I mentioned in another blog post about why I’m choosing to become a holistic health coach, but in this post, I wanted to dive deeper into what exactly is holistic health, how it differs from traditional health, and the need for it in our society.
What it is and how it differs
Holistic health, as the name suggests by the word holistic, refers to the complete system of health, not just its individual parts. What do I mean by that? Many times, individuals think about health as just a diet that they have to follow, the food on their plate, and the exercise that they do weekly. By doing these things, we are told that we will live longer, healthier, and happier lives. And while this is certainly true, the food on our plate, from a holistic health standpoint, is just secondary food. Instead, holistic health coaches from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition focus on primary food, which falls under the general categories of physical food, social food, spiritual food, and our mental food. Each of these domains can be broken up even further.
Physical food are things like how we cook, our physical activity and general health. The most prevalent of these is our physical activity. How many minutes of cardio are we doing weekly? How many times do we go to the gym? Are we active throughout the day or are we stationary? These are questions holistic health coaches hone in on with their clients when dealing with this aspect of physical food.
But it would be remiss of me not to mention home cooking as well. After all, you cannot out train a bad diet. So here we’d ask questions such as: how many times do you cook for yourself at home each week? Do you weigh your food? Are you cognizant of the ingredients in what you are using? Are they organic or non-organic products? If we are mindful about our cooking and weigh out our food most times, or are just generally making healthier choices in the kitchen, then this will go a long way in establishing a lifestyle that is very easy to maintain and one that is great for our bodies.
These two things together affect our health, but it isn’t just if we are sick or not that we should be concerned with. Here, health coaches like to know what kind of supplements individuals are taking. Are they getting enough of their macronutrients AND micronutrients? Both of these are important. In a nutshell, macronutrients are things like carbs, fats, and proteins. Micronutrients are the vitamins and other things like magnesium, zinc, iron, etc.
How we feed ourselves socially comes from the world around us. This includes the relationships we keep, our social life, and our environment at home. All of these aspects play a critical role in determining our overall health.
In a blog post I wrote a few months ago, I mentioned how obesity is contagious. Studies have shown that the relationships that we foster really do play a role in how we take care of our bodies. We are prone to “peer pressure” as they say, and if we see our friends going out and eating pizza or drinking, then we, most likely, will want to engage in that behavior as well. Actually, this just happened to me yesterday. I was talking business with a friend, and we went to a bar. I had already eaten all my meals for the day, but he was still hungry. We ended up splitting a pizza and some nachos. I hadn’t intended on eating, nor did I need to eat, but I did. Now, in the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t really matter. One time isn’t going to cause you to go obese, but if we aren’t conscious about the way our friends and family influence us, then it could definitely lead to making unhealthy choices and acquiring bad habits in the future.
This is why social life is another key aspect of our social food. When thinking about this, ask yourself, what is my social life like? How much time do I spend meeting with friends? How often do I connect with them? Do I value this connection? Are they friends or just acquaintances? Meaning, do they hang out with you more than just wanting to party on the weekend? True friends, in my opinion, are those who you can share hobbies with, do activities with, and foster a deeper connection with, not just individuals who want a drinking buddy on the weekend. Don’t let their bad habits also affect you. Now, I’m not advocating that you abstain from all social activities, but it is important to practice moderation. It is also important to consider your priorities and ask yourself if that buffet dinner with your friends is really good enough to ruin progress being made in the gym.
Finally, social food also looks at our home environment. How do we act at home? How do we act with our significant other? Are we in an abusive relationship or is it a caring one? Is it a toxic relationship? If so, why haven’t we left yet? What is keeping us there? Hopefully, none of you have this problem, but I know firsthand just how difficult it can be to leave a relationship. Once upon a time I was in a seven-year relationship, set to be engaged, but my heart wasn’t 100% committed. I wasn’t ready. So, I made the hard decision to end it, and since then my life has taken a completely different trajectory than I could ever imagine. I’ll write a separate blog post about this eventually, but a healthy relationship, from my perspective, is based on six pillars:
- Healthy Sex Life
If these are out of balance, then it may be time to reconsider what your partner is bringing to the table. A relationship doesn’t end at the marriage stage. Each individual should be supporting and communicating their needs for the individual throughout the entire time both are together, so make sure that your home environment is one full of love and support. Make sure each of you is a positive influence on the other’s life.
How we feed ourselves spiritually is a mix of our levels of joy, spirituality, and creativity. All of these can spill over into how we feed ourselves mentally, as well, but they are predominantly spiritual food.
When talking about spiritual food, it is important to look at our own spirituality first. Are we spiritual? Are we religious? What is the difference between those two? And more importantly, why does that matter?
You may consider yourself spiritual and not religious. Perhaps religion has burned you too many times in the past, or perhaps you don’t believe in God, yet there is a supernatural entity that guides you. Some refer to this as “the universe.” But what exactly is the difference between being spiritual and being religious? Religion has a set belief system and set practices people must (well should, anyway,) adhere to, and this is usually shared amongst a group of individuals. Spirituality, on the other hand, is more individualized, and is more attuned to finding that inner purpose and peace within our soul.
Imagine it something like this. You’re playing a game of soccer. The rules and referees help guide you in playing the game same as the other people on the field. The rules being those practices and the referee being like the pastor or other church leadership. All of this is in place so that you can cultivate a sense of spirituality. Now, imagine if you were just on the soccer field by yourself, practicing your footwork and your penalty kicks. This is more akin to spirituality. You are going at your own pace and following your own set of rules to help you succeed in whichever area you need to focus more on.
Regardless of how you play the game, it is important that you play it. Studies have actually shown that people who adopt a spiritual identity are less likely to develop depression. They have more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Overall, they are happier individuals. After conducting research in 2013, David Rosmarin, a clinician and instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston “found that patients who had higher levels of belief in God had better treatment outcomes – better well-being, less depression and less anxiety.” (Rettner, 2015)
Joy and Creativity
That is also why joy and creativity are included in our spiritual food. If we take care of our bodies spiritually, joy will follow, as will creativity. I know that I am more mentally fecund after I spend time with God in the morning reading the Bible. He gives me the strength, stamina, and drive that I need to do everything that I do each day, and I will say that since adding a morning routine to my schedule and putting Him first, each one of my days has been wonderful. I’ve never been happier in life, and I create something awesome each and every day, even if it’s something as mundane as this blog post.
Finally, we have the food to feed our mental appetite. These are things like finances, our career, and our education. Education, you may be thinking, is an obvious no-brainer (pun intended) here in nurturing our mental health. Adopting a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset can really help us nurture this specific aspect of our mental health. For more information on those two types of mindsets, look at this blog post I wrote earlier about it.
Other ways we can always be learning is through the books we read. To see a list of my top-five must-read non-fiction books, make sure you visit this blog post.
Career is here because it is many times overlooked. Do we find fulfillment in our career? Is it mentally stimulating? Is it providing us with the satisfaction that we need? If not, if it is just a job to make ends meet, then perhaps you aren’t truly doing what you were put on this earth to do. I’ll be talking about that in a separate blog post later, but I believe that our career is like our purpose in life, and that purpose in life is only known if we connect to a higher spiritual identity. I’m currently writing a book about this specific topic, and so if you want more updates on that, feel free to join my newsletter, but if you don’t like your job, if you don’t find passion or enjoyment or fulfillment in it, start talking to the big man upstairs and asking Him to guide you into your true path. That is how I found mine.
And, speaking of careers, I want to say one more thing about this. The job that I have right now as an English Educator here in China isn’t fulfilling. To be honest, I don’t find a sense of purpose in it. So, why then do I keep it? One, it provides my visa to stay in China.
Second, it gives me the time to pursue my real passion, which is writing my fantasy series Guardian of the Core. Writing a little each and every day is how I stimulate my mental creativity and is a large part of how I feed myself mentallyIf you like space fantasy and want to check out something that is a mix between Harry Potter and Hunger Games with the suspense of Game of Thrones, feel free to check out my first novel, The Trials of the Core.
Finally, we have finances, and it’s included here as part of our mental food because as Snoop Dogg says, “I’ve got my mind on my money and my money on my mind.” 😛Okay, that isn’t the real reason why it’s here, but it’s funny, nonetheless, right? Anyway, finances play a big role in our mental health because if we are good at managing our finances then we won’t feel worried. If we are merely living from paycheck to paycheck, imagine how stressed out and anxious we are. If we are just barely making enough to live, but not enough to save, that leads to anxiety as well and overall stimulates cortisol levels (the fear hormone) in our brain. To help combat this, many health coaches will advise their clients to start assembling a budget and begin allocating a certain amount of money each paycheck towards necessities and savings.
To be honest, I never started keeping a budget until this past year in 2012. Then I divided everything up. I began with taking my take-home pay, whatever that was, and subtracting the necessary expenses from it (things like the cost of my master’s degree, rent, subscription plans, etc.). I even put aside x amount of money for saving and investment. Then I divvied up the rest of the money into other categories like miscellaneous expenses, groceries, and my author career/marketing. Since doing this, I have felt so much better about my money, and I have a clear idea of where it is going each and every month. In fact, I now have even budgeted tithing into my monthly salary, so I make sure I give 10% of my take-home to God each and every month. That is because I want to give Him my 110%. 100% of me and 10% of my salary, but of course, this should come from your heart, not because you feel that you have to do it. Regardless of this, though, you should start a budget and keep it and track where your expenses are going. You’d be surprised. I know I was surprised just how much money I was spending on alcohol some months, and so now I have nearly quit that habit.
The Circle of Life
That was a lot of information! To help my clients keep track of this all and to help them organize, evaluate, and analyze their own holistic health, I use a tool developed at IIN called the Circle of Life. All you do is take a pen and place a dot of how satisfied you are in this area of holistic health. If you are extremely satisfied with your finances, for example, you would place it on the border at the top; if you are unsatisfied with your physical activity, you would place a dot closer to the center. After you analyze how satisfied you are in all twelve areas, connect the dots and you’ll have a graphic that looks something like mine.
As you can see, my home environment and my relationships and social life are the lowest right now. This makes sense considering we are still in the throes of the pandemic, but I am very satisfied with the other areas of my life currently. While it may be impossible to have all twelve aspects of holistic health reach the outer ridge, it is important to notice which areas you need more focus on. This year, try to pay more attention to those areas!
Why We Need Holistic Health
As you can see, holistic health is quite comprehensive. It is much more granular than merely the food on our plate, and not much of these really deal with the medicines we are taking. That is because holistic health coaches believe that the bodies can heal themselves, most of the time, if they are given the right amount of support and proper nourishment.
It is a revolutionary idea of healthcare that is slowly growing in acceptance as the traditional healthcare model spins out of control. Not only are healthcare costs skyrocketing and unaffordable for most individuals without insurance, physicians are overworked.
In fact, the Physicians Foundation found that 80% of physicians across all specialties report being at full capacity or overextended, and 78% reported sometimes, often, or always experiencing feelings of burnout. 62% of U.S. doctors are pessimistic about the future of medicine, and 49% wouldn’t recommend medicine as a career to their children. You can find the study linked here, but overall, this paints a pretty bleak picture of the future, and keep in mind that this was done in 2018, before the pandemic. The pandemic has surely only exacerbated this trend.
Holistic health coaches, like myself, are the individualized attention people need to start adopting better life habits, living a healthier lifestyle, and that support system to keep motivated when the going gets tough. In our first consultation with prospective clients, we sit down and find out their goals; we take a look at their health history, and we get to understand who they are and what their why is for achieving their desired result. They get to know more about us, too. This interaction allows health coaches to build rapport with our clients right from the starting point and fosters a relationship that shows them that they are more than just a number. They matter, as do their goals and their health journey, whatever that journey may be. Being a health coach isn’t about subscribing to them a diet, it is about meeting them where they are and providing them tips and advice and support to live their lifestyle.
That is why I’m excited about building my holistic health coaching brand of Life’s Kitchen. Here in Life’s Kitchen, I give you the ingredients so that you can make your best life. If you would like to schedule a free one-on-one consultation, feel free to reach out and contact me. Stop living a diet, life a lifestyle, live here in Life’s Kitchen.