Almost every person has an area of their health and wellness that they feel could use a bit more attention. Whether you want to move more, change your mindset, exercise regularly, or improve the quality of your diet, patience is required. It would be wonderful if there was one simple prescription out there to keep your motivation and dedication to the process high at all times, but I haven’t found one solution yet that is applicable to every single individual.

As your patience starts to wear thin, maybe you ask yourself, “Why does everyone else seem to have such great success while I continue to struggle? What are they doing that I’m not, and how can I turn that around ASAP?”.  Around the time of having those thoughts, you hop on social media, and you see Trainer Joe selling a new supplement that will take care of all of your cravings and alleviate your hunger. Meanwhile Trainer Sally shares with you a “shortcut in a capsule” that will help you to sleep better and have more energy.

While shortcuts in some areas of life can free up your time for more important things, supplements are often hyped as the shortcut that you need to improve your health. I do think supplements are often beneficial for addressing underlying issues that good quality nutrition or an otherwise healthy lifestyle can’t really touch, but I also feel that some supplements are promoted with a promise that you’ll instantly feel better and achieve the results you are looking for. 

In full transparency, I used to spend hundreds of dollars on supplements every month, not including protein powder. Some of these supplements were recommended to me by practitioners, and other supplements I decided to take on my own through reading and research. To this day, there are some supplements I continue to take (and some are still rather pricey), but nowhere near what I used to ingest. 

My health goals and focus areas have also changed, and I do a much better job of managing my stress levels. I’ve cut back on crazy workouts and focus more of my attention on movement, so I also feel my metabolic stress barometer is never completely out of balance. Als I’ve simplified my supplement routine, and instead placed more emphasis on stress management, I find myself with more money in my bank account every month if I’m being honest. 

The reality is when it comes to health, there is no one universal supplement that will work for everyone. While I highly suggest having a good quality protein powder on hand to simplify protein consumption and meeting your protein needs, you could also easily survive without a full stock of protein powder in your pantry. Supplements such as protein powder can help you meet your daily requirements of essential nutrients, but so can prepping other real, whole food sources of protein. 

When clients and Facebook forum members ask about what supplements they need to be taking daily, I remind them that supplements are meant to be “supplementary”. What exactly does this mean? Supplements can enhance the benefits already provided by an already healthy lifestyle, including the diet that is best for you and your body. Supplements may target a concern through a combination of vitamins, minerals, and herbs that would be more difficult to find in one whole food source. There is absolutely a time and place for supplementation, but have realistic expecations about supplements can actually do.

What are you hoping to achieve by adding a supplement to your routine? Let’s say weight loss is your primary focus, but you recognize that your sleep is not helping your weight woes. Maybe you decide to add in a sleep supplement, and find that after a week of consistent use, you wake up feeling a tremendous amount of zip and zest. This zip and zest leads to more movement throughout the day, and at the gym you are throwing around heavier weights. Over time your weight loss accelerates. Is this because of the supplement or because you’ve decided to target the need to sleeping better? Is weight loss really the result of having the energy you once lacked to move more and push yourself harder? 

In a nutshell, I believe supplements can be effective, but there are also drawbacks. Before you run out and stock up on any one supplement, it is extremely important to understand that supplements don’t come with a guarantee of working well for your unique physiology. There is  the potential for supplement-supplement or supplement-drug interactions, hence the reason you should always consult with your own health care provider before adding a supplement to your routine if you are already have a full medicine cabinet of other pills and capsules. 

Because the focus of this blog post is meant to “simplify” your own supplementation needs, I really just wanted to drive home the idea that supplements are meant to enhance healthy habits and behaviors, but shouldn’t be thought of as a magical solution for any concern or challenge. Perhaps supplements act as a placebo at times, or maybe your body was truly lacking “the thing” that a supplement now provides. At the end of the day, effort and action with other health and wellness goals still matters, and can make your supplementation more effective.

Let’s not forget that your mindset can also enhance any supplement you decide to take. If your goal is calorie control, and you are constantly craving sweets, sure some supplements can target cravings making calorie control much easier. But even in the absence of cravings, there is free will. Your human brain can override the absence of cravings and decide to dive head-first into the gallon of ice cream. Your human brain can also respond positively to allowing yourself a minute or two to take five deep breaths before having the first spoon of ice cream, and then you may decide you really don’t want any ice cream at all. 

So just as you would with any change to your lifestyle, monitor your own individual response to the supplements you are using regularly. Watch for things like changes to your ability to wind down at night or wake up with more energy. Track how your hunger may change when adding in a supplement, or even taking a supplement break. Remember that you are uniquely you, with your own physiology, and detective work is still required even when adding in a supplement that is promoted to target your area of concern! 

Photo by Mariana Rascão on Unsplash