The concept of Primary Foods is based on the understanding that the food on our plates is not the only nourishment we need to live a healthy life.
It’s a concept coined by The Institute of Integrative Nutrition, and considers the things most people cherish in their lives, such as loving connections, purpose, and pride in their accomplishments. They are the things that bring us nourishment and peace at a spiritual and emotional level.
When we think about health, a lot of focus goes on the food we are eating and exercise and we often forget about prioritizing these other aspects of our lives.
To live a truly healthy life, we want to aim to find balance in all these areas as one often impacts the other. For instance, if we’re feeling unsatisfied in our intimate relationship or job, we’re more inclined to eat unhealthily or engage in unhealthy habits such as drinking too much.
This works the other way round as well. If all our focus goes on eating healthily, yet other areas of our lives are not working, it’s unlikely we will feel truly healthy or fulfilled.
Let’s have a look in more detail at the aspects of life which make up the Primary Foods.
- Regular physical movement
- Meaningful positive relationships
- Fulfilling work
- Some form of spiritual connection
- Following your personal passions
- Non-dietary forms of self-care
- Playfulness, creativity, and fun
How Satisfied are you with your life?
When you’re preparing for bed on a Sunday night, are you mostly dreading the idea of heading back to your work week? Does it ever feel like even when you’re eating right and exercising regularly, you’re still not completely satisfied with your lifestyle or routine? Do you spend much of the week focusing on everyone else’s needs and neglect your own?
When working with clients, I work a lot with primary foods, looking at every aspect of their lives. My goal is to help them know more about themselves and get into the habit of recognizing how and where they’re spending their energy that could be potentially draining their health and wellbeing.
Let’s have a look at some of these areas and what you can do to improve them.
Nourishing ourselves with physical activity
Physical activity is praised for a lot of things, but perhaps most importantly, physical activity provides our bodies with a way to burn off stress and maintain a relaxed and healthy equilibrium and increases our levels of endorphins, making us feel good.
Think about it, our bodies are made to move! Our ancestors walked miles to gather food and hunt animals, but today, we mostly just sit at a desk all day, or travel sat in a car or on public transport.
Consider what all this inactivity is doing to our health – it’s making us more anxious, depressed, inflamed, and unhappy.
Key benefits of exercise
Here are a few key ways that exercise can improve your body’s functions:
- Lower blood pressure.
- Keep you at a healthy and comfortable weight.
- Strengthen muscles.
- Stop or slow the development of diabetes.
- Reduce inflammation.
Getting more physical activity into your life does not have to be hard. There are so many simple things you can do.
You could try walking more, using your car or public transport less, and taking the stairs rather than the lift.
If you are someone who wants to add in more exercise, start with something small and achievable and increase it over time.
Joining a gym or a taking part in a team sport can actually nourish you on a social and physical level.
Nourishing ourselves with relationships
We’re social animals, and we crave connection, which is why meaningful relationships are so important.
As humans, the relationships we form with others are vital to our mental and emotional well-being, as well as, to an extent, our survival. What would we have done without villages and communities to help one another build resilience throughout human history?
Research shows that loneliness can have a detrimental effect on our health on par with smoking and obesity. It’s linked to cellular changes that weaken the immune system and increases inflammation in the body.
We have an inherent desire to be close to other people, build relationships, and connect. If you’re not currently able to develop and nourish those relationships in a way that brings you comfort and meaning, it could cause you a lot of stress within your body and mind that you don’t even realise.
Consider who is in your inner circle. To gain the Primary Food benefits from a relationship, surround yourself with people who listen to you (and each other), communicate openly and without judgment, trust and respect one another, make time for their loved ones (including you), remember details about each other’s lives and engage in healthy activities together.
Take some time to think about what your daily, weekly, and monthly connections are like. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you feel as though your needs for connection are being met?
- Do you wish you could spend more time with people?
- Do you feel you spend too much time with the wrong people?
Bow out of toxic relationships. The people with whom we surround ourselves have a significant impact on our perspective of the world and outlook on life. Take a moment to think about the five people you spend most of your time with. How does it feel to be around each of these people? Is there anyone in your immediate circle who makes you feel stressed or uncomfortable? Maybe it’s time to let those relationships go?
Nourishing ourselves with our work
Overall, do you feel more tired and defeated after a day of work, or excited and energised?
If you don’t enjoy your work yet are still spending a majority of your waking hours thinking about and doing your job, you’re likely not living a healthy, balanced life.
Creating a healthy life-work balance
Technology and the ability that many people have to work from home is both a blessing and a curse! While it’s nice having more freedom to work from home or while you’re away from the office, it’s getting harder than ever to separate one’s professional life from their personal life.
How well do you cultivate and stick with a healthy work-life balance? Do you experience anxiety when you don’t check your emails on the weekend? Do you often put off personal events so that you can work? If so, you need to create some rules to achieve a good work-life balance.
- Keep regular work hours.
- Create a work space just for work
- Do not work on your commute
- Take regular breaks
- Use your lunch hour to take a walk or spend time with colleagues.
Nourishing our soul
What do you do outside of work and family that nourishes you? What passions or hobbies are you ignoring?
When we spend much of our time focusing on work and others, we can forget about our own needs.
Nourishing our soul may include activities such as walking in nature, hiking, meditation, yoga or other spiritual practice.
It could include hobbies such as writing, making art, crafting, or playing a musical instrument.
It could simply be taking time to drink a cup of herbal tea and read a book for half an hour.
It’s important to consider what YOU need and schedule in time for that. Just 30 minutes of time just for you can replenish your energy and feed your soul.
Primary Foods: A Conclusion
Like eating a variety of healthy foods, it can take practice to make sure these primary foods are included in our lives. We have one precious life and finding joy in all areas is important.
I would encourage you to begin reviewing your week, perhaps keeping a journal and assess where you are each week.
It’s easy to fall back into patterns or bad habits. Notice when work is taking over, or if you have cancelled social activities because you are too tired, and readdress this.
If you would like some help in improving your overall health and wellbeing get in touch and I can share with you some ways we can work together.