Our world at this moment is filled to the brim with information about nutrition, food, health and wellness. There seems to be more approaches to nutrition than ever – keto, paleo, vegan, raw food, everything in moderation, anti-diet, intuitive eating, mindful eating, Health at Every Size (HAES), behavior modification, modified fasting,etc. It’s enough to make you scream at your computer and bang your head against your empty platein frustration.
And I realize there are lots of articles about nutrition and health, so you’re right to be skeptical. Even as a trained Registered Dietitian with a Master’s in exercise physiology and a certification in mind body nutrition, I can struggle with putting everything together in a way that makes sense and in a way that works.
After much thought and experimentation, I’ve put together three main dimensions that go into the nourishment of our bodies. It’s a mistake to just focus on the actual nutrition and food that provide the nutrients we need and think that once people understand it, they will put it into practice. People are not just biological machines that can fuel themselves like a vehicle and be off and running.People are not just biological machines that can fuel themselves like a vehicle and be off and running. Click To Tweet
We need to understand the way the body speaks to us for guidance as to what fuel is best when. And before many can act on that wisdom, the dimension of the mind needs to be addressed and shifted so that lasting change can take place.
Below are the three dimensions of a truly holistic approach to nourishment. There’s no particular order that everyone must go through. They are all equally important for true nourishment. It’s my hope that these dimensions will give you some perspective and wisdom in a world dominated by information.
Physical Dimension: Food as Medicine
The human body is an amazing collection of cells that work together to keep you here on Earth as a functioning, productive being. It has numerous built-in systems to protect you from harm and heal itself when hurt or ill. At all times your body is trying to maintain what’s called homeostasis, or a state of balance, where everything functions at its peak.
But the body didn’t come into the world as a totally self-sufficient being. It does need help from outside materials to keep it surviving and thriving. That outside material comes from oxygen in the air we breathe, water, and nutrients from the food we eat. You can think of them as building blocks. If we don’t get these materials, the body shuts down and can’t continue to work. If we get some, but not enough, of the building blocks, we could become ill or not be at our optimal level of health or energy, depending on what and how much you’re missing.
Providing the building blocks you were lacking that was causing your illness will restore your health. Think of scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency that when vitamin C is given, the scurvy is gone. In the modern world, we don’t tend to have severe deficiencies of any one nutrient (although Vitamin D may be an exception), a lot of us don’t get the optimum levels of nutrients that would keep our body healthy and feeling its best. There are many reasons why we lack the nutrients we need in today’s world, but a lot of it comes from the over-use of processed and convenience foods, limited variety, and lack of fresh, whole foods.There are many reasons why we lack the nutrients we need in today’s world, but a lot of it comes from the over-use of processed and convenience foods, limited variety, and lack of fresh, whole foods. Click To Tweet
Years of not taking in optimal amounts of nutrients leaves your body vulnerable. The immune and detox systems require adequate vitamins, minerals and proteins to do their job. Balancing hormones and a healthy metabolism use loads of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats and proteins daily help our energy level, balance our mood, and maintain a healthy weight.
It’s long been recognized that whole food is often the best way to provide these nutrients. Hippocrates’ wisdom holds true as ever: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Ensuring the body has enough of the building blocks it requires to do what it does best – healing itself – goes a long way to preventing and even healing illness.Hippocrates’ wisdom holds true as ever: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. Click To Tweet
Now, this is not to say that food is the only medicine. And it’s upsetting that many conventional practitioners hear “food as medicine” and get defensive and dismissive, saying that food cannot heal all things, therefore, it’s not valid as a healing tool at all. But just like the wise body, balance is key. Modern medicine is very important and necessary in many cases. I would argue that supporting any medicine with adequate nutrition will only help your body. In fact, many medicines and treatments deplete the body of nutrients, so nutrition support is very important either during or right after treatment.
The bottom line is that giving your body all the tools it needs to keep itself healthy through food (and supplements if necessary) goes a long way towards healing you and keeping you healthy.
The bottom line is that giving your body all the tools it needs to keep itself healthy through food (and supplements if necessary) goes a long way towards healing you and keeping you healthy. Click To Tweet
Intuitive Dimension: Inner Wisdom
So you understand that nutrition is important in keeping you healthy and healing you in many ways. What’s also true is that each person is unique and has what is called bio-individuality. That means your needs are not exactly the same as your best friend’s. And what you need today, won’t be the same as what you need 20 years from today, or what you needed in the past. Your body has its own unique needs, and its own unique ways of letting you know what those are. One of the first and most basic ways to start tuning into your own body’s needs is to reconnect with your hunger and fullness signals.
I know this sounds simple, but so many of us have lost touch with this basic skill that we’re born with. Many people have been using external cues to tell them when to eat and when to stop and/or listening to thoughts or emotions to tell them what and how much to eat, and not the one thing that can truly tell you what you need – your body.
Hunger and fullness can feel different from person to person. You must start to learn what your own signals are that tell you when it’s time to eat, and when enough is enough. In addition to knowing how much to eat based on those signals, your body can also tell you what it wants to eat. This is more subtle and takes practice and discernment between body wants and emotional wants. But the body wants to maintain balance. So you might notice that after a while of eating poor quality foods, you crave something really nutrient dense. That’s the body signaling you to restore balance.
There are many ways besides hunger and fullness cues that the body tells us it needs something. There are the obvious ones, like feeling tired when we need rest, or the urge to use the bathroom. But have you ever considered that symptoms or even behaviors you can’t seem to shake can be your body’s way of alerting you to something that needs attention?
For example, symptoms could be a skin rash or congestion or stomach pains that could signal a food intolerance, extra weight that might signal a hormone imbalance, lack of nutrients, or even a food intolerance that the body wants corrected. Unwanted behaviors like binge eating could signal a physical nutrient imbalance, or it could alert us to un-dealt with emotions that want to be examined.
Rather than just becoming frustrated at the body when it doesn’t behave exactly as you’d like it, instead listen to what it might be telling you. The body can’t speak to us through words, but it has its own language, its own way of communicating that its needs aren’t being met. It’s up to us to take a look and explore these signs and recognize that the body has wisdom.Rather than just becoming frustrated at the body when it doesn’t behave exactly as you’d like it, instead listen to what it might be telling you. Click To Tweet
Psychological Dimension: Mind Matters
What can get in the way of us taking positive action in the physical and intuitive dimensions? Our source of both our greatest power and greatest destruction – the mind. Our mind is home to deeply-rooted beliefs that oftentimes we aren’t even aware we carry with us, but that affect our daily decisions and behaviors.What can get in the way of us taking positive action in the physical and intuitive dimensions? Our source of both our greatest power and greatest destruction - the mind. Click To Tweet
For example, if you carry the belief that you don’t matter, that you don’t have inherent value on an unconscious level, you may find that you don’t make decisions that nourish your body. Because you have this underlying belief that you aren’t worth it. A lot of these beliefs we pick up on in childhood, and because we’ve never been made aware of them, we can’t change them. Once you become aware, you can start to see the impact they have on another part of the mind – your thoughts.
Thoughts are a dime a dozen. We have thousands of them a day. Some helpful and some not helpful. Some thoughts we don’t pay attention to and let go of, others we cling on to as absolute truth. If we aren’t aware of our underlying limiting beliefs and actively working to change them, we tend to latch onto the thoughts that reinforce that belief. That’s because humans like consistency – and being right. So if you have the belief that you aren’t of value, you might hold onto thoughts like, “I can’t do anything right,” or “I won’t be able to follow through with this,” or “it’s not worth all this effort to get healthy.” These then become your reality, working against the first two dimensions.If we aren’t aware of our underlying limiting beliefs and actively working to change them, we tend to latch onto the thoughts that reinforce that belief. Click To Tweet
Finally, thoughts lead to emotions. So the thoughts used in the example above might give rise to emotions like helplessness, hopelessness, depression, frustration, or anxiety. Many of us have been taught that these emotions are negative, and we shouldn’t feel them, so we immediately want to get rid of them. We don’t want to sit with them, or examine them more closely, we just want to fix them. It just so happens that food can temporarily ease these uncomfortable emotions, especially foods high in fat, sugar and starch. They make the brain produce feel-good chemicals that delay the anxiety, hopelessness or depression.It just so happens that food can temporarily ease these uncomfortable emotions, especially foods high in fat, sugar and starch Click To Tweet
But they only delay the feeling of those emotions. In the end they come back, and often with a vengeance. Because guess what? You just reinforced the thoughts you chose to cling on to: “I won’t be able to follow through with this, I can’t do anything right.” So you solidify the underlying limiting beliefs, and the cycle keeps you feeling stuck.
But you only feel stuck. You’re only stuck as long as you keep choosing to focus on the thoughts that reinforce your limiting belief. But you can choose to focus on more helpful thoughts any time you wish. It can help to know your underlying beliefs, but it isn’t necessary to change what you choose to focus on. Remember at the beginning of this section I said the mind can be our greatest power or our greatest destruction. And which one it is, really is up to you at each moment.You’re only stuck as long as you keep choosing to focus on the thoughts that reinforce your limiting belief. Click To Tweet
These three dimensions of nourishment, when put together, can give you the key to a healthy and grounded relationship with food and your body. To see how these 3 dimensions impact you, schedule a complimentary 30 minute Path to Nourishment session today!