Food for Thought May Not Be Food at All

As I wrote in last week’s column, March is National Nutrition Month. In discussing nutrition, I emphasized that it is more than what you eat – it’s also how you treat your body, mind, and spirit.  In that theme, I’d like to introduce a new (to some of you) concept: Primary vs. Secondary food. When you think of “food,” you likely think of what you put in your mouth – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, The Institute for Integrative Nutrition actually considers the food you eat your secondary food. Your primary food feeds you what can’t see, as a result, problems with your primary food can trigger health issues. I’ll explain.

To start, we need to redefine “food.” The integrative approach considers “food” the things that sustain our life – those that give us joy, meaning, or fulfillment: the “things” that make life worth living. Anything you feel passionate about is your primary food. When there is a healthy balance in your primary nutrition, it is easier to find a balance in your traditional nutrition. When your primary food is complete, you thrive, and actual food stays secondary. The four core primary foods are exercise, spirituality, career, and relationships.

Let’s explore each area further:

Exercise.  A balanced diet is essential for a happy, healthy life, but no amount of vegetables will make up for lack of movement without regular exercise. Regular physical activity has incredible benefits. Exercise helps control your weight, lowers your blood pressure, improves sleep quality, and decreases the risk of chronic illnesses. You don’t have to practice strenuous exercise for it to help. While Yoga isn’t a high cardio workout, a gentle yoga practice has many benefits. Running or walking just one mile will release endorphins and make you feel better. Once you find what works for you and start noticing all the benefits you’re gaining, exercise will be second nature, and your body will thank you for it.

Spirituality. Creating a spiritual practice is one of the most rewarding things you can do for your physical and mental health. I don’t necessarily mean organized religion. Just some type of practice or mentality that provides a connection. When you create and maintain a spiritual relationship, you reduce stress, ease anxiety, increase creativity and improve your mood. In addition to religion, spirituality can be meditation, a walk in nature without distraction, and practicing daily gratitude for the good things in your life.

Career. We spend most of our time at work. It is essential to find work that you love (or learn to love the work you do). Make a list of your strengths and interests and how that could translate into an inspiring career – get creative. If it is not possible to switch careers, then try to learn to love your work. Request to work on projects that interest you. Surround yourself with peers who are supportive and positive. Accept constructive feedback and continue to improve your work. Always put in your best effort, no matter what role you are in. Just the satisfaction of a job well done can improve your feelings towards your career. And remember to learn something new every day!

Relationships. Humans are social beings. We are hardwired for connection. At their core, relationships fulfill our basic needs for love and friendship. The health of our relationships has the potential to fuel or drain us. While relationships can be a source of joy and comfort, they can also be challenging to navigate. One essential part of any relationship is communication. It is the cornerstone of every strong relationship. You won’t always agree with everyone, but if you have a foundation of respect and clear communication, your relationships can thrive and bring great joy into your life.

As you see, the more primary food we give ourselves, the less we depend on secondary food, as in, if you are fulfilled in your life, you will make better choices (i.e., what you eat). Many cultures practice fasting to reduce secondary food (or the food you put in your mouth), opening channels to receive a more significant amount of primary food. Take some quality time to explore your balance between primary and secondary food. Which area could use some attention?