primary food vs. secondary food

Primary Food vs. Secondary Food

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, such as joy, creativity, finances, nutrition, physical activity, relationships, and so on. To get an exhaustive list of these primary foods and what they are, visit my blog post: “What is Holistic Health.”

It is my opinion, and most likely the opinion of other health coaches in this field, that 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 paying for this and that, then there isn’t a single food or piece of nutritional advice that I can offer to help you with that and 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, which has all twelve aspects of primary food laid out for you. Depending on how satisfied you are with a certain aspect of primary food determines where to put your dot on the line next to it. 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 primary food besides my relationships and my 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. I usually reexamine this area of health with my clients at the half-way mark and see if those imbalances have leveled off.

In my case, these areas of my life are not as high as possible due to the virus epidemic situation here in China. It is harder to maintain relationships with friends virtually, I haven’t been home for three years, and I haven’t worked out in the gym for three months. I understand that these things are only temporary, though, and that, when things get back to normal, I can start to mend these things. These extenuating circumstances are things we health coaches look for in trying to figure out the root causes of 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.

primary food - circle of life

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.

intention form

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 what I’m saying when people have no idea what is going into their body. Absolutely no idea. I ask 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.”

Final Message

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.

If you’d like to receive a free health history consultation with me, feel free to scan the QR Code below for my WhatsApp. 

whats app qr code

Let’s work together and get all aspects of your health figured out. Let me give you the ingredients to make your best life. And if you would like a jumpstart on making your best life, sign up for my monthly newsletter and receive my “Best Life Ingredients” starter kit–a PDF that includes a variety of ways in which you can start to fast-track each area of your holistic health and 5 delicious and nutritious recipes to try out in your own home. 

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