Updated: Apr 28
I talk a lot about goals, motivation, emotions, and selfcare and I often get the question, “What about food? Isn’t food important?” Why, yes, food is important, however, the main focus as an integrative nutrition health and wellness coach is to approach “wellness” for my clients from a “whole-person” perspective. Food is important but it’s just a part of the circle of life that impacts our overall well-being. If you focus just on food, you’ve already lost the battle.
It’s true, most people want to lose weight. They think if they just lose twenty pounds or get back into that pair of skinny jeans, all will be right with the world. So, you start the new “eat only kale diet” and lose those twenty pounds. You’re back in those skinny jeans. Are you happy or are you just sucking in your gut and feeling very, very hangry?
You look good, but you’re one potato chip away from launching the button off those jeans and putting someone’s eye out. Then you feel bad, there’s a lawsuit…I digress.
What did we learn there? We learned that you could lose weight. Then what? Does it stay off? Do you suck in for the rest of your life? Or do you sit down and polish off that bag of chips because, let’s face it, you want those chips!
I know this cycle. I’ve lived this cycle. It took me years to realize that while in the end the weight was lost, a feeling of well-being or satisfaction was never found. I was always regretting that I didn’t get to eat this, or I could no longer have that. It made me resentful that I had to live this way forever to continue to look this way.
And how did I look? Did I walk out the house to a hoard of paparazzi, a shower of confetti or a never-ending line of suitors eager to take me out and women throwing much shade because I’d put them all to shame? Nope. I looked like me, just smaller in new pants that looked alright but still didn’t fit quite well. I got in the car and went to work; as always. Every night from that day on, goal reached, I ate a little more and a little more and a little more until the weight was back on.
What I had not achieved was satisfaction within myself that led to a state of overall health and well-being that would sustain the weight loss.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as "A state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." While I did not have a disease or specific infirmity, I was very unhealthy and overweight. Obesity is looked at as a disease, so I was headed toward that category. This combined with my lack of personal satisfaction finally woke me up in terms of me missing the goal when it came to overall “wellness.”
In 2018, The National Wellness Institute addressed six dimensions of wellness in their definition: emotional, occupational, physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual. These components dynamically lead to a better state of health and wellbeing that contribute to a holistic sense of wellness and fulfillment.
Wellness is fluid, while health is viewed as good or bad. A person's health refers to their objective states of physical, mental, and social well-being, while wellness encompasses lifestyle practices aimed to enhance those objective states. Wellness views health from a holistic perspective (mind, body, and spirit). When you achieve wellness, all facets of your life are balanced. Including food.
There are three core concepts of holistic health coaching that relate to food:
Bio-individuality is 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. When it comes to food, lifestyle, and what makes you happy, what works for you won’t necessarily work for your family members, friends, or coworkers. “One person’s food is another person’s poison.” Health is complex and multidimensional. There are so many variables that it’s impossible for all our needs to be the same. It’s not as simple as maintaining a healthy eating or exercise regimen; it’s understanding that there’s a lot more to it than just making the “right choices.” It’s experimenting to find what the right decisions are for you – the right environment, foods, or workout that helps you find that feeling of balance and satisfaction.
Primary Food refers to what nourishes us off the plate. It’s called primary food because wellness goes beyond the food we eat. We know that we all need food to survive, but primary food emphasizes that we’re multidimensional beings. We need more than just food to thrive. Primary food is powerful because it helps bring awareness to the full picture of health. It reminds us to take a step back when we are feeling imbalanced and look at our health from a big-picture perspective. We’ve known for a long time that food, physical activity, and interpersonal relationships have a direct correlation with overall wellness. We’re also starting to recognize the impact that lifestyle factors have on physical, emotional, and mental health.
Finally, Secondary Food is the food that 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. Our secondary food choices are driven by many components – some of which may not seem connected to nutrition at all. This is why if we’re only looking at food, we’re only seeing a piece of the puzzle.
There are many factors that lead us to choose certain foods, including:
Physiology and psychology
Society, culture, and economy
Personal belief system, food relationship, and knowledge of food
Nourishment happens on different levels, so when you’re thinking about secondary food, it’s important to go back to your primary food. If it’s out of balance, you’re out of balance and will likely make poor food choices.
So, you may ask yourself, “Well then, what should I eat? When should I eat it? How should I eat it?” As a health coach, I’m not going to tell you when, what and how to eat. It is recommended that small changes are made slowly and an effort to tap into your relationship with food to examine what you eat, when you eat it and why should be fully explored.
As a starting point, there are three main themes that we embrace in relation to secondary food:
Going back to basics. This is something that is often referred to as a traditional diet: a diet high in fruits and vegetables, quality protein sources, and healthy fats as well as adequate amounts of water that doesn’t include a lot of added sugars, preservatives, or unfamiliar ingredients is the best way to start. This is a “reset” for the body. Along with reduced sugars, try to limit wheat and flour as they often have inflammatory effects on the body and unbalance primary food through physical discomfort.
Back to basics in practice:
Eat almonds or walnuts for healthy protein
Try blueberries as a substitute for something sweet like candy, cake, or ice cream
Skip the potato and have a green veggie
Embrace Bio-individuality. As bio-individuals, we have different dietary needs. Health, age, values, background, preferences, schedules, activity levels, and even who you spend your time with all affects what foods are going to work best for you. Give a long hard look at the foods and activities that make you feel your best, and your worst.
Bio-individuality in practice:
If your friends eat dinner late, drink coffee after and pop up and out for work the next day feeling fine, but you feel bloated and jittery, that doesn’t work for you. Eat earlier, have a non-caffeinated beverage, and just enjoy the conversation.
Do you really love avocados, but your spouse can’t stand them? Don’t give up something you love and miss out on all that healthy fat and omega 3 goodness. Find other opportunities to work them into your daily meals or snacks that you don’t consume with your spouse.
Don’t like to go to the gym but could walk to the moon and back, walk on! Fresh air and vitamin D are a bonus!
“Crowding Out.” Crowing out is simply that, adding more whole foods into your diet rather than focusing on removing certain “other” foods altogether. No one is telling you to stop fries cold turkey! Maybe just eat half of them, only eat them once a week or order a salad or veggies instead. Since food habits form over many years – and food choices often have an emotional component – simply taking things out of the diet doesn’t work well for very long. (Ask me about my epic battle with chocolate chip cookies!)
Plus, not restricting actually reduces cravings for other foods and overtime, you will have “gently” replaced the foods that no longer serve you. More fruits, vegetables, and water will naturally lead to less caffeine, sugar, and processed food and that makes you feel better.
“Crowding out” in practice:
Order a meal you would normally have but eat a salad with it or double up on the vegetable offered
Enjoy a glass of water with lemon and a little stevia instead of sugary iced tea or soda
Have a chicken fajita, just skip the tortilla, and enjoy the veggies with sour cream and guacamole
Instead of reaching for the bag of chips, grab a handful of almonds or a piece of fruit
If you had steak for dinner the night before and have leftovers, slice it up and eat it for breakfast with eggs instead of a bowl of cereal. That protein boost will kill your cravings and carry you through lunch!
Crowding out is all about the possibilities! What else is out there? You’ve tried the stuff that made you gain weight and left you feeling awful. Why not try something different?
The concept of crowding out was instrumental in helping me find “balance” with food and that balance led to overall well-being by taking my focus off food, which took my focus off weight. Before I knew it, I was eating better, moving more, weighing less, feeling great and looking for interesting new things to explore! And, by the way, those skinny jeans are now too big for me! 😊
The key to balancing my relationship with food was finding something in my life more important than food: personal satisfaction and overall well-being. I ate food looking to fill a void and that only led to poor health, anger, and disappointment. When you finish eating, you should feel nourished and satisfied. If you “feel” unfulfilled and hunger for more, food is likely not the nourishment you need.
So, like Bruno, don’t banish food from your circle of life or ask too much of it either. Embrace the unique role it plays in bringing nourishment and balance into everything you do.
If you or someone you know is leaning on food for all the wrong reasons, let talk about.
Take care and be well,