What the British cycling Team can teach you about reclaiming your health

What the British Cycling Team can teach you about reclaiming your health.

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Does this sound familiar? You’ve been doing really well. Haven’t had any slip-ups on the strict diet you follow, no alcohol, no sugar. Meditating more often than not. And your health has definitely been better for it. But then something small goes awry, or you go on vacation, or almost for no reason at all – you wake up to pain, fatigue and brain fog, a full autoimmune flare! 

Frustrating, isn’t it? You put in all the hard work and follow a special diet – and the disease still bounces back, seemingly for no reason.

But what if I told you that you can’t blame your autoimmune disease on just one trigger such as stress or diet?

Or that there’s a way for you to live so that you’re not dreading another relapse?

And that knowing how the British Cycle team turned their fortunes around may help to improve your health and reduce your symptoms?

Wait, what? I’ll run that by you again.

Marginal Gains: How the British Cycling Team Improved

You may or may not know that the British cycling team are a world-class powerhouse of talent, winning an amazing and unprecedented number of Olympic medals, world championships, and Tour De France victories in the last 12 years.

But did you know that the British cycling team used to lose.

A lot.

Prior to 2008, they had never won the Tour De France – and they had won just one gold Olympic medal since the 1920s. So why the sudden change?

The performance director Dave Brailsford shook things up when he was appointed in 2003. There had already been an injection of money and resources that had given limited success, but now it was time to get serious. For Brailsford the devil was in the details – and then some. He focused on “the aggregation of marginal gains” where you make incremental improvements in everything you do. In his own words, “Aiming for gold was too daunting… It struck me that we should think small, not big, and adopt a philosophy of continuous improvement through the aggregation of marginal gains. Forget about perfection; focus on progression, and compound the improvements.”

Now, when it comes to cycling, the first place you might think to make improvements would be the bikes, but Brailsford took things several steps further.

For example, he looked at:

  • How the athletes slept – and got each team member the correct pillows and mattresses, which were transported to every event.
  • How often the team experienced colds and flu – and hired a surgeon to teach them handwashing techniques to reduce these occurrences. There were no handshakes exchanged at Beijing 2008!
  • Muscle recovery – testing which massage gel led to the fastest recovery time.

Brailsford’s approach was meticulous – and the results speak for themselves.

Marginal Gains and Your Autoimmune Health

You might be thinking, “Great story Robyn, but what does the British Cycling team have to do with my chronic autoimmune disease? I’m hardly in a position to compete in the Tour De France!”

Well, I think the concept of marginal gains is important to grasp when it comes to your health. In my clinical practice, I find it’s helpful to move away from searching for your magic bullet – the major trigger of your autoimmune disease. Instead, I find more success using a dual approach of finding your individual autoimmune triggers – while also improving as many aspects of your health as possible. Avoid focusing on the “broken” parts of your health. By looking at your overall health in increments, you’re able to make marginal gains that can result in a big difference – we’re aiming to create resilience in health, not just address your overt symptoms.

So if you use the same method that the British Cycling team used, the small gains can add up over time to a much larger improvement. These gains may be as simple as putting a larger portion of vegetables on your plate, or taking a probiotic – but what they have in common is that they are small movements in the right direction.

And remember – 

Your health is a landscape

I find it helpful to describe your health this way because it paints a picture that everyone can understand. Imagine a field, with a deep hole on the right-hand side of the landscape. While it’s tempting to think of disease and illness as an on/off thing – where you’re either healthy and standing in the field, or ill and down the hole – your health is more nuanced than that.

After all, if you’re standing at the edge of the hole – because of poor lifestyle choices or a high toxic burden – it only takes a nudge to fall in. Even if you’ve already done the hard work of climbing your way out of it and the worst of autoimmunity.

I want you to have true resilience in health – so that you’re standing on the left of the landscape, far away from the hole.

Keeping away from the hole means identifying your individual triggers and avoiding them – while at the same time avoiding general inflammatory issues such as:

  • Getting less than seven hours sleep a night.
  • Struggling with stress caused by unhealthy relationships or an adverse working situation.
  • Overtraining, causing cortisol issues.
  • Eating a standard western diet high in processed sugar and gluten.

Ultimately, you want to build your resilience in health so that an unexpected change in your lifestyle or circumstances doesn’t leave you hanging – your fingers slipping as you fall back into the hole. I want you strong enough to take on the challenges of life – anything from pregnancy or food poisoning, to sudden bereavement, or taking on a new challenge of long-term travel, or training for a race. I suggest you look at the bigger picture.

4 Ways to Improve Your Health and Make Yourself More Resilient

When you’re ready to gain resilience in health, using the marginal gains way of looking at your life is super helpful. Remember: it’s not about making huge, unsustainable changes. Instead, work on avoiding overwhelm, and making small changes that are easy to implement. Work on yourself 1% at a time.

Here are 4 examples:

  1. Give up gluten – there are many conflicting ideas about diet out there – and I believe a diet should be individual to your needs. But the vast majority of my clients respond well to cutting out gluten and wheat. While but one tiny step in changing your diet, giving up gluten can make a huge difference to your underlying health.
  2. Go to sleep at the same time every night – almost sounds simple too simple, right? But having a routine time where you turn the light off and settle down – without looking at your phone – is a small habit that can bring big benefits.
  3. Learn one coping mechanism for stress – whether you decide upon meditation, a cognitive behavioural technique (CBT), or journaling your feelings, adding a small stress-buster to your daily routine is crucial to heading off the damage caused by a dysfunctional hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. 
  4. Spend 5 minutes stretching when you wake up – Though you may not feel comfortable doing so first thing in the morning, taking time to stretch can improve circulation, and improve muscle tone and flexibility – and releasing endorphins which increase feelings of well-being and reduce the perception of pain. 

Enroll in the Foundations of Health – I designed my signature course to be as bite-sized as possible, without skimping on the important information you need to make further changes and tweaks to your health. With 16 webinars over eight months we look at how certain foods, poor sleep and stress, poor digestion and gut trouble, and a high toxin burden can all contribute to autoimmune disease, chronic illness and a lack of health resilience.

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Robyn is a Clinical Nutritionist with a specialised interest in the Functional Medicine approach to health. Robyn is very involved with the field of Coeliac Disease, Gluten-Reactive Disorders and Autoimmune Disease. Her passion for the healing power of food, has led her to work with complex cases, involving multiple diagnoses, and chronic health issues such as ME, auto-immune diseases and fibromyalgia. She also has a passion for working with the growing tide of chronic, lifestyle mediated illness; diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, and runs a lifestyle intervention clinic for these issues. Robyn works with patients to nutritionally support their bodies, so that they can heal. She has successfully helped many people around the world improve their health and increase their quality of life. Robyn sees clients in London, Tokyo and New York, and has a virtual practice that allows her to work with people all over the world.