To start the new year, Way to Wellness wants to do what we always want to do - offer a holistic and personalized approach to health and wellness. Articles will focus on what we refer to as the “big three” essential elements of health & wellness - nutrition, movement, and life balance. Our journey for January will focus on the element of nutrition. Movement & fitness topics will be addressed in February. And, we’ll begin the vast scope of life balance in March.
For most of us, eating is one of life’s great joys. As a foodie myself, I curate each eating experience whether going out or preparing a meal at home. However, others may feel like planning or preparing meals for the day just seems like another chore to put on the “to do” list. And, then there are those who prefer not to put much thought into what they eat and grab whatever is convenient. Regardless of what your eating preferences may be, your body has its own need for nutrition. If the needs have been neglected, it has a way of telling with frequent bouts of discomfort or onset of disease.
Our bodies need food to fuel growth, metabolism, and repair, says Andrea Nakayama, founder of the Functional Nutrition Alliance. And, every person is unique in what they need both physiologically and psychologically. So, it’s not surprising that the typical diet plans advertised to the masses usually are not very enjoyable, difficult to sustain, and may even be unhealthy. This is why at Way to Wellness the focus is on functional nutrition in order to consider and respect the uniqueness of each individual.
Functional nutrition is the holistic approach which takes into consideration lifestyle factors that affect food choices, such as activity levels, environment, stress, allergies, and chronic diseases. This type of holistic approach focuses on the body as a whole ecosystem. At the core is the concept of bio-individuality which is defined as a no one-size-fits-all approach to health and nutrition. Each person has their own specific nutritional and health needs, routines, practices, and preferences that work best.
There are a number of factors that influence your bio-individual health. Here are three that have a significant impact - genetics, gut microbiome, and metabolism. While we cannot choose our genetic make-up, we can affect the way our genes are expressed. This science of epigenetics is gaining more ground and you can read more about it on the Way to Wellness blog listed in the sources below.
You can begin to take action to improve your health with these three steps.
Eat a diet of real, whole foods – Optimal health is built on getting essential nutrients to grow, provide energy, and recover. Foods dense in nutrition include fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, quality protein, and healthy fats. While there is not a specific type of functional nutrition diet, look to the Mediterranean way of eating as a guide to eating whole, plant-based foods while eliminating processed foods.
Feed your gut microbiome – More than 70% of your immune system lives in your gut. It’s often referred to as the “second brain” and makes crucial hormones to support health. A diet full of processed foods can wreak havoc on your gut, causing leaky gut and leading to a host of health issues, such as bloating, gas, indigestion, brain fog, and chronic inflammation. Supporting your gut includes eating plenty of fiber, fermented foods, and staying hydrated.
Promote a Healthy Lifestyle – Areas of your life, such as physical activity, quality of relationships, stress levels, sleep routines, etc. all impact the way your body processes and uses the food you eat. By taking a close look at these areas of your life, you can identify the areas that need the most attention and begin to take steps to make changes.
Pay close attention to how your body responds when you eat certain foods and how you feel. Track this information for yourself, or consult a health professional. If you have specific dietary concerns or physical symptoms of discomfort, it would be prudent to consult with a functional nutrition specialist, or health care provider for a full assessment and recommendations.
Overall, the task is to couple pleasure with function when thinking about your daily food intake. Food and eating should be an enjoyable experience that increases health, as well as connection with others as we gather with family and friends to share a meal.
By Angela Schaack, LCSW, CIMHP
Institute for Integrative Nutrition: https://www.integrativenutrition.com/blog/what-is-functional-nutrition#
The Wellnest: https://www.humnutrition.com/blog/bio-individuality
Functional Nutrition Alliance: fxnutrition.com
Way to Wellness, LLC - Blog post on Epigenetics