Why am I so passionate about integrative and functional nutrition, and living a healthy lifestyle? Unlike many other natural health practitioners, I don’t have a big story about why I got into this line of work. It simply makes sense to me that given the right tools, our bodies will heal and regenerate themselves. I don’t think it’s “normal” to start getting stiff, develop aching joints, lose your memory and start getting sick as you age. There are people playing tennis, volunteering and thriving in their 90s and beyond. Wouldn’t it be great if THAT were the norm, and we questioned why people were complaining of those other symptoms? I no longer fear that our current paradigm is how it has to be, and that a random illness could strike at any time—I find it so empowering to continue learning about these tools, which aren’t actually all that complicated—to feel strong, happy and healthy.
Functional nutrition and medicine is a preventative, health- and patient-oriented approach to wellness and healthcare that takes bioindividuality into account. It’s about looking underneath the surface, and discovering the root of any discomfort, symptom or barrier to complete health. I appreciate the term “integrative” because it calls forth the concept of a holistic approach to wellness and how the elements to vitality are intertwined. Our bodily systems are all interconnected, so our gut affects our brain, our brain affects our gut, and every other organ works together. We can’t separate out each part without considering the whole body, even though there are specialists for each. It’s not just about the food we eat, the exercise we do, the career we have, etc. It’s about how all of those things and more come together to create the picture of health for each of us.
Before we do anything else, we need to take a look at our everyday behaviors. How do we feel more joyful and alive, in mind, body and spirit? There are several pillars of a healthy lifestyle, and a whole-foods diet is only one of them. How many of the other factors are you focused on?
- Movement: The benefits of exercise are numerous; our bodies were meant to move. Consistency is the key here, but there’s no need to become a gym rat. The CDC’s recommendation for exercise for adults ages 18-64 is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week (or a combination), plus 2 days of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups. Avoid over-training; it can be just as harmful as too little exercise.
- Quality sleep: Poor sleep is associated with weight gain, depression and anxiety, and other health conditions. Most of us need 7-9 hours per night for optimal brain function, mood, cell repair and virtually every bodily process.
- Proper hydration: Aim for half your weight in ounces of water per day, and drink a glass of water before eating. Sometimes thirst is masked as hunger. Another way to gauge hydration status? Make sure your urine is a pale yellow.
- Stress management: Without an outlet to shave off some stress, you’re at higher risk for heart disease, early aging, emotional outbursts, weight gain, a weakened immune system, and even gum disease and tooth grinding. Find ways of releasing tension like deep breathing, yoga, meditation, adult coloring books, reading, taking baths, laughing and quiet time.
- Toxin reduction: Chemicals, heavy metals and mold can wreak havoc on our health. Choose natural cleaning and body care products, and get yourself and your home tested if you or a healthcare provider suspects one of these hazards is hurting you.
- Time spent in nature: Exposure to too much artificial light (especially at night) and too little natural light (particularly early in the morning) can disrupt our sleep cycle and put us at risk for mood disorders. Try to take a quick walk or bask in the sun first thing when you wake up, and dim your lights at home toward bedtime, turn off your screens at least two hours before bedtime and try programs like f.lux to adjust the light emitted from your devices.
- Social support: Physical touch, a sense of purpose, and human interaction and sharing are important parts of a larger picture of health. A 2013 study found that people who felt more socially isolated had a higher risk of premature death. So spend some time fostering those friendships! Better yet, share a meal together.