Health is broadly defined as being free from ailments or disease. To be healthy implies a sense of vitality, vigor and soundness of the mind, body, and spirit.
Many people that come to see me have a preconceived notion that in order to achieve optimal health, they will need to go on an extreme regiment that requires a restrictive diet, exercise routine, and lifestyle.
Many people are relieved to hear that extreme diets and restrictive lifestyles are not the path to health; at least not long-term. In fact, they can be just as damaging as eating poorly and not exercising at all. Don’t get me wrong - there are specific conditions/illnesses that require strict dietary, remedial and lifestyle changes short or long term, however, most individuals without a chronic health condition will find that balance is the way to optimal health and wellness.
Below are a few of my thoughts on how to optimize your health and achieve a greater sense of vitality and vigor - without restricting yourself.
Avoid the “all or nothing” mentality. Aim to consume a diet rich in whole foods and recognizable, natural ingredients 80% of the time while carving out time to move daily in varying degrees of intensity. In other words, limit your consumption of processed foods, refined sugars, fried foods, alcohol, and so on. These are two things that your system is meant to do and absolutely need to remain healthy. Moving your body can be anything from a brisk walk several times a day to slow weight training a few times per week, or high intensity cardio one to three times per week. Choose a form of exercise that you love and do it regularly. Remember, this will look different for everyone depending on varying factors including your age, fitness status, schedule, and so on.
Get to know yourself. Every body is different which means that every individual has unique needs. What works for someone else may not work for you, and visa versa. Be weary of health trends, social media, any extreme diets, supplements, or lifestyle and exercise routines.
Do your research, but don’t self diagnose. This can drive you crazy and will often lead you down a rabbit hole of uncertainty. Always seek opinions of trusted, licensed health care providers who have clinical experience seeing patients.
Always get to the root cause. If you aren’t feeling well and severe restriction is the only thing that gives you relief, there may be problematic, underlying factors that need to be identified and treated.
Get clear on one or two non-negotiables for yourself that bring you a sense of abundance, then integrate them into your daily routine. Once these become a daily habit, slowly start to add in other ones while letting go of what no longer resonates. For example, striving to eat more of something instead of less of something. Instead of eating less carbs, start eating more vegetables. This will indirectly help you eat less junk by increasing your fibre intake, keeping you satiated, and providing your body with nutrients. Or, try drinking more spring water and less caffeinated beverages. Aim to drink 2L of spring or filtered water daily as this will help to decrease your cravings.
Experience joy. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is said that enjoyment is equally as important as the quality of the ingredients you are consuming. If you are on a particular diet and you’re very unhappy, you will not derive as much nutritional value from the foods you are eating. Take time to enjoy your meals, select foods that you love, and ideally consume them with friends or family.
It is important to note that what may seem restrictive for one person may not be for another. Personally, my diet includes a variety of home cooked, whole foods, heaps of spring water, little alcohol and sugar, and next to no poor quality, processed ingredients. This may seem restrictive to some but it comes naturally to me after years of slowly building this lifestyle for myself. Now, I rarely get cravings because I ensure that I am consuming a variety of foods that satiate my nutritional needs.
Remember, take your time and have patience! Healing is not linear and our needs change as our lives progress. Meet your body where it is at and try not to be hard on yourself. As always, seek the health of a naturopathic doctor or other licensed health care provider for individualized care.*
*Short-term “restriction” may be okay if done under the supervision of a medical provider.