Sarah Kolman is the mom of three young 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 as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness to help adults and children heal their bodies and live their lives fully. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World. Learn more (and get a free copy of the first 3 chapters of Sarah’s book) at This One Life, or find her on Twitter or Facebook.
Wouldn’t it be nice if simply eating the healthiest food on the planet in the perfect amounts would lead to optimum health? Wait a minute! Is this not true? Isn’t this exactly what we are trying to do by feeding ourselves, and our families, with such thought and strategy?
Of course eating healthy foods are a crucial part of the health equation. However, many of us foodies must remember that healthy eating is only one element in the pursuit of health. We can easily get fixated on diet alone and forget to consider the widespread factors that impact our health equally as much as diet.
Have you heard of the term orthorexia? It is a condition that describes a person who is obsessed with eating healthy foods and fearful of eating foods that are seen as harmful. I will be the first to admit, I can totally go there, and I have to keep myself in check at times because such obsessions aren’t necessarily healthy. I need to remember that food is only one piece of the health picture and I mustn’t have tunnel vision on this one aspect of my family’s wellness. Not to mention, the stress that can result from such intense focus can counteract the benefits of healthy eating.
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.”1
Primary foods are fundamental elements of our lives that, at times, may even be of more “primary” importance than the food we eat when it comes to health. To fully understand this concept, we need to think beyond the literal definition of food. We tend to think of food in a limited manner, as edible products that we ingest. Instead, the concept of primary food pushes us to think of food as substances, experiences, attitudes, and outlooks that nourish 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: For example, chronic stress wreaks havoc on our intestinal flora and endocrine system—key factors in weight, hormone balance, immune functioning, and mood.
- 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 helps 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 mindfulness 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!
Secondary foods are the actual foods that we eat, the nourishment we literally put into our bodies. There is no one-size-fits-all food standard for everyone in the world. In fact, one person’s medicine may be another person’s poison when it comes to food. Therefore, developing awareness of which eating strategies help each individual thrive is an important part of the equation. Despite the lack of any blanket recommendation for all individuals, there are overarching principles that guide us towards healthier eating habits. My two basic, overarching eating rules to remember are:
- Limit/avoid refined sugar and processed foods
- Increase vegetables and foods in their most natural form (“real food”)
Food is important, but don’t forget to also put attention towards primary food factors such as stress, loneliness and unhealthy relationships, lack of movement, poor sleeping patterns, and rushing around life disconnected from yourself and what’s happening around you. 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.
If you want to learn more my whole health approach 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.
Reference: Joshua Rosenthal, Integrative Nutrition: Feed Your Hunger for Health & Happiness (New York: Integrative Nutrition Publishing, 2008)