Healthy Choices with Liza Baker: You-nique-orns are real

Earlier this year, I focused the Healthy Choices column on the food we put in our mouths—our secondary foods, where small shifts toward the whole, SOLE foods end of the spectrum can optimize our health.

The last two months we dug into primary foods—our lifestyle choices, which can be equally nourishing (or not) as our food choices. Over the next few months, we’ll move from SOLE (seasonal, organic, local, ethical) secondary foods to SOUL primary foods (seasonal, organic, unique, loving).


Integrative Nutrition® upholds that we are all bio-individual: one person’s food is another one’s poison; what nourishes me might toxify you. This is true not only for the food we put in our mouths (think about how some of us are allergic to certain foods and some are not); it’s also true for the primary foods that nourish us (or don’t), and that’s where “unique,” the U of SOUL food comes in.

Have you ever noticed that some people can’t function unless they sleep 10 hours a night while others thrive on 7–8 hours of sleep?

(Nope, I am not going there: if you get less than 7 and think you’re doing just fine, try getting 7 for several nights in a row before you come at me—science is on my side on this one. For a great exploration of the topic of sleep and how to get it, check out Dr. Michael Breus, “The Sleep Doctor.”

And this is true in most areas of our lives. Some people love HIIT workouts, others prefer gentle yoga—and both can be in excellent physical shape. Some adore the hustle and bustle of big cities, others prefer the quiet countryside. Some are jazzed by a fast-paced work environment with plenty of colleague interaction, others prefer to work alone from home. Some love worshiping in a community of faith, others prefer a solitary spiritual practice. Some love a relationship that involves a lot of physical touch, others prefer to have acts of service performed for them, etc.

But how should I live?

It seems there is no “right” answer to how we “should” live: we are indeed unique (you-nique?).

Many of us look for the answers for how to live outside ourselves, and our parents, our colleagues, our friends, our children, the media, and even the government are all happy to tell us. Gurus and experts abound.

It’s easier to look outside ourselves because we are then spared the hard work of experimenting and finding our own answers, our own unique way of nourishing ourselves.

Many New Year’s resolutions fail precisely for these two reasons:

  1. We try to impose external standards on our unique lives, and
  2. We give ourselves insufficient time to make shifts in our primary food areas.

Unique … or special?

There is a danger in embracing our uniqueness a bit too much: we may begin to feel that not only our strengths but that our struggles are unique, and that can feel isolating. (In an odd way this reminds me of the meme “Introverts unite—separately in your own home.”)

I often find myself telling clients, “I want to say this as gently as I can: you are unique…and that doesn’t make you special!”

Perhaps one way to view this paradox is that, although our journeys are all different, we share the same goal: to nourish ourselves to the highest degree possible so we can live our best lives, however we define that as unique individuals.

Shoulding all over ourselves

One exercise that helps us to start nourishing ourselves more mindfully in the area of primary foods is to notice how often we hear the words “I should” cross our lips (or even our thoughts).

Whose “should” is it: does it come from listening to your own body’s requests, or is it coming from an external source?

And dig deeper: if it’s coming in your voice, is it really yours—or is it you mother’s, your father’s, your partner’s … one you’ve internalized to the point where you think it’s yours?

And of course, the reverse is true, too: how often do we say or think the words “You should…” when we are talking to others?

(And yes, as a health coach, it’s a fine line to walk, learning to say, “I wonder what would happen if you…” rather than “I think you should….”)

Try this at home (and at work and…)

Get curious! Spend a week or two just catching yourself hearing “should” and keep a log of it on paper, on your phone, anywhere that works for you. Whether it’s said by someone else or in your own head, make a note of whose voice it is speaking.

Once you’re used to noticing, check in with yourself—not just your mind but your body: what do you think and how do you feel when you hear “should” applied to yourself in those situations?

If that feels difficult, keep track of whether you immediately jump to perform the action, whether you do it resentfully, or whether you rebel outright. If you’re resentful or rebellious, it may be your inner wisdom poking you a bit to question whether it’s the right action for you right now….

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.