Let’s make sure we’re on the same page before we dive into these principles. So the first question we need to answer is: What is Comprehensive Health?
C O M P R E H E N S I V E H E A L T H : a delicate balance of three profit streams, including mental, spiritual and physical health. Every decision you make (including what you choose to eat) makes a deposit or a withdraw in your bank account of comprehensive health.
Physical: nutrition, movement, sleep & hydration
Mental: stress levels, re-framing capability, relationship with physical health, relationship with perfectionistic tendencies, fear of failure & all-or-nothing mindset
Spiritual: sense of self-awareness, self-worth, self-efficacy, self-reliance, self-trust
It’s your job to know the balance of these accounts in order to make the decision MOST BENEFICIAL to your Comprehensive Health. We need all three of these accounts to be in the black.
Your nutritional approach can either foster or diminish Comprehensive Health. These 7 Principles will help you start to create an approach that cultivates Comprehensive Health and improves your quality of life. Let’s dive in!
This is a baseline that needs to be established to help make future decisions, as it is essential in being able to gain autonomy in your diet. Once you’ve taken the time and put in the effort to learn what is best for you, eating for comprehensive health becomes second nature because you already know for a fact it makes you feel and function well.
Finding out what balance of food makes you feel your best will require some experimentation, and every person is at a different point in their progression. Maybe you need to eat less processed food if your diet is of consistently poor quality. But maybe you need to work on not being as concerned with product quality if you have extremely rigid food rules that cause anxiety or prevent enjoyment. I’ve been both places. Sometimes the pendulum swings heavily in each direction before it can hover in the middle ground.
If this seems entirely subjective…well, it is. But HERE’S WHY I CAN’T TELL YOU EXACTLY WHAT TO DO: self-efficacy. We all need it and, by definition, we have to each figure it out on our own: “self-efficacy is defined as people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy is the belief we have in our own abilities, specifically our ability to meet the challenges ahead of us and complete a task successfully.”
You can do this. Hire a professional, do your own research, pay attention to how the choices you make impact your spiritual, mental and physical health, and use that information to create a set of personalized guidelines.
Here’s the beauty in this: nothing is restricted without tangible, logical, personalized reason to do so, based on results you have experienced firsthand. This is where inclusivity comes into play. I.e., it’s NOT a restriction. It’s a CHOICE. And you hold every ounce of power in making these decisions. THIS is what will promote sustainability and consistency without relying solely on willpower. Once it becomes something you genuinely WANT to do, no willpower is exerted in that decision.
This single principle can take large amounts of time to establish and may never fully be complete. I’m still learning what is a good balance for my life, and I’ve come to realize it may never be perfect. But once you are able to actually take ownership of the decisions you make…just WATCH your life change. Promise.
Satisfaction is the key player in this principle. Have you ever wanted a cookie, and then eaten a bunch of other stuff instead of allowing yourself to eat a cookie, but STILL ended up eating the cookie anyway because nothing else was able to squelch the craving?
There are two types of cravings at play when determining what you want to eat: Specific and Non-specific.
Specific—a craving for a single, certain food (papa johns pizza, chocolate chip cookies, bluebell ice cream, etc)
Non-specific—a craving for a generic type of food (salty, sweet, fresh, comforting, etc.)
Being as detailed as possible about figuring out what you want will be key in making a decision based on your desires and goals. Non-specific cravings lend themselves to being able to choose a higher quality option while still producing satisfaction. For example: I want something sweet after dinner. Greek yogurt with fruit and honey or an RX Bar does the trick. OR: I’m super hungry and I want something filling. Bun-less burgers with all the fixings and homemade sweet potato fries hits the spot every time. Non-specific cravings can almost always be satisfied by quality ingredients with a good mix of macronutrients.
Specific cravings need to be identified, and then the timeline on which the craving is honored should be determined. Example: I want Kraft mac and cheese. Do I have kraft mac & cheese in my pantry? If not, am I going to the store to get some? Will honoring this craving break a previous commitment that I have made to myself? Don’t eat a bunch of filler stuff that doesn’t satisfy you. If you have a specific craving, honor it if it is available to you and will be done in a self-respecting way. If both of those criteria are not able to be met, wait to honor the craving until they are.
While these principles are ALL vitally important, this one right here may be the key to long-term success in creating a sustainable, health-promoting diet. We are all very familiar with the principle of wanting something just because we “can’t” have it, yes? Well, it’s not a fictitious thing; there are many psychological studies that back up the notion of forbidden fruit being automatically perceived as more desirable. It is of paramount importance to avoid this mindset around food.
BUT how can this be possible when it is also of paramount importance to your health to be eating a diet consisting of mainly whole foods, which inherently limits the consumption of lower-quality, hyper-palatable, nutrient-void options? It comes down to MINDSET.
Eating quality protein, fruit and vegetables is BENEFICIAL to you. This isn’t a restriction of other food; it’s non-negotiable maintenance of your health. Nearly ANYTHING can be eaten occasionally without poor health effects. Committing to eating for optimal health does NOT mean you will never eat cake again.
Realize you COULD eat whatever you want at literally any time. You are a grown ass man/woman who makes his/her own decisions. Go back to Principle 1 and re-read the part about not living by an arbitrary set of guidelines that you had no part in creating. Now come back and remember that anything you eat or do not eat is a CHOICE you are making. Respect yourself and respect your long-term health.
YOU WILL FAIL IF YOU HAVE A RESTRICTIVE MINDSET. Not like the “fall down but get back up and learn something” type of failure. More like the “you will not ever be able to accomplish any goal you set and never reach your highest potential” type of failure. Don’t do that to yourself. Get yo mind right!!!
Every decision (including what you choose to eat) either makes a deposit or a withdraw in your bank account of comprehensive health. It’s a delicate balance of three profit streams: physical health, mental health & spiritual health.
Here’s a few examples:
Eating a piece of wedding cake at my best friend’s wedding may not support my physical health in the most beneficial way, but my mental health and spiritual health both benefit from the experience of celebrating a special occasion through food. Worth it.
Eating fast food for dinner after I’ve committed to trying to change my diet in order to improve my health not only withdraws from my physical health, but also diminishes my mental and spiritual health, as I’ve just broken a promise to myself and now feel the defeat of that decision. Not worth it.
Eating only “organic”, “clean”, or “Paleo” foods and bringing my own meals to every event may marginally benefit my physical health, but at what cost? My mental health suffers the strain of trying to be perfect. My spiritual health suffers from underlying self-distrust (“I can’t trust myself to make a good decision without a plan”). Not worth it.
Eating a home-cooked meal with my husband of grilled chicken and roasted vegetables supports my physical health, but also my mental health in knowing I’m making a decision to benefit my health, and also my spiritual health by following through on the commitment I made to myself to prioritize eating nutrient-dense foods. Win, win, win. Worth it.
So…here we are again with the autonomy and self-efficacy. NO ONE (on earth) knows better for you than you do, because no one but you knows the current balance of your mental, physical & spiritual health. Therefore, it’s up to you to make the decision in best support of your optimal health at every opportunity.
Just don’t do it. There are so many factors at play and you will never know the full picture surrounding anyone’s diet besides your own. A snapshot of a snack, meal, or even a full day of sustenance on someone’s Instagram or blog will never be able to give complete context. Meal examples can serve as inspiration, but never assume anyone knows better than you do what a sustainable diet promoting optimal health will look like for you.
Your height, weight, age, gender and activity levels can be good determinates of an approximate number of calories to consume, but type of activity, health diagnoses, genetics, gut health, hormone levels and personal preference can all affect appropriate macronutrient distribution within that ideal calorie range. There are too many variables to not take an individualized approach to nutrition.
Additionally, different goals require different methods of action. Goals should be specific and nuanced; therefore, your diet should be the same. Stay in your lane. Eating for optimal athletic performance will look very different from eating for optimal health, which will look very different from eating to achieve a certain aesthetic goal. AND, even if you think you and another person have the “same” goal, you and that person do not live in the same environment and do not have the same genetics, stress levels, activity levels, etc.
Also remember: MORE than physical health is at stake here. People will need to prioritize mental and spiritual health at different times in different ways. Eating pizza could be beneficial for someone who is attempting to breakup with strict food rules and realize eating pizza doesn’t make her a bad person, but detrimental for someone else who is trying to learn how to have fun and cope with the stress of her job without relying on pizza every Friday night. YOU CANNOT KNOW THESE THINGS. And this is what makes comparison an exercise in futility.
Save your time and your sanity and quit the comparison game.
Introspection, self-awareness and honesty are key components in establishing proficiency of this concept. In addition to specific and non-specific cravings (defined back in Principle 2), two other types of cravings also play a role in influencing what and when we eat: Benign Cravings and False Cravings.
Benign Craving—a specific or non-specific craving initiated by hunger or appetite, not an emotional state. Examples: waking up hungry for breakfast, smelling popcorn at the movies and then wanting some popcorn, the desire for starchy carbs around the start of your period, spur of the moment decision to grab Mexican food for dinner because it sounds good, etc.
False Craving—a specific or non-specific craving initiated by an emotional state to be used as a coping mechanism. Examples: I’m lonely when my husband goes out of town so I eat an entire pizza, stressful day at work means eating a pint of ice cream that night, eating Canes for lunch because I’m homesick, etc.
Next time you have a craving or are experiencing insatiable hunger, try to take a second to slow down and ask yourself, is this craving benign or false? If false, can you decipher the emotional root of this craving (craving comfort, connection, happiness, fulfillment) and find another outlet to achieve that emotional state? Example: feeling lonely and using food for comfort. Perhaps call your mom/trusted friend/significant other to ease your loneliness instead. Because no matter what you eat…it will never be possible to fill an emotional void with food.
This takes a lot of self-awareness and is HARD to pinpoint. Give yourself time, grace and empathy. It’s not a weakness or shameful to use food as a coping mechanism…it means you are surviving, and you are STRONG! The good news is, once we’re aware of what we use to cope with difficult situations, we can determine if that mechanism is truly continuing to serve our best interest, or if it’s time to evolve. It’s tough to realize the dependencies we’ve created around food, but try to focus on achieving fulfillment outside of what you eat.
Find joy in as many things as you can that have nothing to do with food. I’m not saying food can’t offer joy and good feelings (hello Christmas cookies!!!!); it just becomes problematic when food is consistently overused in effort to access those feelings. Do you immediately reach for a snack whenever you are bothered or bored? Pay attention to your habits…many times they’re so engrained we have no idea what triggers our actions! To combat this tendency: what are 5 small things that bring you joy that you can do anytime? Example: pet your dog, doodle a small drawing, listen to your favorite song, leave a sweet comment on your best friend’s Instagram post, watch The Office outtakes on YouTube, etc. If you are experiencing a false craving, try seeing if you can illicit dopamine release in a different way by participating in an alternative action that brings you joy and satisfaction.
Do the best you can with what you have and don’t stress over the rest. Because remember??? You have bigger plans on this Earth than the constant pursuit of achieving the perfect diet for your perfect body. A) neither of those exist and B) You are NOT your body. You are NOT what you eat. You are a sparkling magical unicorn soul who has a unique and world-changing purpose!!!
It truly is just food. Now, it is important, we do need it to live, it can drastically improve or decrease quality of life, but at the end of the day, it should never be a determining factor in our self-worth and self-love. What we choose to eat is one of infinite ways we can show ourselves love and respect, but what we choose to eat does not determine our worthiness. Ever. In any circumstance. And that’s a great thing.
Food is not “good” or “bad” and therefore cannot make you good or bad. Food holds no morality and food does not determine your morality. Eating for your health does not make you a superior person…it just means you are choosing to prioritize your health (& you go Glen Coco!!!) But you gotta remember it’s your decision. You have no say in if/when anyone else should make that decision. Own your decision and accept that other people will change only when they decide they want to (and they may not ever want to!!! Which is entirely their prerogative. Their life, their rules.).
And finally…don’t ever let one poor food choice affect the rest of your day (your week, your month or even your year…heh heh). There is no “wagon” to fall off. One choice is one choice. If you realize a decision you made has depleted one of your three streams of comprehensive health (physical, mental or spiritual), make your next choice one that supports your comprehensive health. It is never too late! Just stay engaged and willing to learn.
Cultivating awareness around your struggles takes time, practice and resilience.
Embodying these principles takes time, practice and resilience.
Building Comprehensive Health takes time, practice and resilience.
But the best piece of advice I have ever heard goes like this: anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you get it right.
So take the time to cultivate awareness, embody these principles and build Comprehensive Health. Let yourself be bad at these things before you cross the threshold of repetitions it takes to be good at them.
Because the time is going to pass regardless of what you choose to do. You can either start now and be able to look back at how far you’ve come, or delay starting, only to look back and realize you’re in the exact same place because you were too afraid to try something new.
It’s your choice. Make it one you can be proud of.