The definition “supplement” says it all: “a thing added to something else in order to complete or enhance it” (definition from Oxford Languages). In other words, supplements are just that: supplements. Or, additions.
Yet, the supplement industry is valued at billions of dollars in the USA alone:
“The global dietary supplements market size was valued at USD 140.3 billion in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.6% from 2021 to 2028” (Report ID: 978-1-68038-919-7).
This same report goes on to say that: “The increasing consumer awareness regarding personal health and wellbeing is expected to be a key factor driving the market for dietary supplements over the forecast period.”
What I’m hearing from this information is that people care about their health and they want to take supplements to improve it.
That’s not a bad thing! Awareness and taking action to improve one’s health and wellbeing is generally an awesome thing.
Cool! All I’m saying is…
Get the basics solid first.
For example, these behaviors done every day will likely do more good than most supplements combined:
- An extra hour of sleep
- A relaxing walk with a friend (furry friends included)
- An extra serving of high fiber, high water vegetables
Perhaps you’re wondering what the “basics” are? Which ones to start with. Or, how to prioritize the behaviors that will do more good than most supplements.
All excellent thoughts, and the perfect segue into the next topic.
How to focus on what truly matters
If you’re not familiar with Dr. Jade Teta’s 4Ms of Metabolism, let’s start there.
Picture your metabolism as a stool with 4 legs. Each of the legs represents the 4Ms of Metabolism. These legs are like levers that we can pull to improve our metabolic health.
- movement (your steps in a day)
- meals (what you eat and drink)
- metabolics (fancy word for exercise + supplements)
- mindset/mindfulness (how you buffer stress)
The goal is to support all 4 legs of this stool so it is strong and steady. Everyone’s stool is a bit wobbly because we tend to neglect one, two, three, or even all four of these “metabolic levers”.
Which one do you think is the strongest for you? And which one do you think is the weakest for you?
More importantly, how can you use this framework to adjust your expectations and behavior to focus on what truly matters?
So with that in mind, we’re going to continue with two important principles:
- Remove the clutter
- Prioritize the most important factors first
Remove the clutter
Let’s face it. When it comes to supplements, there is a lot of conflicting information out there. Information overload and information paralysis come to mind. How do we clear away the clutter of information and focus on what truly matters?
Start with the 4Ms of Metabolism
Assess your baseline metabolic health by giving yourself a score from 1 to 10 for each of the 4Ms.
Use the following rating scale as a guide: 1 “never”, 5 “sometimes” and 10 “every day”.
- Movement: “I walk 8,000-10,000 steps”.
- Mindfulness: “I make time to relax, have fun, and de-stress”.
- Meals: “I eat mostly whole, minimally processed foods that keep my HEC in check (hunger, energy and cravings)”.
- Metabolics: “I make time for structured exercise (strength training, group classes, metcons, cardio, etc) 3x per week.” Or, “I do 4–5 hours of regular exercise a week”.
The exact questions are less important than the overall picture. On a daily basis, where do you spend the most time on your health? Where do you spend the least time?
Now, look at where you’re doing an awesome job. Pat yourself on the back 🙂 How can you do more of that?
Where are you struggling? What’s a small, manageable action that you could take towards improving your lowest score by 1 or 2 points? If we look at “movement” as an example, you don’t have to go from 0 to 10 000 steps in a day. For many of us, a gradual approach works best. According to baseline levels of movement, increasing your steps by 500-1000 per day is a great place to start. Progress by adding another 500-1000 when this becomes too easy.
To bring the conversation back to supplements…
What supplement (if any) can support you in this action? Looking at movement again, there are no supplements that can replace a relaxing walk with a friend. That doesn’t mean a supplement can’t support your movement goals indirectly. It could add value in some other areas of your health. For example, low iron stores in the body can contribute to low energy levels. As someone who has suffered from anemia and low iron levels most of my life, I know firsthand how hard it is to move when you’re exhausted all the time! Therefore, taking an iron supplement could support one’s energy levels (in this specific context), which could support movement goals (downstream effect).
From a “remove the clutter” perspective, what’s going to have the greatest impact here? If it’s a supplement, then go for it! And if you suspect nutrient deficiencies are contributing to your health status, please speak to your healthcare provider. The more individualized and specialized your supplement recommendations are, the more effective they will be.
Prioritize the most important factors first
As a metabolic optimization health coach, I like to start with the “big rocks”. These big rocks form the foundation for health, fitness, body composition, and overall well-being.
The 4Ms of Metabolism is the framework we use to help our clients identify the most important factors impacting their metabolic health. Typically, the 4Ms help us decide what direction to go in. Once we have an area to focus on, there are a number of different actions one could take. Some examples of big rock actions are at the end of this post.
So, to recap: Remove the clutter. Using the 4Ms of Metabolism, identify what truly matters right now. Is it stress management? Moving more? Eating more/eating less? Changing the way you exercise?
Then, prioritize the most important actions first, using SHMEC to guide you. SHMEC = Sleep, hunger, mood, energy, and cravings. These biofeedback clues are hormonal cues that the body uses to communicate with us. So, tune in and listen to what they’re telling you whenever you make new changes.
Essentially, this framework helps to remove the clutter and to prioritize meaningful action steps for YOU.
Here are some of the big rocks — the things to get solid before moving on to smaller rocks such as supplements.
First and foremost is consistency (get those reps in before making any new behavior more challenging). Remember the movement goal? Start small with something that can be done consistently and reliably on a daily basis (or as often as possible).
- Low-intensity daily movement, and as much as possible (e.g. doing housework, walking the dog; anything that isn’t structured exercise).
- Learn more about the powerful effects of movement from Dr. Jade here.
- Eating mindfully, and/or slowly. Read this post for more information.
- Food quality (e.g. mostly whole, minimally processed foods; nutrient dense foods, like high-fiber/high water vegetables; just the right amount of dietary fat and starchy carbs to make you feel satisfied between meals).
- Food quantity and an appropriate macronutrient ratio for your needs and activity level. Use the ELEL (Eat Less/Exercise Less) or EMEM (Eat More/Exercise More) toggles as starting frameworks. Learn more about these metabolic toggles here. “In this podcase, Dr. Jade explains these “Metabolic Toggles” as different levers you can pull in terms of calorie intake and output. This is a concept Jade developed that helps you circumvent metabolic compensation and avoid the trap that most dieters fine themselves in.”
- Sleep: high-quality sleep every night + sleeping enough hours to wake up feeling refreshed. For most of us, this is between 7-8 hours per night, but it does vary.
- Plenty of R&R! Make time to play and de-stress. If you’re doing everything right and you’re not seeing results, stress might be the culprit.
- Supportive environment: create and maintain a healthy social and physical environment that keeps you on track and/or helps you get back on track! (because we all get derailed from time to time).
- Identify obstacles. What’s keeping you from achieving your goals? These limiting factors work against you and block you from taking action. A common one is not having enough time. Seek additional support and care as needed to decrease, manage, or prevent these limiting factors.
Metabolics (aka Exercise and Supplements):
- A minimum of 4-5 hours of structured exercise a week, and ideally a combination of activities or styles of training that you enjoy! Consistency is easier when we like what we’re doing. If you love cardio, do it! But don’t forget about resistance training which offers different metabolic benefits (although equally as important).
- What supplements, if any, can support your health goals? Speak with a qualified healthcare provider for individualized recommendations.
Focus on taking action today by breaking down your goal into small daily practices that can be done consistently and reliably because… did I mention consistency already?
But hey, you did the 4M assessment.
What are the “big rocks” that YOU need to put in place before adding a supplement?
Get the basics solid before moving on.