Being healthy isn’t just about the physical aspects like eating better and getting exercise, it’s about all aspects of your health: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
I heard a saying recently in a lecture series that I was taking, “Don’t help people not die. Help people enjoy life”. It caused me a moment of reflection that when I practiced as a western medicine doctor specializing in emergency medicine, I helped people not die. Now practicing as a holistic health and equine gestalt coach I endeavor to help people live their lives healthier, happier, and more fully. This has been an evolving paradigm shift for me both personally and professionally. I realized that over many years my philosophy on health has grown more in alignment with eastern medicine, naturopathic, and functional medicine teachings and shifted away from looking at the physical body in isolation (which was my western medicine training) and more toward looking at the person as a “whole”. I believe this is where health care needs to go as well, but that is a whole other topic that I won’t get into here!
So I thought I’d share some of my personal philosophies around health, food, and life in general, ones that I subscribe to personally as well as impart to my clients, if they are interested. They fall into 4 simple guidelines:
- We Are All Unique
There are hundreds of different diets and ways of eating, and I do not believe that there is a one size fits all diet or exercise plan that works for everyone. One of my biggest pet peeves with the nutrition world is that there are so many “experts” out there preaching that their way is best – and, often most of these diets are at complete odds with one another like vegetarian vs paleo, low carb/high fat vs high carb/low fat, raw vs cooked, juicing vs whole foods. No wonder we have so much confusion and frustration when it comes to our health. Many of my friends and clients ask me if they should be following a specific diet, should they try intermittent fasting, should they eat soy, should they not eat grains, or gluten, or dairy, or sugar, or coffee or chocolate (I rarely tell anyone to give up coffee or chocolate – just reduce it!). I don’t know about you, but if I tried to follow every nutritional fad out there, well, I would drive myself crazy and worst off when I did try a specific “diet” plan and it didn’t work for me I fell into the trap that I was a failure instead of thinking that maybe that “diet” didn’t work for my body or my lifestyle. So, how do I sort through all of this confusion and what appears to be contradicting information? I believe in a concept called bioindividuality which means that we are all a little different. For example, foods and exercises that add health to my life may take health away from somebody else, and vice versa. Learning how to listen and trust my own body to tell me what works for my optimal health, makes the most sense for me. And that brings me to guideline #2…
- Listen to Your Body It’s Telling You Something
Listening to my body and eating intuitively have been huge for me with my health. What I mean by listening to my body is that I simply notice how my body feels and I trust the messages that it’s sending me. For instance, cravings are a wake up call from the body that something is out of balance. This can be either diet or lifestyle related. When we experience a craving, it could be any of the following: You’re hungry. You’re bored. You’re tired. You’re sad/anxious/lonely/stressed/or have another emotional issue. You’re not getting the nutrition that you need. In this day and age with highly processed foods and decreasing nutrient content of our farming soils, overeating and undernourished is a very real phenomenon. If you are undernourished, your body tells you to keep eating in the hope that you will eat something that is nourishing for you with minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, protein, fiber, etc. But if you keep reaching for a donut, you’re not getting any nutrition, and you are still hungry. Anyway, cravings are an important thing to deconstruct in order to find ways to bring our bodies back into balance.
- Moderation and the 80/20 Rule
One question I get asked a lot is whether a food is “Good” or “Bad”. I have never liked these terms and I love how a friend of mine thinks about it which is to put them in terms of whether it is “ADDING” health or “TAKING” health away. Given our own bioindividuality (see #1 above) these foods can be different for each of us. Regardless, I have spent much of my life trying to avoid the foods that I know do not “ADD” health to my body, only to wind up with failed will power because I wanted them more now that I told myself I couldn’t have them which resulted in me eating way too much of them. Sound familiar? Several years ago, as I started cleaning up my diet and eating more fresh, whole foods, I found a better balance applying The 80/20 Rule.
“The 80/20 Rule is: 80% of the time I focus on eating fresh, healthful foods that make my body feel strong and vibrant and ADD health to my body and 20% of the time I allow myself to have treats (or less-than-optimal foods).“
I have seen this rule applied in many different ways. For instance, a client that wanted to cut out sweets so she allowed herself 1 dessert a week instead of every night; or someone who wanted to decrease their meat intake so they ate 2 of their 3 meals a day as meatless; and my favorite story was a speaker who became vegan “his way” which was that he ate a completely vegan lifestyle except between the hours of 6p-8p! With all of these examples as well as with myself, I have found that eating with balance has actually helped me eat better overall because I get to enjoy the healthy foods that I love while not feeling deprived of treats from time to time. And as I have applied this rule to other areas of my life, I have found myself enjoying and feeling more balanced in all areas of my life.
- Everything Is Connected
Nourishing our bodies is not just about food. While I can’t expect to feel my best if I am eating non-nourishing food, food is not the only thing that determines my health and happiness. As a society, we tend to put a lot of emphasis on what we can do physically for our health: eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, drinking water, and exercising. But why does the conversation stop there? Our lives are made up of so much more than food and fitness. Think about your career, friendships, romantic relationships, spiritual practices, hobbies, or finances. When one of these areas is lacking or completely draining you, it impacts other areas of your life and you as a whole.
My personal struggle is that I tend to work too much and not schedule in time to do fun things. As a single mom and someone who likes to help others, I have a tendency to put other’s needs before mine and when I’m not mindful of this I find myself feeling burned out, exhausted, and unhappy. However, as I become aware of these things, I am conscious to take more time for myself, do more things for pleasure, and build stress-reducing activities into each day. I also am mindful to spend more time chewing my food, eating slowly, and really taking the time to enjoy and give gratitude to the life nourishing food on my plate.
Once I began to address the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of my life, in conjunction with the physical, my health completely changed. Practicing self -care and building pleasure into all areas of my life is still an ongoing lesson that I learn each and every day, but I notice a difference when I take care of myself and when I don’t. The path to total wellness looks different for each person, but if we don’t include our emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being in addition to our physical body, we are missing key pieces along the way.
What guidelines do you follow for living your healthiest and happiest life? And what have you learned about caring for your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing? I would love to see your comments below!