There is a term at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to describe the nourishment for your soul, including healthy relationships, spirituality, physical exercise, and fulfilling work. It’s called Primary Food. The food you put in your mouth is secondary. No amount of broccoli is going to make you healthy if you’re depressed or angry or stressed out all the time. Maybe what’s stopping you from taking your health to the next level isn’t cutting out carbs or giving up meat. It could be as simple as getting up 20 minutes earlier to meditate or planning a date night with your significant other.
Food As Medicine
Too often we turn to prescriptions for a quick fix. We grab a coffee or soda for a quick energy boost. Although you may get the immediate effect you desire, these substances mask the true root of your symptoms, make you dependent on them for relief and create imbalances in the body. In my teens and twenties I had problem with chronic constipation. I used to take Metamucil, drink laxative teas, and eat processed fiber bars to help. Did they create the desired result? Often, yes. But once I stopped taking them, the constipation would return. It wasn’t until I started eating well, exercising and drinking more water, and learning to “go with the flow”, that the problem went away.
Eat Whole, Unprocessed Food
Call it eating clean, eating naked, or eating whole foods. If you change one thing about the way you eat, it should be this. Start reading ingredient labels. Read them out loud. If the ingredients sound more like a science experiment than something that grows naturally from the ground, don’t eat it. It’s a really simple concept, but putting it into practice can be more of a challenge. You will find that the majority of items sold in a grocery store fall under this category. Once you learn how to navigate the perimeter of your grocery store, shop in health food stores, farmer’s markets or CSA’s, or better yet grow your own food, eating whole foods will be a
piece of cake walk in the park.
Prepare Your Food at Home
Joshua Rosenthal, founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, says “Cook like your life depends on it…because it does.” I can hear all the objections now: “I don’t have time” or “I’m a terrible cook” or the one I sympathize with most “I hate washing dishes!” Cooking delicious food at home shouldn’t time consuming or require a degree in culinary arts.
Cook Once, Eat Twice
Meal planning and cooking should be simple. Make a pot of lentils or a batch of quinoa and turn it into several meals. Make extra veggies for your stir-fry and add them to your eggs in the morning. When you cook once and eat twice, you make time to do other things in your life that matter most.
One man’s food is another man’s poison. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all diet. You will need to experiment with what works well for you and really listen to your body. Ancient traditions such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda recognize this important distinction. My grandpa is 87 and very healthy. He swears by the Atkins diet. Personally, I do better adding whole grains to my diet. But my grandpa is very physically active and has been his whole life. For my grandpa, eating oatmeal and berries for breakfast just won’t cut it. Factors ranging from age to blood type to activity level can all affect which types of food will work well for you.
Adding In/Crowding Out
This is one of my personal favorites, also borrowed from Integrative Nutrition. The more you add in the good stuff, you will naturally crowd out the bad stuff. Instead of depriving myself of coffee, I have “added in” green tea lattes with almond milk. I bought a milk frother and I sip my tea latte from a fancy mug. It really feels like a treat. I still drink coffee, but not nearly as much and I don’t feel like I’m being deprived. If you want to make a burger for dinner, add in a big green salad. It’s a simple shift, but changing the focus from what you can’t have to adding in more of what feels better has a profound effect on your mental well-being.
The 80/20 Rule
It’s boring and not realistic to eat healthy 100% of the time. Take it from Walter White, sometimes you need to break bad. Strive for 80% healthy and 20% treats. You can adjust the ratio to whatever works for you, but don’t kill yourself trying to eat quinoa and kale all the time. Sometimes you just need some honey lavender gelato or a slice of pizza. Make sure your treat is still real food. If you’re going to have ice cream, get the good stuff or make it yourself using real ingredients. It tastes better anyway. Try to stay away from chemicalized, artificial junk food.
There’s nothing more satisfying than sharing a meal with friends or family. Enjoy the experience of eating. Even if you’re alone, set the table and be thankful for your food. Recognize everything and everyone that went into making your food. It’s easy to take for granted, but we can’t live without it.
Food and Sustainability
The more you become aware of where your food comes from, it is impossible to ignore the implications of how your food dollars effect the health of our planet and future generations. Agribusiness and large scale food production account for a huge percentage of our earth’s resources and greenhouse gases. This article in Time Magazine attributes the feeding and raising of livestock to be the single human activity that has the biggest impact on the planet. I’m not advocating that everyone become vegan. From a health standpoint, animals raised in their natural environment can provide a high-quality source of nutrition for the world’s population. Animals need to be raised on their natural diet, given space to freely roam, and not be injected with steroids and hormones. I have a lot of respect for people who hunt and fish for their own food in a respectful way. Our fruits and vegetables should not be sprayed with insecticides and fungicides or fertilized with petroleum-based fertilizers that create runoff and pollute the oceans and atmosphere. There has to be a balance. I believe that conscientious consumerism, eating smaller quantities of meat, and organic and biodynamic farming are the answers to these problems.
Making permanent lifestyle changes is hard work. People don’t fail at losing weight or get sick because they are stupid or lazy. Many educated and hard-working people fail because they simply don’t have the support. Having someone to bounce ideas off of, share your struggles with, make tailored recommendations and hold you accountable can make all the difference in the world. Health Coaching is like personal training for nutrition and lifestyle. For better or worse, there is a lot of information about nutrition out there. Sorting through all of it yourself can be daunting. Your sister-in-law or your co-worker’s opinion about what you should be eating is not helpful either. If you find you’re struggling to make lasting changes, consider learning more about my 6-month Health Coaching program.