As a Nutrition Practitioner I get asked a lot about the ‘perfect diet’ and I’ve realised that whilst the answer to this question is “there is no such thing”, the context of the question or the reason for the question is usually to find a more effective way to lose weight or achieve that ‘ideal figure’ we all so obsessively desire.
So with that in mind I want to bring your awareness to thinking about health differently and understanding what ‘health’ really means and the best way each of us can take steps to achieve it. Being healthier doesn’t always equate to losing weight. Think about your health in terms of skin health, gut health, mental health, emotional health and not just about losing inches from your waistline.
Our bodies are the most amazing machines and when functioning optimally or in, what’s known as homeostasis, then everything is as it should be and in balance. Our bodies are constantly trying to reach this state of balance but we are continually making that a challenge with our busy lives, our environments and our dietary choices; essentially pushing the boundaries from health states to states of dis-ease. So below I have outlined 5 keys areas that will continually push us out of balance and affect our ability to achieve that all-elusive ‘better health’.
We’ve all experienced stress at some point or other in our lives but for some this is a constant, daily battle. But how does it affect our health? Dr. Sapolski states that in the short term, stress hormones are “brilliantly adapted” to help you survive an unexpected threat. “You mobilize energy in your thigh muscles, you increase your blood pressure and you turn off everything that’s not essential to surviving, such as digestion, growth and reproduction. All of that is spectacularly adapted if you’re dealing with an acute physical stressor—a real one” like a sabre-toothed tiger.
But non-life-threatening stressors, such as constantly worrying about money, a global pandemic or pleasing your boss, also trigger the same stress response, which, over time, can have devastating consequences to your health: So, “If you turn on the stress response constantly for purely psychological reasons, as opposed to a physical stressor, you increase your risk of things like adult onset diabetes and high blood pressure. In this stressed state, you’re also continually shutting down the digestive system, putting yourself at greater risk for a whole bunch of gastrointestinal disorders as well.
When we think of toxins we think of solvents and chemicals used in industry but we rarely like to think about our makeup, our personal care products and most of all, our food. But the reality is that we ingest a huge amount of toxins on a daily basis so it’s not only important that we’re aware of the source of these toxins but also the impact they have on our health. So where do they come from? I’ve broken these down into four categories below to help you become more aware of sources of toxins in your diet and lifestyle.
- Endogenous toxins – these are produced inside of your body i.e. waste products from normal metabolic activities like carbon dioxide, urea, and lactic acid for example.
- Dietary toxins – from things like preservatives, additives; fish; meat; PAH’s (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons); plastics; smoking; water; fruits, vegetables (pesticides, herbicides)
- Personal care products – Perfumes/Aftershaves; shampoos, conditioners; make-up; creams etc.
- Environmental toxins from car fumes; industry chemicals; cleaning products; air pollution; mould.
A true food allergy is where a person’s immune system produces IgE (Immunoglobulin E) antibodies in response to a particular food they’ve just eaten, initiating a cascade of events that can be life threatening. Food intolerances on the other hand are not IgE mediated and are thought to be caused by specific enzyme deficiencies, gastrointestinal issues or impaired food absorption for example. Intolerances to certain foods generally don’t trigger the immediate reaction associated with food allergies but they are every bit as real and can cause things like vomiting, bloating, diarrhoea, reflux, fatigue, brain fog, skin issues (eczema, psoriasis), wheezing/respiratory issues.
Generally people will know if they are allergic to a certain food but won’t know if they are intolerant. So, think about the foods you eat on a daily basis and connect the food you eat with how you feel. Do you experience bloating on a regular basis after eating a sandwich at lunch? Does heartburn/reflux affect you on a daily basis? Do you get itchy skin? Are hives an issue? Are you constantly tired?
Gut health is so important to our overall health and it’s the place where a huge amount of vitamins, hormones and neurotransmitters are produced so it’s vital we keep it healthy so that we can function optimally. There’s a lot more to gut health than just weight lose so it’s essential we have the right fuel for our guts to function and that’s predominately beneficial bacteria, among other things. So, do you include some fermented foods like miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, dairy products for example, in the diet? Or do you live a high stress life and eat a lot of processed foods and sugars that will be contributing to unhealthy gut function?
- Poor Diet
The biggest driver of poor diet is sugar. Sugar is not just the added sugar to cereals or the chocolate bars etc. but it’s things like sweeteners, cakes, pastries, cereal bars and even foods that convert to sugars very quickly in our bodies like white pasta, white bread, white rice, alcohol.
We all know what ‘healthy foods’ look like and the foods we should be eating but making healthy choices on a daily basis can be challenging and often leads to feelings of deprivation and sometimes binge-style eating habits. I often equate a ‘bad diet’ to putting diesel in a petrol car and expecting it to function. We wouldn’t do it. Yet we continually fill our bodies with sugar and processed foods and expect ourselves to sleep well, perform well at work, be nice to our colleagues and family, and look ‘ten years younger’. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. The right foods are key to our health and that includes the health of our skin, our brains, our hearts and our waistlines. So if we start with looking at the fuel we give ourselves and what health goals we’re trying to achieve, then we’re in a better position to make some lasting changes.
I also want to stress that health is a journey, more so than a destination. Like building muscle in the gym takes effort and regular practise, so does our health. We make choices every single day, several times a day that affect our health so think about it as one good decision at a time that aligns with your health goals.
What choices do you make every day to positively affect your health? Leave a comment below.