My “Food,” training began when I was diagnosed with PBC (a rare, serious, auto-immune disorder). Wanting to empower myself and make life better, and God-willing, my prognosis more desirable, I decided to change my somewhat packaged-food-heavy diet and dig in and LEARN how to live a healthier life.
Back in 2011, I passed my exam with the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition to be a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. Credentials vary from state to state, and as I found home to be in the US, I kept the title of “Food Coach,” and pursued my studies more informally, but with continued vigor.
When I’m asked to lecture about food I usually ask everyone who feels they eat a clean and healthy diet to stand up. I then say “Sit down if in the last week you’ve eaten boxed cereal.” Usually, a confused and frustrated majority will sit. There are murmurs through the crowd, “Cereal isn’t good for you?”
If you’re new to holistic nutrition or eating for overall better health and nutrition, it can seem a little daunting or confusing. It’s true, there is a lot of ground to cover, so let’s break down the basics!
1. Whole Foods Are Key
Holistic Nutrition encourages whole foods. Meaning foods that are in their pure form, with little to no additions, subtractions, or alterations. Fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, whole grains, etc. I’m not saying you can’t enjoy cereal, but what I try to encourage is a mindset where we realize that packaged foods aren’t “foods,” and where we give the body the necessary fuel it needs through what we put in our mouths.
2. Stick with Organic When Possible
The “organic” conversation is controversial in some circles. It’s more expensive, and sometimes can look different, or even less visually pleasing (because it is a completely natural product that gives it a shorter shelf life). Holistic Nutrition acknowledges that agricultural practices today are in very different soil than that of our ancestors. The soil is actually a large source of the nutrients that are supplied to the fruit or vegetable that you consume. Conventionally grown produce, in addition to being sprayed with pesticides, (organic foods are too but with less toxic products), they can be grown in soil that has far less to offer. Basically, eating organic produce will nourish you more quickly and effectively. This is a reason for supplementation as well (which should always be discussed with your doctor, we will go over this one in future blogs).
When you think about organic practices for your meats and dairy products, organic food is typically produced from a more humane standpoint, in addition to the animal in question being exposed to fewer antibiotics (it has been proven that continued exposure to antibiotics can reduce their efficacy when you truly need its life-saving support), hormones (used to grow and animal more quickly), and because of the more natural lifestyle of the animal (no confined feeding operations), that the quality of taste and nutritional content will be at its highest.
3. Limit Prepackaged Foods
A typical diet can be 20% boxed products. If I told every client they could never have a donut, piece of cake, potato chip, or soda, I don’t think I would get a lot of retention. The key is to make small changes and start eliminating small portions of the unhealthy diet while balancing it out with healthy ones. Ultimately the goal is 80% of the diet being from nutritious foods.
4. Trust Your Gut
In Holistic Nutrition, the belief is that the immune system is largely in the gut. And that imbalances in health are representative of something being out-of-whack in the microbiome, the healthy flora living inside the digestive tract. Whole foods like nature made them will start to improve this imbalance.
5. Fats Are Good
It is also a belief in HN that fats are good for you. Vilified for so long, healthy fats like butter, avocado, and even those found in meat (not nitrate laden bacon, but chicken skin, marbled fat in steaks, etc.) have a beneficial impact on lipids and overall health. These recommendations are not appropriate for every person or client depending on their health issue, body type, and personal feelings and values, but serve as a general guide to the midline. In fact, a low-fat diet in the average person can lead to issues with hunger (fats make us feel full), and even with mood in some people.
6. Go Straight to the Source
Supplements can be great (and necessary) for some clients, but eating nutrient-rich foods is just as important. Fresh fruit and vegetables are abundant (especially if organic) in vitamins and minerals crucial for your body’s success. B vitamins play a huge role in mood and general function. Vitamin C which is not created in the human body (as it is in animals) is crucial for health and comes from fruits and veggies (avoid juice- it doesn’t digest the same, is over-processed, and hits the body similarly to pure sugar). Omega 3s are typically out of balance with the Standard American Diet (SAD), and fresh, wild-caught fish is a powerful addition to your diet at least once a week (although tuna should be consumed in moderation due to the mercury content).
7. Ditch the Fad Diet
There are so many different diet options out there these days. And cleanses. Should I be Vegan? Paleo? Vegetarian? Keto? The truth is that while all diets sound sexy, the best program is one that you build for a lifetime. A commitment to yourself and a powerful love of your body. The best diet for you is likely one you inherited from your genetics. What your great-great-great-grandparents ate is likely what you biologically need, and there is a theory that people are more successful when they eat true to their blood type (which follows this same logic).
8. Take Time to Reflect
In Holistic Nutrition, there is a strong push for inner reflection. Sometimes we can load up on a certain food because there is a strong story about it, or it is the new superfood. Just because a food has so much value overall doesn’t mean it’s good for everyone. There is this concept of bio-individuality. When a client says “I hate eggs,” I don’t respond with all the available literature about good fats and healthy proteins; I eliminate eggs. Eating foods that make us feel poorly won’t help, and at the same time, if it’s packaged foods that make us feel good we need to retrain the brain. Asking clients to reflect on how they feel after they eat certain foods can create a deep awareness of what is appropriate and healthy for that person.
If you find yourself in a place today where you want to eat healthier, celebrate! This is the first step towards an empowered life, a positive mood, and a more energetic you. Don’t change everything at once. Introduce more whole foods into your diet, ask your doctor about supplements that might support you (talk to them about healthy fats for your body, omega three, probiotics, and multi supplements that they might recommend for you based on your individual needs). Pile on more fruits and vegetables immediately, and remember that the sweeter a product is, the more sprayed with pesticides it was, and if possible choose that as an organic product.
If you stumble in your diet it’s OKAY! Don’t let one day of fall out create a lifetime. Where we persevere in anything we create success. Dietary changes take time, and they are worth it. And so are you.