by Jacquelyn Baurley
Health & Lifestyle Nutrition Coach
Today there is a focus on living a healthy lifestyle for optimal health and balance. Eating well, relaxing, sleeping, making time for relationships, play, and self-expression are the various ingredients that make up the whole of our lives and can easily get out of balance. Andrew Weil, M.D., world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine defines health in his book, Health and Healing as "wholeness." He uses the phrase "dynamic equilibrium" to describe the essence of health - "a dynamic and harmonious equilibrium of all the elements and forces making up and surrounding a human being." Equilibrium because there is balance, dynamic because there are changes taking place. When the state of balance is disturbed by forces acting on them, our internal system signals our body to return us to equilibrium. In other words, we don't feel great every day of our lives. Tune in and listen to your body. The body will naturally tell you what it needs to bring you back into balance.
Each of us has very specific needs for our own health according to age, constitution, gender, size, lifestyle and ancestry. This is called bio-individuality. Exploring your bio-individuality nutritional requirements and looking at how all areas of your life are connected is the key to finding what food and lifestyle choices best support you. Water, food, physical activity, relationships, career, and spirituality have the power to transform health and balance the body. Look at the food you're eating, deficits, and behaviors in your life that are underlying causes of your imbalance. Inadequate nutrients, being dissatisfied with relationships, having an inappropriate exercise routine (too much, too little or the wrong type), being bored, stressed, uninspired by a job, or lacking a spiritual practice (meditating, attending religious services, reading inspirational text, writing, dancing, drawing or being in nature) may cause our body to be out of balance.
Let's take a look at one of the potential causes of imbalance - food cravings. Cravings are critical signals meant to assist you in understanding what your body needs to bring it back into balance. When you experience a craving, break it down into components by asking yourself, "What's really going on here? Why am I feeling fatigue, depression, weariness, mood swings, and/or exhaustion?" Are you craving something sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter or astringent? Are you craving entertainment, a hug, movement, nutritious food? Understanding what causes those crazy, uncontrollable cravings and knowing that you can reduce them naturally will empower you to bring your body back into balance.
What we eat is a good place to begin understanding our cravings because the effects of our food choices are powerful. Cravings can definitely be the result of eating too much sugar. According to William Duffy, author of Sugar Blues, "sugar is an addictive, destructive drug." Sugar qualifies as an addictive substance for two reasons: eating even a small amount creates a desire for more, and suddenly quitting causes withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, mood swings, cravings and fatigue. We each have a specific relationship with sugar. We may feel happy and energetic for a while. A short time later our mood suddenly changes and we find ourselves arguing with a friend, co-worker or a loved one. Over consumption of refined sweets causes the body to lose the ability to maintain a steady blood sugar level. This causes a rapid rise in the glucose levels in the body - a sugar rush. This sugar rush is followed by a crash creating imbalance in our body. Finding healthy alternatives to processed sugar can dramatically reduce sweet cravings. You can naturally add more sweet flavor to your diet by adding fruits and sweet vegetables like corn, carrots, onions, beets, winter squash, sweet potatoes and yams.
The basic principal ingredients for living a healthy, balanced life are:
1- Drink Pure Water
Water is crucial to our survival. You need water to regulate body temperature and to provide the means for nutrients to travel to your organs and tissues. Water also transports oxygen to your cells, removes waste, and protects your joints and organs. A large majority of the American population is dehydrated. Dehydration can manifest as a mild hunger. When you're dehydrated, you can actually get cravings for food. When you get a craving try drinking a full glass of water.
2- Eat Real Food
Real whole food is minimally processed food that contain a virtual pharmacy of nutrients, phytochemicals, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and healthful fats. Whole food can keep you alive and thriving. Going organic whenever possible for fruits and vegetables is best because they don't carry heavy amounts of pesticides. This makes sense especially for children and pregnant women. Shop at farmer's market or a local farm and buy your food there. When these options are not available there are plenty of healthy foods in your local supermarket. The easiest tip to remember when shopping for healthy food at the supermarket is to focus primarily on the outer perimeter. When you are making a food choice, ask yourself, is this food processed in any way? Check the food label for ingredients. Labels will list additives, ingredients and nutrition information. Look at the first 5 ingredients. None of them should be a sugar, a salt, a non-100% whole grain carbohydrate or a partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. If any of these are on the list, DON'T BUY IT. Healthy food doesn't have to cost more. It's the junk food, fast food, processed food and convenience food that ring up your grocery bill. If you reduce sugar, caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol your food expense will be less and you will naturally cleanse your body.
3- Practice Home Cooking
Restaurant food generally has more salt, more unhealthy fat, and more calories than home cooked meals. Healthy home cooked food doesn't take a lot of time to prepare. Keep it simple. You don't have to spend hours cooking complex meals. Good quality, fresh food is easy to prepare and enjoy once you learn how. Learn the art of simple meal planning. It's not difficult, but it takes practice. With practice and patience in a short time you will be effortlessly cooking and nourishing yourself and others.
4- Get Physically Active
Regular physical activity strengthens muscles, improves heart and lung function, reduces the risk of major diseases, stimulates the growth of new brain cells, and can add years to your life. The range of health bonuses now attributed to regular exercises are numerous. Be experimental and find the type of exercise you enjoy. It's good to find a type of exercise you can do every day without altering your schedule. If you're a beginner start with 10 minutes a day and increase gradually to build up your endurance. Don't give up!
5- Get More Sleep, Rest and Relaxation
When you are tired or stressed, your body will crave energy. These cravings are often a result of being sleep deprived. When people get less than 6 - 7 hours of sleep each night their risk for developing diseases begin to increase. During times of chronic stress, the body moves to a state of physiological arousal, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, slowed digestive functioning, decreased blood flow to the extremities, increased release of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol and other responses preparing the body to fight or run. One of the pioneers of the relaxation response, the counterpart of the fight-or-flight response, Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University wrote in his book, The Relaxation Revolution, "Any condition that is caused or exacerbated by stress can be helped by a well-designed mind-body approach. Furthermore, because all health conditions have some stress component, it is no overstatement to say that virtually every single health problem and disease can be improved by mind-body approach." Relaxation and meditation have been proven in a wealth of studies to promote health. Take time for yourself. Find activities that restore your energy, such as a walk, massage, bath, movie or whatever you enjoy and schedule a date with yourself to do these things.
6- Get In Touch With Your Spirituality
We are spiritual beings in a physical world. Develop and deepen your spiritual practice , whatever that might be. Find ways to get in touch with your spiritual side, be it meditating, attending religious services, reading inspirational text, writing, dancing, making art, or being in nature.
Professional Support Can Guide You To Achieve Optimal Health
All the various ingredients that make up the whole of our lives can easily get out of balance. Studies show that the caring support of others can be a powerful tool to establish optimal health. A professional can support, guide, motivate and provide customized resources for you to set and accomplish achievable health and lifestyle goals.
The body is always trying to maintain balance. Balance doesn't just happen. It takes practice. You have the ability to change habits, behaviors, and patterns. It's about choices, priorities, perspective, and letting go. You can balance your life with healthy living.
"All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt!"
- Lucy Van Pelt from Peanuts Comic by Charles M. Schultz.