;).

  9. Harald says

    Dear Chris.
    Thank you for your continuing efforts to teach about our REAL medicine – FOOD.
    I have something to add to your 9 point list:
    Inform yourselves about Germanic New Medicine while you are healthy. It is impossible to teach a drowning person how to swim!
    http://learninggnm.com . The reason for learning about GNM is, that each and everyone of us living beings (that includes animals and plants!) is born with a Significant Biological SPECIAL program of Nature, which gets initiated when the body’s nutritional cupboards are “bare”. ‘Special” because it is designed to help an individual over a (biological) crisis.
    Therefore, if people do not provide their bodies with optimum nutrition, they can expect to suffer from cancer; cancer is a PROGRAM and has a healing part build right in.
    Discover all this at the above mentioned website.

  10. Jack Kronk says

    Chris,

    Very insightful of you to see the need for an outline of the basics, especially for people trying to make sense of the wealth of info that you’ve already put out.

    Regarding the discussion about ‘the conventional approach’, I understand what Beth is saying for sure, because most people do not eat well. And while I think we all know that it’s likely because we are bombarded with a barrage foods that are no bueno, I still think your claim stands as far as the conventional approach being a dismal failure, regardless of any of the details that we could pick apart as far what people have chosen to follow. Because it is mainstream advice that drives the entire food world, from education, to production, to advertisement, to demand, to consumption, and back to education. It’s like a big, self perpetuating circle. They’ve truly created a monster.

    One interesting thought is that we don’t yet know what would happen if the ‘conventional approach’ actually were to change to “high fat, moderate carb, free of toxins, and nutrient rich diet”. It’s never been given the chance to have mainstream support. You could say that may have been the general consensus pre 1920′s, but I don’t think people were as reliant on ‘government standards and recommendations’ at that time. Take the current government programs and media sensationalism, and hand the reigns over to someone like you and the other leaders in the nourishing foods paleo-ish movement who really know the truth about eating healthy, and I think the result will be far from a dismal failure. I think it would be a big success, even if not everyone follows.

    Thanks Again Chris
    -jack k

  11. Perry says

    Hi Chris,

    Haven’t you left out a big category…chronic disease due to fungal, bacterial, and viral infection and what to do about it?

  12. Bob says

    Chronic disease from infection is still just a theory though right? Many of these diseases seem to respond to getting the body in order with “paleo” diet, gluten free, proper D levels, exercise, stress reduction… No doubt infections play a role as well but I think blaming bacterial/fungal infections for diseases is still not quite the whole picture and feeds into that fear of bacteria and ultra-hygeniec disease breeding habits we have now.

  13. Geoff says

    Wonderful list that makes sense.
    I recently got ill after a period of excessive training and foolishly taking an antibiotic (despite being tested and found to not have an infection). This combined with excessive stress – emotional/mental and I’ve been out of action for almost 3 months with as yet no clear light at end of tunnel.

    If you mess with sleep, train too hard/much/inappropriately and take meds you really don’t need – You can wind up in big trouble.

  14. Harald says

    Hi Geoff.

    Germanic New Medicine teaches us about unexpected, isolating shock events and the consequences thereof.

    Once you have studied GNM, you can determine yourself, when you “screwed up” and resolve the resulted Biological Conflict.

    Upon resolution, you will enter the healing phase and prevent the build-up of conflict mass, which will speed up the duration of the healing phase.

    Check it out here: http://learninggnm.com

    Cheers, Harald.

  15. JD says

    Harald, Harald, what is this? spam? faith? or religious fundamentalist?

    I see GNM as a dangerous thing, no one will cure himself whith this pseudoscience proclaimed in this pseudotheory, don’t let yourself be fooled.
    If you follow the advice of GNM that basically summarize to don’t treat your illness and treat it with your mind, surely you will complicate or live in pain or die early. Sure the mind have some power and we still know little about it but if you don’t eat nourishing foods or eat poisonous thing no way your brain and body will work fine so in those conditions: how can your mind work fine?.
    Also this pseudobroscience isn’t in anyway related to what Chris Kresser is advocating here, that basically is summarized to what the founding father of natural medicine, Hippocrates proclaimed long time ago: “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food” an advice that, to this day, is the root and foundation of a healthy human being.

    End note: I have no scientific data to prove all that I have proclaimed here, just my own experimentation. So to anyone that read this I invite you to prove to yourself, if changing your eating habits have or don’t have a direct impact in your own health and well being?

    Hope you people do well and be healthy too.
    See ya!

  16. Harald says

    Supplemental comment: When one feels ill, that is usually an indication, that the healing phase has commenced. It is Mother Nature’s way of rying to immobilize the individual, so that the healing process can work as expediently as possible. Naturally, if you poison yourself accidentally, knowing a KNOWLEDGEABLE physician helps, because he would know what antidote to administer. Also, if one comes to grief in an accident, a surgeon would be most appreciated. So GNM is NOT a dangerous thing, but ignorance is; witness the useless therapies used!
    Cheers, Harald

  17. Art says

    Chris,

    Your approach to health and healing is one of the best available, but I’m not sure of the promise for “perfect health”. Nothing in this world is perfect. So, perhaps for the eBook version, “Nine Steps To Optimal Health” would be better?

  18. Chris Kresser says

    Art: I had originally chosen “optimal”. But it’s such a flabby, weak word – don’t you think? Doesn’t have much punch to it at all, and it’s rarely used in conversation. But I definitely see your point.

    I think I’m going to do a survey and ask for all of your help in naming the eBook when the time comes.

  19. says

    Hey Chris,

    When you write about step 6 “Manage Your Stress”, do you plan to mention/cover “heart rate variability?” Malcolm Kendrick talks about it ever so briefly in his book “The Great Cholesterol Con” where he lays out his case for stress being the cause for heart disease.

    Looking forward to reading more.

    …Tim

  20. Michelle says

    Hi Chris. I really like your site; I’ve been doing a lot of research lately and you manage to pull together some of the best information into one place. I wondered if you are familiar with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet? It looks very much like what you propose for sensible eating and reducing toxins. I started out following the SCD around Christmas 2010, and have been doing FANTASTIC ever since.The SCD is specific and detailed about restricting products that contain hidden or trace irritants/toxins. Some people need to be that restrictive in order to get true relief. Fortunately I have more liberty in my diet and find your approach very do-able. Thanks so much for getting it out there!
    Here are some sites about SCD that are very informative and helpful:
    http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/index.htm
    http://www.scdrecipe.com/recipes/
    http://pecanbread.com/
    http://www.scdiet.net/healingcrow/HealingCrow/www.healingcrow.com/index-2.html

    • Chris Kresser says

      Hi Michelle,

      Yes, I’m aware of the SCD but I prefer the GAPS diet, which is based on it but emphasizes healthy traditional fats and bone broths to a greater degree.

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