As a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and Physical Therapist who specializes in Wellness - the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal, I get asked to design meal plans and strict exercise routine quite often. My clients’ rationale goes something like this: I just want you to tell me what and when to eat, because I don’t trust myself around food anymore. Or the question goes: how exactly should I exercise so I could loose those extra pounds?
Here’s the thing: I can design a meal plan/exercise plan for you, but I won’t do it. Why? Because everyone’s body is different. Everyone's needs are different. Everyone's background is different.
Wellness is multidimensional including: Spiritual, Physical, Emotional, Career, Intellectual, Environmental, Social (SPECIES). Wellness is a full integration and the pursuit of continued growth and balance in these seven dimensions of wellness.
Each dimension contributes to our own sense of wellness or quality of life, and each affects and overlaps the others. At times, one may be more prominent than others, but neglect of any one dimension for any length of time has adverse effects on overall health.
What my body likes in terms of frequency of meals, amount of food eaten at each meal/snack, and what each meal/snack is comprised of is likely different than what your body likes. Yes, there are some guidelines that apply to most of us. For example, most people feel better on a diet of whole foods rather than processed foods. Most people also do better when they eat 3-5 meals per day rather than eating once per day as it helps stabilize blood sugar. Having some variety in your diet is usually a good thing – make sure you eat a rainbow of colors of fruits and veggies as different colored produce usually contain different micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). However, some people do really well on a diet high in grains like whole wheat and some don’t. Some people thrive on dairy products and others get sick when they eat too much dairy. You see my dilemma when it comes to designing the perfect meal plan for each person …
At the end of the day, what truly matters to me is that I have nourished my body – with food, movement, and self-care. That’s what I practice myself and that’s what I teach my clients to do. So what does ‘nourishing your body’ mean?
Nourishment is so much more than eating the 'right' foods and exercising.
Growing up, “nourishment” meant eating whatever Mom fixed. I have to admit, I always loved Mom's food. As I was raise on the traditional Romanian diet, that usually meant some kind of red meat, maybe a vegetable, and bread with every meal. I’ve since cut out bread as I have gluten sensitivity, but I still try to make sure I get some protein, fruits or veggies, healthy fats, and complex carbs at every meal. My body likes that balance of macronutrients (carbs, protein, and healthy fats). Food quality and quantity are certainly an important piece of the nourishment puzzle. I try to eat organic produce when possible as I don’t do well with chemical pesticides. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that nourishing yourself is so much more than what you eat. It’s how you treat yourself in every aspect of your life. It’s taking exquisite care of yourself. It’s how you talk to yourself and about yourself to others. How you take care of yourself at a very basic level.
I used to think that I nourished myself. I mean, I ate. Not always high quality food, but back then food was food. What I’ve come to realize is that, for my body, “nourishing” myself with cold cuts or whatever’s I could eat on "To Go" or on sale at the grocery store isn’t nourishment at all. There’s so much more to it than that.
Being healthy is not just about the food on your plate; it's about the water you drink, the air you breathe, the love in your life, the amount you exercise, whether you have a fulfilling career and spiritual practice, and so on. Primary food (Relationships, Physical Activity, Career and Spirituality) and the food you eat (secondary) should be looked at together rather than separately.
So what does it mean to nourish yourself?
Here’s what it means to me (some of this may resonate with you; some of it likely won’t – take what works for you and leave the rest):
I eat 4-5 high quality meals per day with lots of whole foods, containing a good mix of complex carbs, protein, healthy fats, and veggies and fruit to keep my blood sugar stable and hormones happy.
Unplug each night no later than 10 p.m. (I'm a night owl) so I can relax and unwind from my day. I love to read each night before I go to bed (and work-related reading doesn’t count! It has to be something I enjoy that relaxes me). Some nights I chose to stretch my body before bed time.
Do some sort of movement everyday. It might be yoga, swimming, lifting weights, hiking, or dance.
Get 8 hours of sleep each night. Even 9, whenever work schedule permitting :-).
Treat myself to a massage at least twice a month to keep my muscles happy.
Never skip my once-a-week bubble bath.
Talk to or spend time with friends every week.
Reach out to friends and family and ask for help when I need it. I’ve learned that asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a way to make sure I get my needs met and take care of myself.
Show myself the same respect I would show a loved one.
Get out in nature some every day. If not a 20 mi walk in nature, definitely some gardening at our Community garden.
Meditate and journal every day. I usually do this in the morning while sipping on my coffee.
My list may or may not resonate with you. These are just a sample of things that I have learned nourish me on a daily basis.
What’s on your “nourishment” list?