“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” — Aristotle.
I’ve also seen his phrase re-written in slightly less pithy but possibly even more meaningful words, especially for today’s topic: “The system is something besides, and the not the same as its elements.” I absolutely love how precisely this truth applies to my work in creating optimal individualized whole health recipes. There are indeed various essential elements (ingredients) in any healthy life recipe. But the system is not the same as those elements. In my SYSTEM, we track each of these elements as well as the results that are produced by experimenting with certain changes to those elements. That system is how we arrive at your ideal health recipe. But the amount of each ingredient that is necessary for each person to survive vs. thrive vs. suffer will vary.
Let’s explore this.
Although nutritious food is one of the foundations to living a happy and healthy life), the other ingredients in your life recipe are just as important as eating enough veggies and nailing down your optimal macro ratio. I could customize the perfect whole food meal plan for someone, but if that person wasn’t able to effectively manage stress and get enough water, sleep, physical activity, creativity, joy, and meaningful human and spiritual connection, they probably wouldn’t feel (or appear) very healthy.
Fortunately, clients don’t stay in the scenario I just described very long, and I humbly admit that has very little to do with me; there’s a positive synergistic effect that happens when we consistently improve even a few of these ingredients because they all impact one another.
You may have experienced this phenomenon with things going in the wrong direction. Maybe you’ve found yourself stuck in a spiral of bad food choices after an injury caused your fitness routine to get off track, or when caring for a sick family member resulted in a few weeks of bad sleep, or you’ve been stressed about the next round of layoffs. Perhaps you’ve experienced worsened food cravings on days when you forget your water bottle. And did you notice that caving to that craving perpetuated cravings for days? Or maybe (likely) you didn’t even stop long enough to make these connections, maybe you have no idea how to get them to stop to this day, and you are still struggling!
Here’s the good news….
These ingredients can absolutely pull one another down like that, but they can also pull one another up — especially when you’re being coached on mindfulness, being held accountable, and experiencing physical, mental, and emotional progress.
For instance, when starting out on a health journey, I have people begin by focusing on eating more whole foods rich in fiber and diverse in color and less processed foods/added sugar. And I coach them to start paying attention to subtle cues from their body, which sometimes (not always) results in a realization that “hunger” was a misunderstood thirst signal.
Remedying hydration alone fixes a large percentage of the problems I see, but there’s many more connections and improvements in other ingredients to be made.
Since they’re paying attention, most clients find themselves having more energy relatively quickly. Increased energy improves the chances of intentional physical activity which often has a positive effect on sleep. Better sleep can improve cravings and mood (as can more nutrient-dense foods). When you’re in a better mood, you are less likely to eat emotionally; rather, food becomes fuel. When fueling your body is the primary goal, many things improve because we are giving the brain and the body what it needs to function optimally. So, we see mood and energy scores continue to climb throughout this process.
Additionally, as we start out on this new journey, we work on some written goals, which actually makes good use of the brain’s reticular activating system (RAS). The RAS is essentially just a bundle of nerves that filter the 11 million bits of information per second coming in. Since we can’t possibly process all that information, the RAS acts as a gatekeeper that decides what information is processed, corroborated, or discarded. So, when we set a new intention for health improvements, that RAS begins looking for other supporting information to corroborate those intentions. Clients start paying more attention to all things healthy and seeing opportunities to improve their health everywhere, (with a little bit of my help of course).
This process is similar to when you buy a new car, and you start to notice that car everywhere on the road. It was always there; you just weren’t paying attention. It’s almost inevitable — when you start incorporating healthy habits, you will start to notice more things you could do to improve your health. You’ll see signs everywhere if you’re paying attention.
I don’t want to discount the importance of improving food choices. This is an absolute essential step. Nutrient-dense foods are being pushed off our plates at record speed, resulting in nutrient-deficiencies and an endless stream of health problems. Ultra-processed foods with little to no nutritive value are now making up about 60% of US calories and are directly linked to a 31% increased risk of all-cause mortality and the current obesity epidemic. We are overfed but malnourished, nutrient deficient and literally starving to death in a pool of obesity. And the abundance of ultra-processed food choices is largely to blame because they are engineered for optimal taste and presentation and intentionally targeting our susceptible neurobiology. And as they push the more nutrient dense foods from our plates, they can create nutrient deficiencies which (among many other things) can cause cravings. And thus, they cycle goes round and round.
So yes… we need to make more educated, intentional, nutrient-dense food choices. This takes preparation, commitment, and accountability. But if you’re not getting “filled up” with joy by enough non-food forms of nutrition (creative outlets, service work, fulfilling social engagements, sleep, movement, etc.) you may very well be able to eat and eat and eat but never feel satisfied which will make getting healthy almost impossible and definitely not sustainable. On the other hand, if you have the right amounts and variety of those other sources of nutrition, and then we get your bio-profile nailed down, you may be surprised just how few calories it takes to keep you satisfied. Or who knows — maybe it takes more food than you though it would. That totally depends on the person.
When first starting out with a new client, we take an inventory of all these ingredients, and the results of this assessment are how we start writing goals for our time together. You asked for it, so here you go! This personalized assessment is now available online!
Use it to help gauge how you’re doing in key areas of your life and reach out if you need help coming up with a plan. Most people know what to do to be healthier, but life, work, and obligations get in the way, so it can feel impossible to do it alone. If you’re in that stuck space, I can help. I will be there to guide, support, interpret, and help you create your life’s recipe, giving you your best life.
Ultra-processed food consumption and adult obesity risk: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis
Processed and ultra-processed foods: coming to a health problem?
Ultra-Processed Foods Are Not “Real Food” but Really Affect Your Health
Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study (NutriNet-Santé)
Ultra-processed food intake and mortality in the USA: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III, 1988–1994) 31% increase in all-cause mortality
Recent cross-sectional studies using individual-level consumption data have reported that ultra-processed foods contribute 25–60% of total energy intake in the USA( 2 ), Canada( 3 ), Brazil( 4 ), France( 5 ), Mexico( 6 ) and Chile( 7 ). In the USA, these foods account for a strikingly high percentage (90%) of the energy from added sugar( 2 ).
Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study– Ultra-processed foods comprised 57.9% of energy intake, and contributed 89.7% of the energy intake from added sugars
The share of ultra-processed foods and the overall nutritional quality of diets in the US: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study