Nutrition is one of my favorite subjects. I love the fact that I have the power to heal my body with food. After all, food is fuel and we need to be putting the right kind of fuel in our bodies if we expect them to function well (which would include storing–and shedding–the appropriate amount of body fat.)
But fuel isn’t everything. Think of your body like a car. Your car needs fuel to run, period. There’s no argument there. In fact, I’ll bet you agree that the kind of fuel you put in your car is pretty important. And, for most of our cars, the right fuel is a quality gasoline. Some cars require more than others and need premium grade gasoline, while others get by just fine on the regular stuff. When ethanol was added to the gasoline supply, you probably noticed your miles-per-gallon dropped a bit.
And like your car, your body is vastly affected by the kind of fuel you put in it.
But today I don’t want to talk about fuel. Yes, it’s a very important subject, but it’s not the only subject. So back to the car analogy:
Let’s say you’re putting the right fuel in your car, making sure it has enough to run as needed at any given time. But your car still isn’t running right. You start to get anxious because your car is sputtering and not starting up well on cold mornings. It just feels like it’s running on the sluggish side.
So you decide to opt for premium gas next time you fill up. It doesn’t seem to help, so you decide to give it some time and keep using premium. When this doesn’t help, you try filling the car up more often or less often (depending on which mechanic you go to for advice). You might try never giving your car more than half a tank of gas, or you may try topping it off and going longer between fill-ups.
When these things don’t seem to help much, you start to question your methods. It can get confusing really fast if you’re relying entirely on fuel to solve your car’s mechanical problems.
Because your car needs more than just good fuel, and so does your body.
For instance, maybe you have a manual transmission and you’ve been driving it like a teenager with a learner’s permit for the past five years. There’s nothing wrong with your gasoline–your clutch is burned out! Same goes if you’ve blown a tire, or if your oil needs changing. By putting your focus completely on fuel, you’re ignoring other possible causes of your car trouble.
Now let’s say you figured out you needed a new clutch and replaced the old one, so you figure you don’t need to worry about gasoline anymore. Well, that doesn’t work either, because your car still needs gasoline! And it always will, no matter how well you maintain every other part of your vehicle.
So while I’m not trying to underplay the effects of choosing the right fuel, I do want to suggest the fact that there are other factors that come into play as well.
Of course, this analogy isn’t perfect because the body can actually use quality fuel (real food) to repair damage in every part of the body. A car can’t repair its clutch with gasoline–it just won’t happen. But I hope this little model gives you an idea of where I’m coming from.
Here’s an example:
You learn about real food. You replace the vegetable oil in your diet with healthy fats like butter and coconut oil. You add more healthy items like fresh milk, eggs and grass-fed meat to your diet. You replace refined sugars with healthier alternatives, and eat more fruits and veggies. You try your hand at soaking grains and making crispy nuts at home. You even give liver a shot and start eating it weekly. Wow, you’ve come a long way with your diet!
… you’re still only sleeping five hours most nights. You’re constantly busy, pushing yourself to stay on your toes because your workload is seemingly endless. You’ve volunteered yourself for so many activities you can barely keep track, plus you’re trying to keep up a decent exercise routine so you force yourself to get up early every morning to run. You’re not happy with your job, but you have to work because it’s hard enough to pay the bills already. You may feel like you have no emotional support, no where to turn and life feels like a trap. You’re working hard to stick to a real food diet, but when life gets hard you still feel like turning to an old stand-by–whether that’s alcohol, sugar, caffeine or something else you know is not good for you in excess.
Well, maybe you don’t relate to every sentence in the above paragraph, but do some of them ring a bell? Believe it or not, this kind of lifestyle undermines your eating habits. It can not only negate the benefits of eating healthy food, it can actually make it harder to make the best choices when it comes to what you eat.
There’s a million labels you can put on the lifestyle factors I described above, but overall I would describe them as stress. They put stress on your body and rob you of your vitality. This sends your hormones and biochemicals on such a downward spiral, it can actually make you gain weight (or keep you from losing weight). Eating a real food diet can help (and is certainly much better that eating the typical modern fare), but if you don’t examine your lifestyle and make positive changes, real food can only do so much.
Physical and Emotional Signs of a Stressful Lifestyle
Sometimes we don’t recognize that the way we live is stressing us out. Here’s some signs you can look for to see if your lifestyle is stressful:
– Back pain
– Grinding your teeth (particularly at night)
– Frequently racing heart
– Difficulty sleeping
– Tight neck and/or shoulders
– Overly critical attitude or a tendency to be bossy
– Nervous, anxious or worrisome thought patterns
Here is a collection of tips for living a less stressful lifestyle:
Make priorities for your time. Schedule if necessary, but don’t overburden every moment of your day with tasks and to-do lists.Practice deep breathing. I wrote a post on this recently, which you can read here.Exercise–but don’t over exercise. Don’t exercise to the point of exhaustion. You don’t have to run a daily marathon to enjoy the benefits of exercise. (Yes, yoga and walking count!)Laugh! Do what it takes to regain your sense of humor if you feel like you lost it. Watch silly TV shows, learn to laugh at yourself. After all, laughter is the best medicine.Avoid toxic chemicals when possible. We drink them, eat them, breath them, absorb them through our skin: toxins are stressful! Do what you can do avoid unnecessary exposure to common chemicals. Use a water filter, clean with natural products, get plenty of fresh air, etc.Sleep is when the body repairs itself and prepares for living another day. It’s very important to make sleep a priority. Learn more about the benefits of sleep here.Avoid clutter, which is very distracting and stressful. Learn to let go of unneeded items, and organize the things you do want to keep. Of course, organizing can be stressful in and of itself, so take this one slow and just do what you can.Allow yourself to ask for help when you need it. We don’t have to do it all, and certainly not all by ourselves. Reach out to others, whether it’s friends, family or professionals.Take a break! A couple hours a day, a couple days a month and a couple weeks per year is a good motto. You don’t have to be on 24/7, 365 days a year. Plan a little downtime every day where you can read a good book, watch a sunset or take a long, hot bath. If you can afford it, take a vacation once in a while. There’s nothing like a few nights at the beach or in the mountains to refresh and invigorate yourself.
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday hosted by Kelly the Kitchen Kop this week.
Elizabeth is the founder and creative director at The Nourished Life. Her mission is to help people find a more balanced (less stressful!) approach to living a happy, healthy life. Read more about Elizabeth here.