It would not be an exaggeration to say that integrative nutrition transformed my life through balance. What is integrative nutrition? It’s a “whole person” approach to well-being that focuses on all the aspects of life that impact your health. These include relationships, physical activity, career, and spirituality in addition to the food you consume. When any of these areas are out of balance, food-based nutrition is likely to be out of balance as well and can negatively impact your mind, body, spirit, and overall health. It’s important to be mindful that health is so much more than food!
It was this this concept, this approach, that helped me finally make some major decisions in life that led to some transitional changes. And wow how I am grateful for it.
After many years of feeling unfilled, unmotivated, and overwhelmed by stress, I finally figured out that the next slice of pizza or the next pack of cookies did not contain the answers I was seeking. However, when you are not sure where to turn, food will do. Once you turn to food for stress relief, comfort, or companionship, it’s pretty much all over because you are not likely to drown your sorrows in a glass of kombucha. You’re going straight for the triple-thick strawberry shake! The worst part is, in the end, you’re not solving the problem anyway, and feel pretty crappy afterward.
There are many factors that lead us to choose certain foods and my factors where not doing me any favors:
Health Status – I was overweight.
Lifestyle – Was mostly sedentary.
Environment – Corporate, working at home, desk position, parenting stress.
Physiology and Psychology – Watching my lab numbers increase and dealing with issues from my past.
Society, Culture, and Economy – Feeling limited by knowledge, experience and education.
Personal Belief System – Unworthy of more.
Relationship with Food – Unhealthy and dangerous.
Knowledge of Food – Knew what I was told so kept doing the same things.
And don’t get me started on the cravings! They were completely out of control!
Then, enough was enough. There comes a time when you realize that your circumstances could be different. That the changes you want to see in your life are completely up to you and your actions to make them happen. That realization and the commitment to take action to address the current circumstances is where the magic happens. And that’s where integrative nutrition comes in. Not daily trips to the gym or restrictive diets, but clear focus on what’s going on in your life, why it’s going on, and what needs to change.
This is where the core theories of integrative nutrition come into play. It needs to work for you.
The first concept is bio-individuality. This is the most foundational theory. It’s the idea that everyone has different needs. Just as we are all unique in mind, body, and spirit – we are also unique in the things that support our individual health and happiness. So, the path you must take needs to be customized for you. It addresses your needs, not what works for the masses.
Next is the theory of Primary Food. This refers to what nourishes us off the plate. You know, all that stuff mentioned before: relationships, physical activity, career, and spirituality. It’s called primary food because wellness goes beyond the food we eat, and we don’t often stop to think that something else could be the cause of our unhappiness or our need to overeat. We're not always hungry so what's driving the need to eat? It goes deeper.
The final theory is Secondary Food. This is the food we eat every day – it’s the food on our plate. Secondary food refers to the nourishment we derive from the food we eat and explores the intersection of nutrition and health and the impact it has on our lives; both positive and negative. Think about it, if you’re eating fast food, you are moving fast, too busy or don’t have time to cook healthy meals. What does that tell you about your life? If you are eating heavy, sugary, fact laden food, sometimes known as comfort foods, you’re looking for just that, comfort. Trying to fill a void or make yourself feel better through food. Your world is on your plate. Is that world healthy and balanced, or it it in a container, greasy and sliding apart?
Nourishment happens on different levels, so when you’re thinking about secondary food, it’s important to go back to your primary food. Deficits in any primary food area are bound to have a negative effect on another aspect of your life or health and food is one of them. When you look at it from this perspective, it makes sense. Health should be a continuum. Balancing what we eat, do, and think is essential in achieving good health and overall wellness.
To apply an integrative nutrition approach to your life, you need to know where the imbalances lie. This is done through an assessment of your current well-being using a life assessment tool, health history, or other evaluation tool. These are very eye-opening! When you see in black and white the impact of your feelings in key areas of your life, it can be sobering.
When I began my journey into integrative nutrition, I was deficient in so many areas I was blown away. How could I have neglected all these areas of my life for so long? It’s no wonder I was eating to numb pain and fill voids. It took time and effort to come to terms with each one, working through root causes and taking ownership of things I had complete control over. No one is a victim, and taking responsibility for your own health and well-being should be a priority, not a privilege.
Once you know where the imbalances are, you can address them through a series of interventions which include further personal evaluation and reflection, physical movement, mindset activities and shifts, selfcare activities, changes in nutrition as well as coaching. An integrative approach has the added benefit of utilizing food to create change in these areas as well and that was life saving for me in many ways. The integrative approach emphasizes that “food is medicine” and looks to changes in personal nutrition to support changes in your biology.
Small, manageable changes in the foods I was eating (clean/organic, nutrient-based vegetables, proteins, and good fats), combined with light exercise started me on the way. It wasn’t about the big wins; it was about the daily progress. It adds up. Evaluating my cravings, what caused them, and how I was feeling when I had them, was powerful in getting a grip on emotional eating. Identification of the root causes that drove me to make the wrong choices (stress, fear, emotional upset) was important. I could then put a process in place of identification, evaluation, and action. Can I honestly say I ate well all the time, no. But I ate more good food than bad foods and eventually the healthier options won out. Do I have a “little something” every now and then, of course! Life is not about restriction and that goes against the principles of integrative nutrition. Balance is everything.
Along the way, I researched and incorporated dietary supplements into my plan as well. I was eating better but it’s tough to get all the recommended daily allowances of the vitamins and minerals you need through food. There are also supplements that are a tremendous help in your journey like B vitamins for energy and immunity, Vitamin D for bone health and immunity, probiotics for digestive support, and Omega-3 for mood and heart health. As with any supplement, check with your doctor before adding them into your diet to ensure you are not interfering with any current medications or other medical directives.
In addition to eating well and supplementation, self-care and stress management play huge roles in helping to make and sustain healthy personal and nutritional changes. Being overwhelmed, tired, and stressed can lead to making poor eating decisions so I put some major effort toward reengaging in selfcare, activities I had previously enjoyed, and broadened my horizons to experience new things. It was amazing! Getting back to what you love and stretching your boundaries to explore is exciting and you will want more of that experience.
Finally, while I did the heavy lifting through nutrition, selfcare, and movement, my secret weapon was my coach. Accountability is key and having support when you question everything, want to give up, or just plain need an ear can be the difference between success and failure. It doesn’t even have to be a paid coach (just did myself a disservice there), but it’s true. A friend, a family member, a neighbor, or co-worker who’s willing to stay in the fight with you and cheer you on is extremely effective and valuable.
So how did this story of salvation work out for me:
Health Status – I hit my goal weight and maintain it without dieting.
Lifestyle – I walk everyday and have even purchased a treadmill, resistance bands, and a rebounder.
Environment – Business owner, working at home, moving all day, and showing myself grace daily with my parenting.
Physiology and Psychology – Labs are great, understand, and manage the past issues that sometimes creep into my consciousness and deal with them effectively.
Society, Culture, and Economy – Went back to school, started my own coaching business, and am self-employed (looking at another certification but don’t tell my husband! 😊).
Personal Belief System – Thankful and so worthy of what I’ve done and what’s to come.
Relationship with Food – Healthy and balanced.
Knowledge of Food – Very good and using what I know to help others!
Cravings? Well, who doesn’t like a bowl of ice cream every now and then. You gotta live! However, ice cream is now a “nice to have” and not a “must have” driven by some out of balance impulse. I’ll take that change any day.
What can you do to start on the road to improved health and wellness with integrative nutrition?
Look at where you are in your relationship with food, your health, and your well-being.
Incorporate healthier foods into your day, start slow, and think about what you’re eating and why. Reducing sugar intake as much as you can initially makes the fastest and most dramatic impact.
Add in some supplements if you find some that may be of value to you; check with your doctor first!
Move at least 10-15 minutes every day; any little bit of movement will help.
Engage in a selfcare practice of your choosing; meditation, walking, yoga, reading. Any amount of time is valuable.
Carve out personal time, nurture your interests, or volunteer.
Work with a Health and Wellness Coach (you knew I had to say that!)
The benefits of integrative nutrition can be so life changing and are very simple to apply. Whether you set out on your own, or enlist help, knowing that you can experience great change as well as great health provides hope. You just need to get started.
It’s all about balance.
Are you or someone you know struggling to balance your life as well as your weight? It’s never too late to try a new approach and I’m happy to help.
Take care and be well,