Travelling and eating out and pulling together quick meals once you get home and back to work… the fun of breaking out of the routine is almost worth the price your body can pay for the days and even weeks after you return.
As someone with an autoimmune condition, eating “whatever” while on the go and forgetting my whole food-based anti-inflammatory diet means putting my health at risk. Fortunately, I’m on the upswing with a renewed commitment to make foods with healing ingredients. I set a loving intention to nourish my body in the healthiest ways possible and have been digging back into my cookbooks, prioritizing meal planning, and taking some cooking classes with my partner ever since to inspire more fun. Making much better choices about what my body needs rather than settling for quick solutions or giving into cravings has meant choosing nutrient-dense veggies with anti-inflammatory herbs, spices, and high quality protein with Omega 3 fatty acids while cutting out sugars and other irritants.
What disrupts your health and well-being?
So here’s the deal, I know not everyone has a chronic health concern and you may even be in good health, but most of my clients complain of some physical ailment. Whether it’s GI issues, headaches, neck pain, or other somatic complaints, our lifestyles – including our emotional life, relationships, environment, and habits – can wreak havoc on our health.
You may not have a specific or obvious issue with food, but there’s a really good chance that something you consume every day is actually leaving you starving.
So many factors, from processed food to glowing screens, are causing us to be malnourished and over-stressed. We’re trying to make it in a culture that often promotes productivity over our most basic needs such as real nutrients from natural food sources, physical and social connection, direct contact with our natural surroundings, and time to rejuvenate as well as care for our creative instincts.
What’s your diet like? From food to media… what you consume matters
We are not machines, but as I look around, especially on social media, I can’t help but ask what the f#@% is going on? How can you truly be rested and well if you spend so much time rushing about and connected to devices that we know have adverse health effects?
My conclusion is you simply can’t be rested, healthy, and happy when you live that way. The sad truth is, we’re so hungry for connection that we stuff ourselves with the next load of content just to avoid the emptiness that echoes through so many lives.
Consumption, consumption, consumption… media, processed food, alcohol, drugs, and material goods: they numb the loneliness created by the false connection of social media and illusion of nutrition offered by the convenience of eating on the go.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m guilty of this too. Just the other day, I found myself commenting on Facebook on a thread realizing I had absolutely nothing to add that hadn’t already been said and yet I wanted to be included in the conversation. How can you be online without ‘saying’ something? You can’t! Not one person would know I was there, present, reading and engaged unless I chime in because the physical and nonverbals that make up so much of communication are completely lost on social media. All I could do was come up with some lame comment to reply just to let the others know I was there and appreciative of the conversation. This just didn’t feel like enough for me. I immediately began reaching out to schedule live dates with my girlfriends recognizing my growing need for real connection.
Granted, I appreciate the age of technology and how it allows me to have friends and colleagues all over the world, but everything in moderation, right? If the online world prevents us from tuning into ourselves and keeps us from determining our own healthiest and most loving choices, it’s no longer helpful.
We’re all hungry for connection
When we are starved for genuine connection we turn to less than nourishing choices as quick fixes to compensate for what’s missing.
It’s time for a change.
Integrative mental health, Ecopsychology, and EcoArt Therapy all recognize this hunger and this disconnect. The latter two focus directly on what it means to exploit natural resources and engage in the unconscious consumption of processed food, social media, and retail goods without thoughtful consideration of the effects on our environment.
Eco Therapies are concerned both with the ecology of our own bodies and the ecosystem in which we live. Lifestyles fueled on pseudo connection and a relentless pace not only negatively impact the planet and deplete our natural resources but also cause many cases of dis-ease and disorder. That chronic inflammation I mentioned at the start? Not only does it lead to physical symptoms, but it’s also associated with depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental distress.
How to reconnect and truly nourish yourself
It can be daunting to see how many aspects of your life could use a change. Where do you begin? Thoughts, behaviors, relationships, food, work…? The goal is not to change everything all at once! You’ll probably notice that making a shift in one part of life affects many others.
- Begin with baby steps. One of my favorite writers, Pema Chodron, writes in her guide to compassionate living: “Start where you are” and if you do not already have a practice of observing your breath, begin now. As one of the most fundamental aspects of nature, we depend on our breath. Notice how it nourishes and sustains you. This act of following your breath is small compared to all the issues I brought to your attention, but it truly is a portal to waking up and creating space between stimulus and response. We need such awareness in order to respond rather than react automatically with programmed habits from the past. Tuning into to your breath is an exercise that teaches you to focus on the present and translates to other areas where you can begin to notice what is happening internally and in the environment.
- Observe your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations as these provide valuable information to make decisions. This is what it means to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness allows you to take breaks from problem-solving and thinking mode. Just as we exhale and let go of our breath, we can also release our thoughts by dropping into the sensation of our bodies. Amazing things happen when you tap into the natural intelligence of which we are all a part (see my last post on Nature as a Portal to Self for more on this). This kind of conscious observation is crucial for beginning to simplify your life and prioritize what is most important to you to reduce stress and promote health! (See How to Prevent Burnout & Create Space for What Matters Most for steps to begin this process.)
- Get outside! As a part of nature, we need fresh air and Vitamin D from sunlight and the the trees and plants also depend on our carbon dioxide. Research shows that our gut microbiota can benefit from lush green areas, which support immune functioning. Anxiety, depression, mood, and energy are all greatly influenced by our “second brain” (AKA enteric brain) in the GI system. For this reason, natural whole foods are a must. Of course, a garden would be ideal, but local farmer’s markets or a CSA (community supported agriculture) are great options.
- Consider the foods you eat. What you are putting into your body? Do you know? Much of packaged, take-out, and fast food includes chemicals that lead us to eat beyond feeling satisfied and leave us craving more. You may see seemingly innocent words on ingredients lists like “spices” or “natural flavorings,” but they are often chemically engineered. If it’s not clear which spice or what flavoring is in your food, it’s best not to put it into your body. Try removing just one thing at a time to adjust to such changes, i.e. try packing your lunch instead of fast food or buying only whole foods (fruit, veggies, and quality protein) if you already avoid drive throughs and take out.When I first met with a nutritionist in college, she advised me to shop the periphery of the grocery and focus on sections with fresh fruits/veggies, protein, and dairy/bread (if you can tolerate those). Basically, most of the processed and packaged foods are on the aisles so no need to spend much time there except to grab some spices, oils, etc.
- Sleep and exercise go hand in hand. We need to move our bodies in order to get good sleep. We were not meant to stay sedentary all day using caffeine to sustain energy. Instead, movement creates natural energy and helps contribute to adenosine, a natural compound, that helps regulate blood flow, energy, and sleep. Lack of exercise coupled with caffeine addiction creates a vicious cycle of needing coffees, teas, soda, etc. to function when movement and good sleep hygiene can be a helpful antidote for both. Simply getting up from your chair every hour or starting a walking practice can help you begin to incorporate more movement which in turn will help sleep and reduce stiffness. As this becomes more automatic you can increase your activity level. There was a time I was lucky to make the gym a few times a week, but once that was habit I could make daily movement a priority. Eventually, twice a day became hourly. As a result, better sleep, almost no caffeine, and less pain in my body.
- Social connection is vital. We are not meant to live in isolation and would not have made it this far as a species without relying on others during good times and bad. I’ve had my own hurdles to overcome in this area as my autoimmune disorder was diagnosed shortly after I moved across the country and only had newly formed friendships to rely on. A support group can help you connect with people having similar struggles and can build your confidence. Shame often prevents us from reaching out and this isolation makes the physical pain and mortality risk much higher. Don’t let old thoughts and feelings prevent you from meeting your needs in the present. Reach out, and if friends, family, or a support group seem too scary, finding a therapist you can trust may be a great place to start.
I invite you to commit to just one of these recommendations. Making one tiny change will begin to fill you up, body and mind, so you can make even more nourishing choices. Tell me what you can commit to for yourself in the comments section!
Click here to read about Everything You Need to Know About Mindfulness and How to Improve Your Awareness!
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