As a holistic health coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, we’ve been taught to help clients with their primary food as well as their secondary food. For those not in this field, I wanted to write this blog post to help explain the concept of these two types of food and how they play into our holistic health.
Primary Food. Secondary Food. What is the difference?
What is the difference between primary food and secondary food? Well, how we explain it as health coaches is that the secondary food is what goes inside our bodies. That is the proteins, fats, carbohydrates. It is the actual, physical food we eat and what we drink.
Primary food, on the other hand, is our lifestyle. How we live our lives. This food is separated into four primary categories: social food, spiritual food, intellectual food, and physical food. And within each of those categories are other subsets. To get an exhaustive list of these primary foods and what they are, visit my blog post: “What is Holistic Health.”
If your primary food is out of alignment, then there is no amount of secondary food that is going to help you. For example, if you have expensive tastes and racked up a bunch of credit card debt, then there isn’t a single piece of nutritional advice that I can give you to help deal with the stress that comes with the impending debt you’ve surmounted. If you are in an abusive relationship, yet afraid to leave your significant other, the food that you eat won’t help you as much as getting better social food, aka a new relationship.
You see how this works?
With that being said, it is the primary food that is most important in our lives.
How to Track Your Primary Food
As holistic health coaches, we track our clients’ primary food through a variety of tools. One tool we use is the circle of life featured below. Depending on your satisfaction with each subset, the dot will be closer or further away from the ridge. The happier you are with that aspect of primary food the further out the dot should be placed. If you look at my example below, I am really happy with most aspects of my life. Currently, I am not feeling as pleased with my social life or physical activity.
If I saw this as a health coach, my eyes would be drawn immediately to this imbalance in my client’s life. I would then ask high-mileage questions to understand what is going on in that area of life. After, I might suggest one or two things to help improve that aspect. This is reexamined at the halfway mark with my clients to see if they have corrected those imbalances.
In my case, these areas of my life are low because of the epidemic situation here in China. It is significantly harder to maintain relationships with friends virtually. Also, I haven’t been home for three years. Finally, with the gyms closed, I haven’t worked out in the gym for three months. However, I understand that these things are only temporary. When the situation gets back to normal, I can correct these issues. We health coaches look for these extenuating circumstances in our clients’ lives. That is the purpose of our high-mileage questions. We want to figure out the root causes for the imbalances in our clients’ lives.
I would love for you to try this out now for yourself. On a scale of 1-10 how satisfied are you in these current areas of your life? If you are a 10, you’d place the dot at the outer edge of the circle, and if you are a 1, you’d place the dot closer to the center.
Another thing we like to do to track primary food is to set up intention forms. This helps us understand the client’s intention and can help us keep track of his or her progress.
How to Track Secondary Food
Secondary food, in my opinion, is much much easier to help clients with. Usually, this is why they come to us in the first place, and so we usually nip this in the butt within the first half of the program. However, what many clients don’t know is that the secondary food imbalances usually are the result of primary food deficiencies in their life. For example, if someone is in a stressful job, he or she might use food to help them cope. It is important then to know the client’s eating habits, and that is why I have clients usually fill out this tracking food form.
This helps me understand what is going in to the client’s body and can help me determine where exactly he or she needs a diet change. Often times people have no idea what is going into their body, and they just eat mindlessly, not really understanding the caloric value of each food item. This, my friends, is a big no no.
A recent client who is overweight by 100 pounds or so started a diet regimen with me. He told me that he stopped eating out. This was great news. However, a month into coaching him and I noticed that his weight still wasn’t going down significantly as it should just starting out. He was losing maybe one pound per week, but to be honest, when someone is so overweight, they lose fat much easier. Around 1 percent of your body weight is good. I was expecting him to be losing around 3 pounds a week. Week after week, I noticed this. Finally, I asked him to fill me out what he was eating.
I saw that on Mondays he was eating hamburgers (two of them). On Tuesdays he was eating prime rib (16 oz). On Wednesdays, it was pasta. And the week carried on like that. And I finally understood what was happening. I asked him how many calories were in the prime rib. He told me 200, and I laughed. Not at him because he’s stupid or anything. But this is exactly my point. Many times people have no idea what is going into their body. Absolutely no idea. I asked him to Google how many calories the prime rib was. It came back to be 1400.
After this discovery, he said, “Oh. That’s a lot.”
And so I encouraged him, and I will encourage you to track your calories. Even if it is only for a few weeks. Seriously, download an APP like Kcal Fit Tracker or My Fitness Pal and track them.
This doesn’t have to be a permanent thing, but I would recommend for at least two weeks to a month, just so that you have an understanding of how much food you’re actually eating. That’s because the average overweight individual underestimates their caloric intake by 40%. People also happen to overestimate how many calories they burn daily thanks to the fitness watches that have been shown to be as inaccurate as 40 – 93%.
For more information on tracking calories, I invite you to take a look at another blog post I wrote called “Understanding Calories.”
While secondary food is what we eat, it is often the primary food in our life that truly nourishes us and fulfills us. This is why in Life’s Kitchen, we say, “Don’t live a diet, live a lifestyle.” At the end of the day, it is your lifestyle that will ultimately determine just how healthy you are and how effective any one diet or particular food selection affects you.
If you are overweight yet aren’t fully aware of what is going into your body, your nutrition is off. This can be fixed, sure, but it still won’t matter if that same individual is lazy and lethargic. In this case, it is their primary food, the physical activity section of it, that is to blame.
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