We’ve gotten so used to seeing various step-by-step diet and fitness plans that it’s often difficult to tell people, as a health coach, that I don’t have a plan for them to follow. I can’t tell them what to eat for each meal, how many calories to count, how much water they should be drinking, or how long they need to workout each day. That’s up to them to formulate as they move along their long-term wellness path and it’s unique to each of us. I can help with general info, and what works for most people, but learning the specifics of your wellness practice is part of the fun and it grows stronger the more you practice it! Below are my 4 pillars that I share with people and there’s nothing ground breaking here, folks. They’re my top priorities and the foundation for my daily practice. How they look can vary from time to time and I love infusing a variety of foods, movement, and mindfulness practices.
You’ll often hear “mind, body, spirit, emotions” are the 4 components of holistic wellness and I agree with this. Holistic well-being is the balance and harmony of these, but today we’re going to focus more on the physical and mental side of any wellness practice. Other aspects like financial and emotional wellness are very important too, but my emotional practice falls under mindfulness, and financial wellness looks quite different from person to person.
- Whole foods
Eat Mainly Whole Foods
The bulk of what we eat needs to come from land, water, or tissue (tissue being the lowest intake and if you’re vegetarian, just ignore that part). By “bulk,” I mean 75% of our daily intake. That sound high? It’s a heck of a lot higher than the Standard American Diet allows and it often costs more, to be honest. We’ve got a screwed up system in this country and processed crap is often a lot cheaper. However, eating primarily at home saves us big time, and you don’t have to get organic everything. For most of us, it’ll cost more in the long run not to pay up front for the fuel we feed our bodies. Each day as I begin my meditation practice, I start by thanking my body for working so hard 24/7 for my success. The least I can do is feed it the proper fuel to keep up the hard work.
Hydrate. Water is the majority of what our bodies are made up of down to every cell working super hard for our success. Processed foods often do more to dehydrate our bodies while whole foods, like fruits and veggies, replenish our water supply along with adding other nutrients with each bite. There’s no magic number we all need to be drinking, but I err on the side of drinking small amounts of water from waking to sleeping. Remember that coffee and caffeinated teas act as diuretics and actually pull water from our systems! Be sure to drink plain water (flavored with pure essential oils is fine of course!) throughout the day. That feeling of thirst doesn’t mean you’re dehydrated, but it’s your body’s way of saying “we need more soon,” so listen and give it what it needs before you’re super thirsty!
Move EVERY Day
We’re surrounded by so many mixed messages out there about how frequently we need to move to maintain healthy fitness levels for our bones, tissues, hormones, digestion, heart, etc. This I know: Our bodies were BUILT to move and move every day. Sure, take Sunday off to recover from a harder Saturday run, but still get up and move around, practice yoga, go for a nature walk, stretch, etc. When we sit too much, our organs don’t work properly. They began shutting down as if we’re ill or in a deep sleep and this process negatively affects our digestion, circadian rhythms, hormone production, immunity, mental wellness, and so much more. Researchers are tying immune system dysfunction to lack of movement more and more these days. You don’t need to run marathons to get the immunity-boosting power of daily movement; simple stretches, walking, cardio, lifting, cycling, yoga, and so much more contribute to healthier immune systems.
You know my mantra by now: you don’t need a gym membership to move it move it! Get outside, find a workout on YouTube indoors, play fetch with the pup, teach your kiddo how to ride their bike and jog along next to them. There are tons of options and variety is always the spice of life when it comes to our wellness practice!
Adequate Recovery + Sleep
Let’s face it, most of us today are so well beyond the “a dose of stress is healthy for us!” that it’s a joke to even point those stats out until we’ve designed more balance and harmony into our “busy lives.” We’re glued to our phones, slaves to our emails and texts, we stay indoors far too much, and when it comes to sleep, many of us still mentally fight it like a toddler even if we don’t know why proper recovery eludes us. Human bodies were made to deal with short moments of heightened stress, followed by ample recovery time. Instead, most of us are working long hours, addicted to our technology, and not sleeping enough. Our stress epidemic is what researchers and stress specialists are blaming many modern chronic diseases on.
A few tips for better sleep schedules:
- Set your phone to “night light” 2 hours before bedtime each day. This cuts off the blue light which stimulates our brains and keeps us awake.
- Go to bed the same time each day even if you’re not feeling tired yet. Our bodies are creatures of habit and keeping a set time for bedtime and waking helps build those healthier habits.
- Set your home temperature to cool down 30 minutes prior to sleep. Dropping our core temperature gets our bodies ready for sleep. A cold shower can help in a pinch too.
- See whole foods and movement above. When our heads hit the pillow at night, we should feel “spent” but not overly exhausted. If your daily routines (food, exercise, mindfulness) aren’t congruent with your sleep needs, you’ll need to make some adjustments. For example, on days I feel overworked, I always have trouble getting to sleep and “turning off my brain.” Days I make space for walks outside, time away from technology, and meals rich in nutrients, nearly always lead to better sleep at night.
I recently wrote about the power of setting intentions and also in the past when we were discussing building our stress prevention habits. Science has shown us some really cool discoveries about how much mindfulness practices affect our brains by literally changing the sizes and shapes of key areas tied to stress reactions and emotions. Mindfulness comes in MANY forms and if sitting cross-legged on a mat for formal meditation isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Mindfulness is just the present awareness of our surroundings without any judgement. It puts us in the present moment and pulls us away from our anxious future-focused or past-obsessed thoughts. I’ve personally found an overwhelming level of GRATITUDE that comes from my mindful practices. Once I slow down, focus on my breath and all the things my body is doing for my daily success, all the support and love I have in my life, our home, our health, etc., I’m often overwhelmed with gratitude for this incredible gift of life.
Here are some different ways to practice mindfulness daily:
- Take a walk and, to yourself, describe your natural surroundings. Even if you’re not particularly inspired by your surroundings, describe what you’re experiencing. “The concrete under my feet is hard.” “The breeze on my skin feels cool.” “It smells like fresh cut grass and dirt.”
- Take 5 minutes of solitude and just focus on your breath. Close your eyes if that helps you focus.
- Download a meditation app and give it a shot. There are tons out there and you can try a guided meditation or just a timer to make the space for it.
I am not a licensed nutritionist or dietitian. You should always consult with a nutritionist and your primary care provider before changing diets in any way or your doctor before trying out any supplement or medication. This article is not meant to cure, heal or otherwise solve any medical conditions whatsoever. It is based on personal experience and research.