I know that it is impossible for anyone to give me a complete answer on how I can lead a healthy, productive life without writing a book, but what I wish to ask is how can someone who possesses no knowledge of meal preparation, exercise or any forms of self care learn to take care of herself?

I don't know anything at all about even the rudimentary aspects of this and this is having a severe impact on my life. From what I understand, I'm not the only person with this problem, and the degree to which a person is unhealthy seems to be correlated with gaps in their self care knowledge and abilities.

Can someone please help me to understand how I can start learning the skills I need to lead a healthy, productive life?

  • This question was asked in the early days of the site, before a lot of the current guidelines had been developed. It is retained for useful information, however please do not use this as an example of what kinds of questions to ask on the site.
    – JohnP
    Commented May 8, 2023 at 16:53

2 Answers 2



The Primal Blueprint - covers diet/nutrition, exercise/play/stress management, and other keys to being healthy, in an easy-to-read format. Note - it is loosely based on the Paleo Diet, which many people disagree with.

Primal Blueprint 21-Day Transformation - based on the previous book, but with more specific recommendations, for both diet, exercise, and life in general.

Primal Blueprint Fitness - free ebook when you sign up for MDA's mailing list. Covers general concepts of how to exercise. There's also a couple of free cookbooks, one of which involves coconuts. :)

Real Food - What to Eat, and Why.

Deep Nutrition.

Food Rules - short, simple (one rule per page), easy to read. Michael Pollan's other books are also worth reading, but they are less about specifics, and more about the problems with our (US) industrial food industry. Update - I may have to qualify this book recommendation. I just ran across a blog post called Children of the Wheat (and the entire blog is also worth reading), and halfway down the post, he gives a critical analysis of Pollan's book, In Defense of Food, which I presume has similar recommendations to Food Rules. I admit I only skimmed the book, I'd say most of it is fairly reasonable, but some of the rules are questionable. One example is "Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." As the blog points out, this allows margerine - which has been around for over a hundred years.


Mark's Daily Apple - covers most (or all) of the issues mentioned in his books, so you don't have to buy them. Although personally I like having a printed book to hold. Plus, the website now has hundreds of pages - having a book, makes it easier to find things, and get an overview of the whole Primal system.

Raw Food SOS. Although the author Denise Minger, is not strictly a vegetarian, her current diet is close, with only some eggs, dairy, fish, and rarely, meat (as opposed to meat cooked rarely :)

Whole Health Source - Ancestral Nutrition - highly recommended, not just for the science analysis, but for the list of links on right sidebar. There's a lot more sites I could link, but they're all in that list. :)


Why Dietary Fat is Good
Guide to Fats
Cheap Meat
10 Protein Sources (some meat)
Vegetarian Protein
Should I Use Supplements?
Why Omega-3's Matter
Fructose versus Glucose
A Case against Cardio Exercise
Nutrition Deficiences in Vegetarians

Wheat Articles/Sites

Children of the Wheat
Why Grains are Unhealthy
Wheat Gluten Symptoms in non-Celiac Patients
Book Review: Dangerous Grains
The China Study, Wheat, and Heart Disease
Gluten and Thyroid Problems
Wheat Belly - both a blog, and a book by the same name.
Wheat Indiscretions - not really about problems with wheat itself, so much as how it's treated (chemicals, processing, etc).

As I mention below, the evidence against wheat consumption is definitely controversial. There's certainly plenty of vegetarian sites that will tell you it's wonderful, as are other grains. Here's one article in favor:

Wheat Grass (juice) and Cancer Patients in India.


You asked for a canonical source of information for overall health. Unfortunately - there is no consensus on issues of diet, exercise, and health in general. You will find a million sources (books, websites, published science papers), all of which make a claim to being the "correct" answer to how to eat/live, covering the range from vegan, vegetarian, fruitarian, carnivore, archevore, paleo, locavore, organic - did I miss anyone? :)

Disclaimer - I am not a nutritionist, this is not medical advice, you are responsible for your own life.

Having said that, there are a few areas where there is strong agreement.

  • Avoid sugar in all forms (there's at least 50 ways to rename sugar, like dextrose, maltose, and the industry uses them all). Definitely avoid HFCS - High-Fructose Corn Sugar.
  • Avoid refined grains (white flour, etc).
  • Avoid industrial pollutants (pesticides, hormones/antibiotics in meat, mercury in fish, etc).
  • Avoid highly-processed foods in general, things that have been extensively altered or strange things added. Avoid trans-fats, and partially-hydrogenated anything.

Slightly more controversial, but I think the evidence is fairly strong - make your own decisions.

  • Avoid all modern grains (wheat in any form, including gluten in many products, corn in any form - it's in lots of things). Avoid most legumes (beans). Avoid most forms of soy (fermented types are safer).
  • Limit fruits (see link above about hazards of excessive fructose). Obviously a fruitarian would disagree with this. :) Avoid fruit juices completely.
  • Limit polyunsatured fats. There's fairly good evidence that the Omega 3-Omega 6 fatty acid ratio is important (the closer to 1:1, the better). Do eat saturated fats.
  • Avoid chronic cardio exercise. MDA recommends doing both slow, low-intensity types of exercise (like walking), with occasional high-intensity bursts (sprints, some weight-lifting).


  • Try to get some high-quality protein, when possible. If not meat, maybe fish (mercury-free)? Eggs are great, if available (and there's very strong evidence that the fat/cholesterol has zero effect on heart disease). What about insects? Yes, I'm serious. :)

  • Consider supplements (as per link above), if affordable.

  • Sleep, Stress, etc. - try for more sleep, and less stress. :) See MDA's books/site for more information, although there's a ton of sites about stress management.

  • Feedback/Self-study. Think about keeping a food journal/health journal - over time, you may be able to see trends (either good or bad), and adjust your life acordingly.

  • Evaluate what the local population is eating - are they healthy? Then they must be doing something right, and it might be worth emulating them. If they're not healthy, well, back to the drawing board. As Dave said, the situation is just sub-optimal.

On the bright side, people throughout the history of the world, have found ways to eat and be healthy - it's mainly our industrial world that has messed things up, in the name of "efficiency". You will have to do some work, granted (just reading the sites/books listed is a full-time job), and make decisions based on what's available to you, but finding a healthy path should be possible. Good luck.

  • 1
    John has made a good recommendation for you, the Primal Blueprint is comprehensive and easy to read. Mark Sisson has a very personable writing style. If you're young or a book nerd and like to understand the nitty gritty science behind these things Robb Wolf's "Paleo Solution" delivers the same information but then goes deep into the science behind it. I also really like his humor, like when he refer to the reader as "buttercup". Commented Dec 26, 2011 at 4:36
  • @John L Wow. Thanks for the suggestion John! I like the book, but there's a slight snag. I don't have any issues with a paleo diet, but I can't follow one where I live due to meat contamination. It might get me killed. Do you know any other minimalistic diet I could follow? Preferably one that assumes that the food isn't from the first world?
    – Anna
    Commented Dec 26, 2011 at 10:53
  • 1
    @Anna, one minor point - you might want to edit your original question, to add any specific requirements (like no meat :) Also, what do you have available as an option? No meat of any kind, including fish? If not, then by definition, you're on a vegetarian diet :) And the book still mostly applies - many consider a Paleo diet as more about eliminating modern foods that are harmful (such as wheat and sugar), than about eating specific foods. I'd suggest going to the MDA site and searching "vegetarian" - he has many articles about how to get protein, etc.
    – John C
    Commented Dec 26, 2011 at 14:04
  • @JohnC : Well I didn't want to restrict the possibilities in any way. As far as my diet goes, I miss eating meat, but meat down here seems to be a good way of getting sick. It's a combination of supply and lack of storage options (I don't have a freezer, neither can I get one out in the field) Sometimes the stars align and I can have a decent salami sandwich, but other than that for the foreseeable future meat is a rarity down here.
    – Anna
    Commented Dec 26, 2011 at 15:55
  • @JohnC : What I do have access to are the standard fruit (apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, mangoes in the right season and so on) and vegetables (spinach, potatoes, cabbage etc.) As far as data about me goes, then I'm a 19 year old girl who is 6'1" tall and weighs in at 154 lbs. I have a BMI of ~20.4 I have no personal preferences when it comes to food except that I still have a large amount of fat, which I intend to get rid of. I want to learn how to take care of myself that makes sure I have a healthy, productive life which drastically reduces the usual fading of looks and health.
    – Anna
    Commented Dec 26, 2011 at 16:07


In addition to Robb Wolf's Paleo Solution, I liked Vickery & Fries' Take Care of Yourself, which is more about medical care and general health than nutrition.

Are large quantities of jerky a possibility in the field?

If you're familiar with Paleo but can't eat meat, it's still likely that you could get a good deal of benefit from reading up on the reasoning behind Paleo. As noted by John C above, a lot of Paleo still applies even if you're forced into vegetarianism. Perhaps ex-vegan websites like rawfoodsos.com could point you in the right direction?

Mitigating Factors

Not having a freezer and not being able to eat meat cause unavoidable issues in eating right. There is only so much that can be done in such a situation to improve the food and sleep options. It sounds like your situation is inherently sub-optimal.

It sounds from your comments like you'd also benefit from attention to exercise in addition to diet, but that's another question.

  • Thanks for your answer Dave. I'll buy Vickery & Fries' Take Care of Yourself too along with the things John C has mentioned. The problem with eating jerky down here is that the local culture (india) has religious objections to beef... People stare at you as if you've just suggested cannibalism when you try to find beef down here, so no it's unlikely that I can find copious amounts of beef jerky to fuel myself. I'll start applying paleo to my life and let's see where that leads me.
    – Anna
    Commented Dec 31, 2011 at 22:00

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