Wow, I probably will rave about where I live a lot over the years…. but truly, the fall is the BEST around here! This year is no different, perhaps even better. The reds are amazing (unusual for aspens!) and the change has lasted much longer than the typical 2-3 weeks we are used to. We’ve had some amazing weather as well. Lots of blue skies (as usual) but also lots of storm cycles and the last few mornings we have woken up to SNOW! Really…. up high there is probably over a foot of the white fluffy we don’t normally see for another month or so. Does this mean we will have an epic snow year for skiing?? I sure hope so, but who knows really……
The fall has also meant a new obligation for me… SCHOOL! I’m in my third week of my Health Coaching program with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition® (or IIN®) and I couldn’t be happier about it. Each week provides new enlightenment to the journey of a healthy happy life. I’ve been a little overwhelmed at times, but I think I’m finally ready to share a little with you. As I progress through the program, I’m sure there will be lots to share, but for now, I’m starting small and trying to stay focused. I want to talk today about what the program calls “Primary Foods”.
The concept is simple really. We focus so much on the food we eat… increase healthy greens; cut back on processed foods and especially sugars; choose healthy fats and whole grains; fresh fruits; local; organic….. there are a gazillion different pieces of advice out there and much of it is SO CONFUSING!! What I’m learning right now is perhaps more important to us (and more lacking in most cases) – the non-food aspects of our diets. Things like Relationships, our Career, Physical Activity and Spiritual Practices – Primary Foods, making the actual food we eat Secondary. These are things that create stresses in our lives and also in our bodies every single day. It doesn’t actually take much to eat better (I know… it does, but in the grand scope, really…. it doesn’t) and many people eat great, but still feel like they’re not healthy. Usually this leads to being more strict about our diets…. cutting out more, adding more supplements, looking for the next fad or product that might work… stressing over the lack of accomplishment after being so good. I believe that when we focus on the Primary Foods in our lives, we become happier in general and our health improves drastically. I don’t just believe this because my school has told me so, I believe this from the bottom of my soul because I have experienced it.
Let’s start with Relationships. You may be inclined to skip over this paragraph, but I want to mention in the beginning that this is not about finding the love of your life, or having a happy marriage to find happiness. Those of you who know me know that this is exactly opposite of what I believe (which is that you will never be truly happy with anyone else until you can be truly happy by yourself). Instead, this is about assessing the relationships that you have in your life as it is – with your family members, your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends, lovers, pets, yourself. This is also not about being hard on yourself and finding yourself wallowing in a ditch of self-pity and yearning. It’s not a contest to see who has the most friends. Take a good look at how you relate with the people around you and see if you could stand to make a couple changes. Just put it on your radar, consider how things could be better. Don’t stress about it – relationships take time and effort, both attainable but not endless. I think we can all admit to needing to make a phone call, or visit a friend. Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, or find some friends for a hike or a cup of tea in the afternoon. Make a conscious effort to improve the relationships in your life. Even if you already feel like you’ve got it pretty good… it can always get better. Sometimes our efforts are just enough to help others understand how important this is to our health too. Remind yourself how grateful you are for the relationships in your life and aim to keep the good ones close to you. If you notice some bad energy in your life from certain relationships, work on moving them away from the center of your attention. Bad energies exist, so do bad relationships. Don’t ever stick with something (or someone) if it feels bad. I’m not trying to say break-up because it sucks lately. I’m suggesting that you find the courage to stand up for yourself and your health and happiness. You’re the only one who has complete responsibility for YOU.
Career. This one resonates with me a lot. I’m in the midst of a career-shift and I am nervous as all hell. I aim to be out of the service industry by the end of 2015 and working full/part-time as a health coach. I’m not there yet. I still work as a server. I still keep a constantly-shifting schedule and occasionally have late nights where I can’t eat at home. I still rely on tips and being busy to pay my bills and keep up with life. It doesn’t necessarily mean I am “failing” at this part of my Primary Foods. I’ve made a lot of changes in the past few months to make my “career” as a server less stressful to my body and my health and happiness. I no longer work in two restaurants – only one schedule to juggle (this helped in the Relationship department too…. bad energy in the work environment is just as toxic as a bad husband or wife at home) and room to excel in the position I have. This choice gives me more time for school and for my own health. It is a bit harder on the budget, but I also have more time to nurture my Primary Foods, and work on creating a healthier Rather who is more focused and determined than ever. Making career moves is not easy. There are so many sensitive factors involved, especially the one that revolves around money. I know you need to pay your bills. I know you have to keep working for health insurance, your family, your budget, your future. I am merely suggesting taking a moment to assess your career and see how you might like to improve upon it. Could you ask to work on a new project? Transfer to a new department? Take on more responsibilities? Fewer? Perhaps just decorating your work space, or accepting an invitation to have lunch with your co-workers. Do you need a complete over-haul? Maybe you need to be looking for something else. You could adjust your hours; work more from home; take your lunch outside; use your vacation days; wear a funky new style; listen to music; I don’t know….. what could you try? Just like with Relationships, put this on your radar and see what you come up with. Don’t stress, I’m not telling you to quit your job tomorrow, or even at all. I’m encouraging you to take a good look at what you do every day as a career and decide if it is helping you lead a happy healthy life or not. If it’s not, what can you do about it? We should be passionate about what we do with our lives, is your career providing that passion? If it is…. again, be grateful! Keep being positive and enjoying your career! Your energy will not only keep you healthy but will inspire your colleagues to feel the same way.
Physical Activity. You mean Exercise? Yes…. and no. Physical Activity doesn’t have to mean getting a gym membership or joining a spin class. It doesn’t have to mean getting “in shape” even. Our bodies are meant to move, let’s keep them moving! Who is it that says “A body at rest will stay at rest, while a body in motion will move forever”? It’s true. Small steps here are important (unless you already move a lot – then perhaps bigger leaps are appropriate). Get the blood moving, make your muscles do what they are designed to do. Go for a walk; stretch when you get out of bed; sign up for a class; buy yourself a yoga mat and spend some time getting to know it in your own home (YouTube Tara Stiles – she is my favorite!); help a friend move; touch your toes every time you stand up; join a local rec team; go for a hike or bike ride around the neighborhood…… the possibilities are endless. This isn’t about pushing yourself to the extreme. I have always been an athlete – played volleyball in high school and an avid skier and hiker since. When I got sick last year it was difficult to fulfill this Primary Food because I was weak and my body couldn’t handle the sports I was so used to. I learned the value of small steps and developed a strong listening relationship with my body. When I was exhausted I stopped. If I still felt good I kept going. It doesn’t take a physical trainer or a gym membership to get moving. It takes motivation. This is an important part of a healthy body, do it.
Lastly (but certainly not least), Spiritual Practice. This is where I lack the most (of the four) in my life. I’m excited to explore my own desires and needs and see where this focus takes me. To start with, let’s get one thing straight – a Spiritual Practice doesn’t need to mean Religion. It certainly CAN mean Religion, but it just doesn’t HAVE to. Spirituality comes from within and should be a private conversation with yourself. It is always helpful to have a peer group for support, but we can’t expect anyone else to provide Spirituality for us as individuals. For me, I have decided to start with focusing on nature and meditation. I’m starting small, with 5 minutes in the morning and the goal to increase that time weekly (I’m behind…. still just doing 5 min, but this is what works for me right now). When I get the opportunity to get out into nature I practice gratitude for the beauty that surrounds me. I’m fortunate that I live in an amazingly beautiful place and it is easy to get out there and appreciate. Even if you live in the city there are ways to connect to nature – parks, gardens and local vegetation (think the trees in your yard) are all beautiful in their own right. Take time (however small) to yourself next time you get outside to appreciate the beauty of this big rock we all live on. Express gratitude and let it soak into your soul. Your Spiritual Practice may already be flourishing through Religion, and that is wonderful! As with the other four Primary Foods, consider your personal satisfaction in the practice and see where it could be improved. Perhaps you need to set aside more time for prayer or study; maybe you have questions and can seek answers from within or from engaging others. Perhaps it is an old practice that wasn’t yours to begin with and some adjustments could help it fit into your life better. Perhaps you are like me and need to start from scratch, discovering your own Spirituality and allowing it to guide you. Whatever your Spiritual stance is, remember that it is yours and it is not your responsibility to influence others to do the same. Our spirits are just as unique as our bodies, and should be respected as such.
Phew…. was this information overload? I hope not. To conclude, I want to reiterate that this is a journey to health and happiness. The Primary Foods are not means to an end. They are powerful tools that, combined with healthy eating habits, will help us discover what a healthy happy life feels like. With all of the conflicting information that there is out there, sometimes it feels impossible to make the right decisions. Think about these four areas of your life next time you feel stuck. Perhaps those late night binge eating sessions wouldn’t happen if you weren’t stressed over your job or you had made it outside for a walk and some nature. I have seen/felt/experienced first hand how these tools can help, and this is why I share them with you. I hope these ideas can help you find a healthy path to your happiness too!