Is there a "right" way to jumpstart your health journey? With the arrival of the new year, many of us with resolutions or not are doing our darnedest to eat more healthfully but very often we feel stuck in negative health patterns. We may feel overwhelmed because we feel we have to “fix” everything about us and just don’t know where to start. Other times we feel we have developed such deep-rooted habits that we can’t imagine changing them. And then there are times when we don’t even realize what is holding us back from feeling our best selves and believe that the sluggishness, the aches and pains, the mental fog or the frequent bloating or constipation are just part of getting older or our changing hormones.
While everyone’s health journey is unique, a structured nutrition and wellness program can provide a helpful roadmap to restart your path to moving away from pain and toward unmet health goals. Investing time and energy into this kind of self-care can help you understand what your “normal” can be. For one thing, a nutrition program can help boost your body’s natural ability to detoxify. With thousands of chemicals in the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink, it is essential that the body is optimized to rid itself of these toxins and recharge our liver and kidneys. A program can also help you rebalance our blood sugar levels which may be creating mood and energy distress from excess caffeine and sugars along with the stress of daily life. A good program can help you reduce inflammation which can create aches and joint pain and de-stress an overactive immune system. Lastly, a nutrition program can help boost your gut health which can easily get ravaged by medication, alcohol and nutrient imbalances.
Here are some elements to think about as you are deciding whether a short-term nutrition program has the right ingredients for you.
1. Are you adding in? Or just taking out?
Many programs will encourage you to remove potentially inflammatory foods like gluten or dairy and toxins like artificial sweeteners and processed foods. The key, however, is learning what foods and beverages to replace them with as it is often the foods that we are leaving out that can have the biggest impact on our health. For example, most of us aren’t eating nearly enough brightly-colored fruits and veggies which are key to reducing our risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and many other conditions. And very few of us are familiar with the incredible power of super foods such as sea vegetables, fermented foods, healing herbs, seeds and spices, teas and broths. A nutrition program is a great opportunity to explore amazing foods you may be unfamiliar with using delicious, kitchen-friendly recipes.
2. Are you supporting your whole physical, emotional and mental self?
A program focused on your whole being is going to help you explore not just reactive foods and beverages but the beliefs, emotions and lifestyle barriers that are preventing you from living your best life. For example, you can change up what you eat but if you are still only getting 6 hours of sleep at night, you are making it really hard on yourself to make those changes stick and reap their health benefits. Sleep, mindfulness, movement and connectedness are some of the essential components that can support our nutrition goals or derail our best efforts.
Our relationship with food and our bodies also present significant, sometimes long-standing, barriers to creating true lifestyle change. It is only when we start to recognize and replace toxic thoughts like how much we hate our thighs and toxic actions like constantly holding our bodies up to external measures, that our opportunity to create sustainable change really exists. A nutrition program presents an incredible opportunity to explore these beliefs as many cravings disappear when we eliminate and add in foods that impact our blood sugar levels and digestion.
3. Are you enjoying whole, seasonal foods and beverages?
One of the best things we can do for our body is re-introduce it to the foods that our grandparents and their ancestors ate before our grocery stores became stocked with products that did not exist 80 years ago. When we forego counting calories or points in lieu of feeding ourselves with nutrient-dense foods without labels, amazing things happen. Our tastes change; our cravings go away, the natural flavor of food returns and delights us. Resetting your eating patterns requires a new relationship with and appreciation for real food and how it makes you feel which cannot be attained by replacing what you used to eat with powders and shakes. When you can buy your meals in a can online, you may want to rethink your approach.
In addition, by recognizing that in the winter our bodies thrive on warm, cooked foods and vegetables like sweet potatoes, collard greens and onions, we honor our body’s relationship with the seasons, with the earth and feel more connected to our synergistic role on this planet. In the winter, our bodies must build energy to sustain the cold and darkness where as in spring and summer, we begin to shed and crave raw, cooling foods. Many herbs, spices, and teas have warming properties that help maintain heat and general well-being throughout the winter. Seasonal eating also helps ensure our food can be locally-derived which enhances its nutrient value and taste.
4. Are you preparing for living well after your program?
Any nutrition program is just a start. After spending days or weeks feeling great and finding out what your body and mind can really feel like, do you feel empowered to keep supporting yourself? How will you re-introduce potentially problematic foods? It is essential that during your program you are encouraged not to just follow along focused on results but taking control of your own health journey and becoming aware of your own unique wellness needs through support, information and community.