Kale + kryptonite
The last five months (and really the past year of the Healthy Choices column) have really focused on our secondary foods—the ones we put in our mouths—in an effort to make small shifts toward the whole, SOLE foods end of the spectrum and optimize our health.
And as the tagline of my coaching practice says, “It’s the food. And it’s more than the food.” (Full disclosure: that line is not original—I lifted it directly out of a client testimonial.)
There are a whole lot of other areas of our lives that can feel nourishing—or not, and these are our primary foods: relationships, career, sleep, time in nature, physical environment, spiritual practice … the list really is endless! I like to talk about them as being kale (extremely nourishing, like a superfood) or kryptonite (toxic, like Superman’s nemesis).
If you want to try a quick health coaching exercise for yourself and understand what I mean by primary foods, check out Kale + Kryptonite, which will give you a starting place to think about your primary nourishment. You will probably be able to name a few more for yourself as well.
SOLE to SOUL
If we really want to be healthy, we must find the lifestyle choices that suit our bio-individuality: if any area of life feels toxic, it can leak into other areas, and most often—perhaps because it’s the path of least resistance—it leaks into our relationship with food.
A classic example of that is anorexia, which can occur when so much of life feels out of control that exerting complete control over what we ingest is a way to counter that feeling. A less drastic example is when we have a dysfunctional relationship with our career: if we get no praise or validation at work but instead are constantly undercut and criticized, we may come home and empty a pint of Ben & Jerry’s—we’re looking for the sweetness we don’t get at work.
Because Integrative Nutrition® includes not just our food but also our lifestyle choices (and because I’m pretty OCD?), I started trying to find an equivalent to the SOLE food acronym in the primary food area of our lives.
With the help of my wise clients, I landed on SOUL food: seasonal, organic, unique, and loving—and just as we did with SOLE food, we’re going to spend some time digging more deeply into this concept over the next few months, starting with seasonal.
It’s pretty obvious that the food and lifestyle choices that suited us as babies, toddlers, kids, teenagers, young adults, and middle-aged and older adults don’t usually remain the same: often, we shift them without much thought. As older adults, we sometimes notice that we’re packing on pounds, we aren’t able to eat as much as before, or that even a single glass of wine in the evening can wreak havoc on our sleep at night.
If we are prone to looking for external “fixes,” we are likely to run toward adding any number of silver bullets when something is “wrong” with our bodies/minds/spirits: crazy diets and detoxes, supplements and smoothies, workouts and woo. But if we pause and consider that perhaps we’re just entering another stage of life, we may discover that what feels better is simply shifting our current food and lifestyle choices without adding new things to the mix.
As with our secondary food choices, the theory of bio-indiviuality holds that the primary food choices that work for one person may be toxic to another. There’s a corollary to that theorem: the primary and secondary foods that nourished us in one season of our life don’t necessarily nurture us in another season.
Sometimes, however, many of us resist change: we cling to the foods that no longer serve us because in a previous season, they were “perfect.”
In my own life, I’ve experienced this primarily in my food and exercise choices: I was a vegetarian for many years and even dabbled with being a vegan (yeah, I love cheese too much for that to happen!)
But after moving in with a serious carnivore and being faced with the prospect of cooking two meals for every one mealtime, I gradually switched (kicking and screaming) to eating more animal products—and discovered that this shift did wonders for my thyroid issues.
I was never an athletic child—I was overjoyed to discover that I could fulfill my phys ed requirement in college by continuing my horseback riding lessons rather than taking up a more demanding club or team sport—but then I discovered how good it feels to be more physically active, and from my later 20s into my late 40s was pretty much addicted to high-intensity workouts.
When I hit 50, I suddenly realized I could no longer sustain those workouts, which felt devastating: I worried I’d gain weight and suffer from all the issues that come with that. But my body just said no in message after message until I finally heard it. In the past few years, I’ve moved from lots of high intensity aerobics and weight training to walking and yoga and some gentle body-weight resistance training.
And my reward for listening came when at my 52-year physical, the resident told me that had he not seen my birth date, my numbers would have indicated I was 26.
The takeaway? Cultivating more awareness of the life season in which we find ourselves and being more intentional about the seasonality of our lifestyle choices come with their own rewards; reflecting on the times we resisted the change of seasons shows us that clinging to practices—even (especially?) those that are perfect for us for a time—can be counterproductive.
I’d love to hear from you: In what season do you find yourself? And what shifts in your SOUL foods are your body/mind/spirit asking you to make to accommodate this new stage and thrive in it?
Ann Arbor’s Liza Baker, a WLAA health columnist, is a health coach, cookbook author, nonprofit consultant, and woefully underpaid COO of a busy family of four spread across the globe. Liza lives in a half-empty nest in Ann Arbor and is passionate about health and happiness, education and empowerment, SOLE/SOUL food and social justice. You can get a taste of her work on her website and/or join the (Sorta) Secret Sisterhood, her membership site for women over 40.