Tapping into our best health isn’t any more complicated than simply eating the perfect amounts of proteins, carbs, and fats at each meal. Right? If only it were that simple! While the way we fill up our plates each day is critical to good health, we can’t truly “go clean” if we don’t look at nourishment from a larger perspective. Just as we strive to limit harmful chemicals in our personal care and household products, it’s also vital to take stock of our lifestyle and diet.
Achieving health is a broad pursuit, and it is unique to each person. I call the intricate players involved in health “whole health.” Joshua Rosenthal breaks this whole health idea into two simple categories: “primary food” and “secondary food.”
This concept demands that we expand our understanding of what really nourishes us. We need to think beyond the literal definition of food, as edible products that we ingest. Instead, the concept of primary food pushes us to think of nourishment as (calorie-free, I might add) substances, experiences, attitudes, and outlooks that feed our body, mind, and spirit. Backed by scientific research, we are “fed” by more than food alone. A key aspect of health is balance and wellness within the following “primary food” areas:
- Meaningful work: Chronic stress wreaks havoc on our intestinal flora and endocrine system—key factors in weight, hormone balance, immune functioning, and mood. Whether we feel disengaged at the workplace or are carrying anxiety due to the demands of a job, it’s important to find ways to connect with our daily work.
- Healthy relationships: Did you know loneliness has been shown to damage the immune system, increase cellular inflammation, and produce chronic stress? Whereas, oxytocin released as a result of physical and emotional connection heals the physical body in numerous ways.
- Regular physical activity: We know a sedentary lifestyle takes years off of our lives, while exercise and movement help balance hormones, strengthen the immune system, prevent heart disease, control blood sugars, prevent cancer, improve neurologic functioning, and combat stress. Now that is a super food!
- Adequate rest: Most people start to accumulate sleep debt damage when getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night. Sleep debt leads to a weakened immune system, heightened emotions, weight gain, slowed reaction time, accelerated tumor growth, pre-diabetes, heart disease, and impaired memory and cognition—oh, and wrinkles. We would be more productive in all areas of life (including health) if we would put the computer away, shut out the lights, and get ourselves to bed earlier.
- Connecting to your spirit: Activities like meditation, slowing down, deep breathing, and connecting to what matters most support the parasympathetic nervous system—an invaluable system that helps restore functioning and balance to our system. In addition, such activities naturally help us fully experience our one precious life. Yum!
More Reading: 10 Ways to Naturally Improve Your Sleep
Now that we’ve got a good understanding of those five critical components to good health, we can get on to the more typical focus: the “secondary food” that we chew and swallow. Fortunately, the guidelines for nourishing ourselves properly with secondary food are simple and straightforward:
- Limit/avoid refined sugar and processed foods: Take the time to read the nutrition facts panels and ingredient lines on packaged foods. This information will help you avoid added sugars, preservatives, artificials coloring and other ingredients that lack real nutrient density
- Increase vegetables and foods in their most natural form (“real food”): The closer a food is to its natural state, the more nutrients it typically has and the more able our bodies are to recognize it as a nourishing substance.
Beyond those two rules of thumb, our ideal diet is as individual as our fingerprint. As with primary foods, bringing awareness to how we react to secondary foods gets us closer to a plan for optimum health. Finding balance in both primary and secondary foods in our own unique ways is key to our ability to thrive in this one life that we have. An individual may have a “pristine” diet yet suffer with such stress from a job or relationship that he has as many or more symptoms of disease than the very stress-free couch potato with a loving relationship and fulfilling career.
To truly “go clean” is to reduce the toxic elements in our lives, whether that means stress, loneliness, sleep deprivation, lack of movement, damaging relationships, or the junk food that wreaks havoc on our immune system and general health. Take a moment to assess your primary foods diet. Are you getting all the nourishment you need? Often, there are small changes we can make that will help us access those five important primary foods. And remember, the pursuit of good health is an ever-evolving journey—we have endless opportunities to assess, refine, and improve our primary and secondary food balance.
For specific strategies to assess your whole health, message me for a free digital copy of the first three chapters of my book Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World.
Let’s chat on social: How do you find a healthy balance amidst your full plate?
Sarah Kolman is the mom of three boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master's degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family's Whole Health in a Busy World.