When it comes to having good health, we’re often told that food is the best way to nourish our bodies. That in order to remain healthy in both body and brain into old age, we should (or shouldn’t!) eat certain foods. After all, what could be more important than food when it comes to feeding ourselves? Well, lots of things, actually.
Here’s why food is not the only important thing that you feed yourself, and what actually is.
A holistic approach to nutrition
Recent studies (1,2) are now showing that using a holistic approach to feeding which prioritizes nourishing ourselves in other ways is more successful when it comes to boosting our health and wellbeing. And you may be surprised by what the most important indicators of health are! From stress to joy, air quality to relationships, we need to fuel our lives with so much more than food.
What is holistic feeding? When most people talk about health, they’re referring to the health of their physical body. A holistic view, on the other hand, is based around the paradigm that our overall health is made up of the interplay between our physical, mental, social, economical, emotional and spiritual health. Each element doesn’t exist in isolation from each other, but simultaneously as parts of the same whole.
So if one area of your life or health is unbalanced, other aspects may be too. Did you ever consider that the reason why you overeat, or eat foods that are not good for you, may originate in unhealthy relationships or unsatisfied careers? With such a multifaceted idea of what makes up our overall wellbeing, it’s no surprise that a multifaceted approach to what we ‘feed’ ourselves with is needed, too.
What else do we feed ourselves?
While food and water may be the most obvious ways to nourish our bodies, we’re constantly nurturing ourselves with a huge range of experiences, sensations and emotions, too. We require so many different types of nourishment in our daily lives that food makes up only a fraction of the overall picture. From nourishing our senses to our creativity, our intellect to our spirituality, feeding ourselves is about more than just satisfying physical hunger.
Although still important, food and water can be thought of as secondary foods, whilst the other things that we feed ourselves and our lives with are primary foods.
Consider the fact that we can survive a few weeks without food, a few days without water but only a few minutes without air. This highlights the importance of spending time outside every day in fresh air and prioritising staying hydrated with pure water, even more so than worrying about the specific foods that you eat.
What exactly are primary and secondary foods?
Primary foods are essentially everything that we feed our lives with, that aren’t on our plate. They tend to be more environmental factors, such as the quality of the air we breathe and whether we feel safe in our relationships. Primary foods are, for instance:
- Physical exercise
- Fulfilling career
Secondary foods are what we actually eat. Most recent research (3) suggests that a healthy, secondary foods diet should be composed of;
- Mostly whole and plant based foods that are unrefined: whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes
- Organic foods
- Fresh foods
- Clean, quality water
- Limit sugar and meat (in particular processed meat and red meat)
What is the most important thing to feed yourself?
It may come as a surprise, but studies have proven that it’s actually our relationships – and the quality of them – that have the biggest impact on our life-long and overall health. Factors like diet, exercise, stress and genetics play a role, but not the most important one. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, which followed 724 men for almost 80 years has shown that people who have good social connections with their family, friends and community are happier, healthier and live longer than those who don’t (4).
The study has also shown that it’s not the number of relationships or social connections that you have which counts, but the quality of them. That is to say that a few loving, warm relationships will better protect our health than having a greater number of more superficial interactions. Finally, it has proven that good relationships, where we feel securely attached to another person, protect our brains as much as our bodies.
So whilst things like a healthy diet and lifestyle factors like maintaining low stress levels do help protect our health, the most significant way to nourish ourselves is through our relationships.
Nourish mind, body and soul
Rather than thinking solely about how to feed your body, consider how to nourish your whole self. Through a holistic approach, we’re reminded that feeding our mind and soul is just as important as feeding the body, and that we can find balance in our diet more easily if we can find balance in the primary foods that we consume, too.
Are you suffering from stress, and curious about how yoga could help you manage? Work with me to discover a personalized practice to meet your physical and mental needs.