Nutrition is not intuitive.
At least not anymore. Not with all the nutrition noise in popular media. You can't open Facebook without receiving some (well-intentioned) message about how you should eat...and subsequently how you should look.
It frustrates me to no end.
Here's what I know to be true about eating healthfully: your body knows what it needs. It even knows how much of it it needs! Your body has such wisdom that if you tap into it you will never need to know a damn thing about macros, food combining, balanced meals or phytonutrients. You'll just eat.
Doesn't that sound NICE?!
We were born into this world with deep intuition and an innate ability to feed ourselves. But then something happened to cloud the clarity and muddle the message. Our families influenced our food beliefs. Our culture showed us that how we are is not thin enough, pretty enough, good enough and if only we avoided these foods that cause belly fat, we'd be thinner, prettier and good-er. But then we try that, right? And it doesn't work. So we try being vegan. And that doesn't flatten our stomach. So we try Paleo, and our thigh gaps still do not open. We probably ate too much tofu followed by too much bacon followed by something else that was 100% clearly our fault. Our failure. Rinse and repeat.
Here's the thing: food, even healthy food is not that hard. Believe it or not, eating vegetables and drinking water feels good. And you like to feel good. So feeding yourself healthy food is actually the path of least resistance. It's easy. The hard part is unplugging from society's expectation of what healthy looks like on a plate and in the mirror.
Health comes in all shapes and sizes. And yes, this is coming from a 5'11" woman who has weighed the same 145 pounds since college. You'd be fooling yourself if you thought I didn't need this reminder. Even skinny girls get the message that they're not thin enough, pretty enough, good enough. Not one beautiful soul is spared. I have never been "overweight" and I still spent most of my life fighting the monster in the mirror.
Here are 5 steps I took to build my nutrition intuition AND step into my own healthy beauty:
1. Eat at least 3 times a day.
I got so good at being hungry that for many years in the beginning of my recovery I had no idea when to eat and when to stop eating. Those hungry/satiated triggers were never quite on or off sending me crazily confusing messages. One way to overcome this is to eat at regularly scheduled times, at least 3 meals a day.
2. Eat real food.
I have a sad story to tell you: The ingredients in your food that makes them taste so good and last long enough on the shelf that aliens will be able to dine on them after human life as we know it ceases to exist...these are not food. These are chemicals meant to fool us into wanting and buying more. They're replacing whole food ingredients that, by their nature, do not last forever. These items are easily identified on food packages: you likely can't pronounce them and definitely won't be able to find them in nature.
Real food comes from the earth. Real foods are whole foods - vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, meat, eggs, nuts, seeds... And while it takes time to make them into a meal, you're body easily recognizes them as food and has no trouble discerning what to do with them. This is the key ingredient to building nutrition intuition. You can't unlock your body's secrets when you fuel it with Mac 'n Cheese, Lean Cuisines and Poptarts.
3. Every day practice self-care.
Drink water. Get sleep. Move your body. Express your emotions. Connect with your community. Live intentionally. Smile. You need all of this to learn and listen to your inner wisdom.
Don't expect perfection overnight. In my experience this takes months if not years to master. Every day is practice and you have all you need to succeed right inside your beating heart. But it this feel too big to tackle on your own, let me help, ok?
"If love could speak to you about food it would say, ‘Eat when you are hungry, sweetheart, because if you don’t, you won’t enjoy the taste of food. And why should you do anything you don’t enjoy?’
I spent the last week sharing my story with a bunch of strangers. It was totally awesome.
I completed an advanced training through the Center for Mind-Body Medicine - a righteous (in a good way) organization that is bringing self-care skills to people all over the world to support them in times of crisis and facilitate their healing process. CMBM is a really remarkable organization not just because of their mission but because the entire faculty practices what they preach. They walk the walk. They are a crew of the most empathic, open and loving people I've even met. I want to move in with them all.
There's something else happening at CMBM beyond just their incredible ability to handpick rockstar faculty. The model, created by James Gordon, MD, is magical.
1) It is built around group healing, which is both powerful and effective. Participating in community gets us off our islands and out of our heads. We are forced to show up for others and, maybe more importantly, let them be present for us. Sitting in a room full of people who are there to make their lives better is so awesome.
That it feels good is enough of a reason to participate in group healing, but there's more. Research shows that participants of support groups reduced their blood pressure, improved health behaviors and increased their quality of life1. For cancer patients, support groups improve quality of life, prolong life and reduce disease recurrence2, 3, 4. Research on the effects of participating in groups have also shown that they help low back pain5, improve metabolism and energy production (i.e. anti-aging)6, and reduce risk of heart disease7. There are so many more symptoms and diseases that have not been included in this research, so just take note of this evidence and consider what group support could do for you.
2) The second reason I love this work is that there is a practice of deep listening incorporated into every group, giving each person a captive audience to share thoughts, feelings, fears, family drama, work disappointments, stories that show the best and the worst of you without fear of being interrupted, judged or gossiped about. The purpose of these groups is to teach self-care tools, like meditation and guided imagery but for me this sharing and being shared with is the most magical and compelling piece.
And here's why:
Sharing and listening proves to us each that we are not alone. And that gives us the comfort and courage we need to keep up the good fight.
My group this last week included 10 women and one gentle-man who traveled from as far away as Japan. We were social workers, receptionists, psychologists, mothers, wives, betrothed, bisexuals, self conscious, damaged, lost, struggling and thriving. Every time one of us shared a piece of our life story there was this unanimous nod that went around the circle that said, "me too!"
I'm invisible. I am struggling through my pain. I don't like my body. I'm not living my life's purpose.
There is so much comfort in that shared experience, even if the story line is unique. We all have loss and regret and disappointment. We all struggle. And for most of us those struggles weighs on us more than our successes can pull us up and out of. Life is tough! But we're in it together.
I plan to continue my training with CMBM just so I can soak up as much of their magic as possible and then bring it back to my community and clients. I'll be pulling the techniques and skills I've learned through my training into my individual and group coaching sessions. Self-care is the bedrock of all health and wellbeing. We all need to practice it every day, even just for a moment.
I hope to facilitate a mind-body skills group this fall, so stay tuned! Sign up for my newsletter to learn more and stay in the loop.
References: see in text links to citations.
I started reading Amy Poehler's Yes Please last night (I'm gonna bust through that book in a hot minute, let me tell you what). It's witty, brilliant and sneakily insightful - just what I expected it to be. What I didn't expect is to run into such a beautiful way of approaching body image...at least not in my first sit-down with the book.
I had already made a decision early on that I would be a plain girl with tons of personality, and accepting it made everything a lot easier. If you are lucky, there is a moment in your life when you have some say as to what your currency is going to be...Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier. - Amy Poehler
My currency is my ability to connect with people, set them at ease. I can draw the life story out of the shyest person. I was the kid on the playground who everyone brought their problems to. I have a big squishy heart and I'm not afraid to open it.
When I think about this being my guiding purpose on this planet, it no longer matters if my socks match my pants or if I have a bad hair day. A flat stomach has nothing to do with a warm heart. And striving for something other than spending my currency gets in the way of my time to shine. Wanting to be perceived as beautiful or sexy is a distraction.
So, what's your currency? Did you choose it? Why?
Many years ago my beloved collaborator, Julie Kesti, made a sticker that so radically affected me that 7 years later I'm still thinking about it, writing about it. How revolutionary those four words are: I love my body. When you put that sticker on your chest you're telling everyone who can read that you love your body! But when they read it, they read "I love my body!" Woah, that's a powerful message! Do I love my body? Can I love my body? How can I love my body? What does it even mean to love my body? Does it mean losing 20 pounds? Does it mean I have to start running?
No. It means loving your body. Right now, just as it is.
It's just not that simple, though is it?
So I've been thinking about these things and chewing this message over for years. Recently, I realized that all the science I've studied, all the metabolic pathways of nutrients I've learned, all the supplements, diets, and conditions mean nothing if my client doesn't love themselves enough to get better. Every physical symptom is attached to an emotional experience.
Today my neck hurts. It hurts because I was at a show last night (Lake Street Dive: drool) and I slouch when I stand. Always have. Because I'm 5'11" (over 6' with shoes on) and I'm a woman. I'm not meant to take up that much space. I'm not supposed to be taller than men. I'm not worthy of "looking down" on someone when I talk to them. So I tuck my pelvis, I round my shoulders and I jut out my chin taking a good few inches off of my power. When I stand that way I also breathe into my chest, because my abdomen is compressed by my posture. So I'm not breathing into my organs and my neck pain is accompanied by bloating and constipation the next day. Rinse and repeat and it's no wonder at 20 years old I was diagnosed with IBS and all because I have low self-esteem.
My point in sharing any of this with you is to set an intention for myself and for this space. I co-opted Julie's brilliance in branding my tagline "love your body, love your food" several years ago when I opened my health coaching practice and in subtle ways that's the soul of the work I do. Yet, my exploration of body positivity, self-talk and self-care has been thwarted by other projects like opening Wellness Minneapolis last fall. It's time to take it on. I need to for myself and for my practice, but also because it's the mark I want to leave on this world. If I can teach one person how to genuinely, authentically, unabashedly love their bodies I can rest easy.
So. If there are specific topics you'd like me to take on, send them my way or leave a comment. This blog may look like a modern dance for a bit as I get into my flow with it. I have a laundry list of pieces I want to write, people I want to interview, projects I want to take on. Today, I start.
This time of year, I get really into salads. I've been craving them for months, but since Minnesota's winter took it's time exiting the stage, my vata (cold, dry) body has not really been up for cooling foods. Today I rode my bike to work in the sun and 60s and am really enjoying this Greek salad with sardines. Huzzah!
If sardines scare you, as they once did me, take the plunge. They are a delicious, inexpensive, have low contamination, are sustainably fished, and packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and calcium.
Greek Salad with Sardines
Voila, it's lunch!