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I Can Only Tell You What Works For Me

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I’ve spent years reading books and articles and watching videos and trying all sorts of things, on a mission to be stronger, fitter, healthier, smarter, richer, funnier and generally more successful at life.

Often what I find, written between the lines of well-meaning advice, is a presumption that what works well for one person will also work for another.

It works for me, so it must work for you. Right?

Of course, this is not always the case. Each human being is entirely unique — and I’m not just referring to fingerprints and DNA.

I am nothing like you.

Even if you are also a 41-year-old man, married with 2 kids and living in England, you and I are practically nothing alike.

“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” — Margaret Mead

You’ve had different experiences than I have. You were raised in a different way, in a different place, with different parents and different friendships. As a result, your attitude to risk and change is not the same as mine. Your support network is different, as is your level of peer pressure and social expectation.

You have a different body composition than I do. You have different levels of fat and muscle and water. You’re starting with a different bone density and different allergies and illnesses and injuries.

Your body type is not the same as mine. Body types used to be categorised into well-defined shapes — such as the tall, lean ectomorphs and the heavy, round endomorphs — but we now know that there’s actually a spectrum, on which each person has a unique body shape.

It’s for reasons like these that self-improvement advice that makes sense for me might not make sense for you. I can tell you what works for me, but not necessarily what will work for you.

Consider the creatures living inside of you…

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Your body is host to trillions of microbes, most of which live inside your gut and are critical in the proper functioning of your heart, digestion, immune system and many other aspects of health.

In the moment you were born, this ecosystem of bacteria was practically a blank slate, but you immediately started collecting microbes through contact with your mother and through breastmilk and from any surfaces you were in contact with.

That table leg you sucked on will always be a part of you.

Even if you have a twin sibling, your personal blend of microbes is as unique as your fingerprint.

This is important because different combinations of microbes can affect how easily you gain or lose weight. They can affect what foods you can or can’t digest properly. They affect your risk of diabetes and fluctuations in blood sugar.

The uniqueness of our microbes is just one reason why diet advice is not one-size-fits-all. A food that will give me more energy post-workout might leave you feeling bloated and lethargic. A low-fat yoghurt might deliver a healthy dose of protein for you, but might not be properly digested at all by my gut.

It’s about time.

I have a 9 to 5 job, which limits my flexibility, but I work from home, so I don’t spend time commuting. I have two kids, who need help getting dressed and fed in the morning, and we need to drop them off at school and pick them up later in the day.

Even if you also have a job and kids, I guarantee that your responsibilities and your schedule are not identical to mine. You may need to be out of the house slightly earlier or slightly later than me in the morning, which will affect your ability to exercise or work or meditate before the day fully starts.

I often read that it’s best to exercise in the morning — apparently, it’s better for metabolism and mental energy — but then I’ve also seen advice that it’s best to exercise in the evening — apparently, it helps to build muscle faster.

They can’t both be best?

Personally, I find it tough to fit in an early morning workout when the kids want breakfast at 6 am, and I’m usually too tired to exercise in the evening after a day at work. So, the best for me is actually lunchtime or early afternoon. Apparently, protein production is at its peak in the afternoon, so maybe that time is best?

Your best time for exercise might be morning or afternoon or evening. Or maybe a number of short workouts spread throughout the day?

How long have you been on the earth?

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Age plays a part too.

If you’re younger than me, there’s a good probability that your maximum heart rate is higher than mine, and that your body is able to transport oxygen faster, which means you can exercise harder and longer than me. In short, you have a higher capacity for exercise.

“People say that age is just a state of mind. I say it’s more about the state of your body.” — Geoffrey Parfitt

I don’t believe for a minute that a person can be too old to stay fit and build strength, but there’s no doubt it becomes harder with age, and the potential results are different.

Most types of exercise will suit any age, but a specific workout plan may not.

It’s in the blood.

There’s a chance that your blood type (A, B, AB or O) affects how successfully you are able to digest different types of food. The concept of a ‘blood type diet’ has been around for a few years, and it would recommend what you should and shouldn’t eat depending on your blood type.

While this has never been scientifically proven, it does make some sense. For example, some blood types appear to be more at risk of diabetes and heart disease, which could mean that a common diet is not working well for those people — perhaps they’re eating foods that don’t suit their blood type.

Who came before you?

The genes you have inherited are fundamentally different to mine, and they play a big part in diet and fitness.

For example, lactose intolerance — the inability to digest dairy — is far more common in people descended from African, Hispanic or Asian ancestors. This is because the domestication of cattle occurred in European cultures long before it did in other parts of the world, where reliance on dairy products is still much lower. People with European ancestry are typically born with more tolerance for lactose (the sugars in milk). It’s very possible to be lactose intolerant and not know it.

Your fitness and your susceptibility to disease are also inherited, at least up to a point.

Obesity is believed to be 70% inherited — there’s a lot you can do to combat it, but it’s more difficult for some people than others to keep the pounds off.

You may have your parents to blame for your beer belly.

Your performance in aerobic exercise and in strength training is partly genetic, as is the mix of your muscle fibres and your willpower and your physical ability to work hard for long periods of time.

Believe it or not, some people find pull-ups easy!

Here’s What Works For Me

I’ve tried a number of different diets and foods, and experimented in many ways with exercise. I’ve found some things that really work for me, and they’ve become ingrained in my daily routine.

The paleo diet

I’m not religious about sticking to any diet, but eating the way my prehistoric ancestors would have done has really worked for me. This means a lot of fruit and vegetables and nuts and seeds, along with a little bit of meat with most meals. I almost never eat refined, processed foods.

“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” — Michael Pollan

I avoid anything that contains grains (bread, pasta, cereals) because the gluten and the huge carbohydrate hit plays havoc with my energy levels. If I eat a sandwich for lunch, I’ll be practically asleep by mid-afternoon.

I avoid anything that contains refined sugar (sweets, chocolates, soda) because I feel awful after I’ve eaten anything too sweet. It’s no surprise, I’m sure, that eating sugary foods is bad for you, but it affects some people more than others.

Bedtime routine

I learned a while back that having at least an hour of screen-free time before sleep makes a huge difference to how I feel when I wake up the next morning. The only nights when I sleep restlessly are those where I’ve tried to go to sleep straight after watching a movie or when I’ve been working late.

I make sure I get at least 7–8 hours of sleep each day.

I get into bed at pretty much the same time every night (22.30) and read a book for 45 minutes, or until I feel too tired to read any more. Nine times out of ten, I wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day.

Play as exercise

I love climbing and I love mountain biking. They are forms of play for me, but they’re conveniently also fantastic forms of exercise.

I’ve never been able to keep myself motivated in a gym, and running frankly bores me. For some people, those are at the core of their fitness, but I’ve never been able to make them work for me.


I drink a lot of water. I never measure it, but I’d estimate that I drink upwards of 3 litres each day. It’s a very simple habit for me — I have a half-litre bottle that I keep with me at all times, and I drink from it frequently. When it’s empty, I fill it back up again.

Nowadays, if I’m without a drink of water for more than a few minutes, I feel really uncomfortable.

It’s impossible to know what impact my water habit has had on my health, but I’m confident I’d have worse skin, memory and exercise performance — as well as more headaches and general illness — if I didn’t drink as much of it.

Standing up

I spend all of my working day in front of a computer screen, and I spend much of my evening in front of it too, thanks to my newly-found passion for writing. After years of headaches and back pain and other ailments, I experimented with a standing desk. And I’d never go back.

I find that I have more focus and energy during the day if I’m standing up, and the thousands of tiny muscle movements that are involved in keeping me upright are undoubtedly good for my fitness and fat burn.

I built my own desk out of scraps of wood, and that’s still the same one I use to this day. I have a foam standing mat that takes the pressure off my feet, and I switch to sitting down for maybe an hour or two in the afternoon.

Avoiding media

I’ve written before about the benefits of giving up mainstream media. I never watch the news on TV, or read news sites or buy a newspaper. It makes me immune to the negativity that media corporations survive by. Since giving up the news, I have less day-to-day stress and more focus on what matters to me.

If something important happens, someone will let you know.

I also removed Facebook and Twitter and Instagram from my devices years ago, and I couldn’t tell you what Snapchat even looks like. As a result, I have better relationships with a small group of friends, I have zero FOMO, and I feel better about every aspect of my life — because I’m not comparing it to a hundred people that I barely know.


I never went full Mario Kondo, but I did throw away a lot of stuff a few years back, and it’s such a liberating experience. Since then, I’ve been very mindful of what I buy and what I keep.

I rarely buy something just because it looks nice. It has to be functional and important to me. It has to solve a real problem that I have. If it ever stops being useful or important, I throw it away.

The result is less clutter, fewer decisions to be made and a sense of space.

What Doesn’t Work For Me

I’ve found that some of the most common advice around health, fitness and lifestyle simply doesn’t work for me.

Early starts

I’ve never been a morning person. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother trying to pry me out of bed for school. Getting up at 5am to do anything simply doesn’t suit me.

“People who get up early in the morning cause war, death and famine.” — Banksy

Don’t get me wrong — I have tried. I read The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod a few years ago and I was hugely motivated to unlock my morning potential. I started waking up an hour earlier, and I meditated and exercised and planned my day, and I stuck with it for a while. But it never became easier and I found that I was less effective later in the day as a result.

I’m not built to wake up early.


Some people build their whole day around their morning coffee. It gives them the energy they need to overcome a morning slump and fire into the day.

I find that caffeine has the opposite effect on me. I don’t get much of a physical or mental boost, and it actually reduces my energy levels later in the day. If I drink caffeine in the morning, I’m more sleepy in the evening.


I’ve experimented with napping during the day, to see what effect it has on my energy levels and general wellbeing.

I found that having a 20–25 minute nap in the afternoon — straight after lunch — is a really nice thing to do. I like getting into bed because sleeping is one of my favourite activities.

But I wake up feeling sluggish and I find that I’m lethargic for at least an hour afterwards, without any noticeable boost in the evenings.

There may be some invisible health benefits that I’m missing out on, but I prefer to do all my sleeping when it’s dark outside.

What Works For You?

My conclusion, after years of trying all manner of diet and fitness and lifestyle techniques, is that you can only find out what works for you through experimentation.

Your body type and genes and gut microbes and age and blood type — and a thousand other factors — are unique to you. As a result, the perfect diet and the perfect fitness routine and the perfect way of living are also unique to you.

I could tell you what foods and exercises and routines to try — and you might find some inspiration from the above list of what works for me — but my real advice is to experiment, keep an open mind, listen to your body, and find out what works for you.

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