Five Essential Habits to Establish Today for Optimal Health!

As a Naturopathic Physician (ND), my colleagues and I ask A LOT from our patients. When you walk out of your ND’s office, the treatment plan may resemble a short story, particularly compared to a typical MD’s treatment plan. Not only are we working to cure the one symptom you are coming in with, but also working to discover the root cause and treat your problem at the source. This almost always involves a series of lifestyle changes that can feel daunting. I want to give you my two cents on the TOP FIVE THINGS to focus on implementing today to improve overall health. 


  1. Intuitive eating with a focus on whole foods. 


Intuitive eating is the fancier name for what I like to call the 80-20 rule. This means that 80% of the time you should eat mostly plants, whole foods, and things that come out of the ground, ocean, or from the land. 20% of the time eat whatever you damn well please! 

Dietary changes can be hard to implement-- especially when they are rigid and unattainable. However, if we incorporate the 80-20 rule, your relationship with food should start to shift to the point where you don’t feel bad for having a donut every now and then, and you begin to listen to the signals your body is giving you for the type of nourishment it may want or need. There is no need to moralize food because assigning moral value to foods can make us feel shameful and then lead to binge eating after feeling deprived. 

If you are able, buy food products that are organic and non-GMO. This can be a challenge in terms of accessibility and affordability- but do your best! Winco and Grocery Outlet are affordable places that carry organic produce products.

A diet full of whole foods can help with weight management if that’s on your health goal list; but it also helps prevent or treat chronic metabolic diseases such as endocrine disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancer1

Want to know some options on the best foods to buy organic? Check out this link to look at the most important foods to buy organic: Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.

  1. Restorative sleep. 


Getting adequate sleep makes us feel great. It has also been shown to be protective against chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and hypertension. Not only that, but it can encourage tissue healing and reduce pain2. Pretty great right? One tool to help you get a restful night’s sleep is called sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is a group of strategies that will help improve sleep. Want to learn more about these strategies? Check out my recent blog post on sleep hygiene to learn more. [Link to sleep hygiene]  



  1. Daily movement. 


Exercise, movement, play – whatever you want to call it – moving your body in some way, every day is incredibly important! Exercise has been studied for a long time and can reduce morbidity and mortality. Not only that, but it helps to reduce pain, decrease anxiety, improve mental clarity and so much more3


*Pro tip: Initiating a regular movement routine can be very difficult but if you’re willing to try, there are countless free apps, programs, videos, routines! Some of my favorites include: 8 Fit, Women’s Health/Men’s Health magazines, Yoga with Adrienne, and Nike NTC (which is also free right now!). My absolute favorite place to start, particularly if daily movement is newer for you, is this video: “The Seven Minute Scientific Workout.”


  1. Hydration. 


This really goes without saying seeing as water is essential to life! Ideally it would be great if everyone could drink at least half their body weight in ounces daily. As an example, a person that is 170lbs should drink 85 ounces of water daily – and if you are active or if it is hot outside and you are perspiring, you should actually be getting more4! While you may be tempted to replace water with tea, coffee and some other beverages, these liquids have other components that can be dehydrating.


*Pro tip: Having a hard time increasing your water because you don’t like the taste? Add a squeeze of lemon, lime or put some frozen berries in your water to improve the taste! Feeling the need to pee ALL the time because you’ve increased your water intake? Try adding a pinch of sea salt for every 20 ounces of water! The little bit of salt will help you retain more of the water. If you don’t want to add salt, give it time. In time, your bladder will adjust to this level of water and stop sending the “I’m full!” signal quite so frequently. 


  1. Stress management. 


This seems to be a real buzz-word of late but just because it is all over social media doesn’t mean it is any less important! Stress, though useful in certain situations, can be damaging if we experience it too often/for too long of a time period5. Daily mindfulness or meditation is a great way to balance your stress levels. It can provide a space to do a self-check-in, but it can also teach you techniques that will allow you to thrive instead of wilt during stressful times6


*Pro tip: There are a multitude of apps and websites with mindfulness sessions, guided imagery, etc. Some of my favorites are 10% Happier,, and Calm. If much of your stress is resulting from chronic pain, another app that may be helpful is called Curable. Some of these apps or websites are full of free sessions, others cost and the price can vary. Check it out and see if any are a good fit for you.




The Bottom Line


Changing your behaviors will have lasting effects on your health. If you are able to incorporate these essential five habits into your routine, you will begin to notice positive changes that last.


  1.         The Best Diet: Quality Counts | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Accessed April 9, 2020.
  2.         Study links irregular sleep patterns to metabolic disorders | National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Accessed April 9, 2020.
  3.         Warburton DER, Nicol CW, Bredin SSD. Health benefits of physical activity: The evidence. CMAJ. 2006;174(6):801-809. doi:10.1503/cmaj.051351
  4.         Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition Reviews. 2010;68(8):439-458. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x
  5.         Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: New insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future Science OA. 2015;1(3). doi:10.4155/fso.15.21
  6.         Galante J, Dufour G, Vainre M, et al. A mindfulness-based intervention to increase resilience to stress in university students (the Mindful Student Study): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Public Health. 2018;3(2):e72-e81. doi:10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30231-1



Dr. David Chang ND, LAc David Chang, ND, LAc, is a board-licensed naturopathic physician and acupuncturist with extensive training in Naturopathic primary care and classical Chinese medicine. With more than six years of professional experience and a strong interest in chronic pain management, he is proud to own and operate his practice in Portland, Oregon.

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