Nourishing Health Not Hotness
What does it mean to nourish our bodies? Dictionary.com tells me that to nourish means to provide with the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition. In today’s modern western culture, to nourish, is often thrown around as a buzzword in various discussions surrounding health and wellness. So many conflicting opinions have emerged that we are often left wondering what REAL nourishment is for our bodies.
For me, the last 15 years have been an intensive period of both formal and informal education surrounding this topic with a lot of self experimentation and my views have fluctuated from one extreme to the next. For a good chunk of that time, I subscribed to the theory that my body would be nourished through a low fat, low calorie diet with plenty of exercise. In reality, this sort of lifestyle led me to be chronically UNDER fed and UNDER nourished. Sure, my weight was “normal to low” and I was quite thin but my body was far from nourished and far from healthy. I was right where our body image obsessed culture wanted me, believing that appearing healthy externally with a certain body fat percentage, bmi, jean size, weight, etc. was the truest measure of health while looking back, I was a far cry from healthy. This phenomenon is all too common in our culture that constantly pressures us to look a certain way.
Conversely, when I look at the majority of people around me, I see many who are chronically OVER fed and UNDER nourished. What do I mean by this? They are consuming an abundance of food and calories, yet their bodies are still lacking proper, real nourishment.
How do you know if you are under nourished?
Symptoms can be ever so subtle, but chances are you are under nourished if you generally don’t feel great, are tired, or lack energy. Or you may experience any number of more obvious conditions: skin problems, digestive problems, chronic headaches, joint pain, mood disorders, hormonal dysregulation, the list goes on and on. The important thing to recognize is that none of these are normal and are more than likely linked to a lack of nourishment.
How have we gotten here?
For most of history, people were hunters and gatherers. They ate fresh food from the land that they foraged, hunted, and then prepared themselves. Then, an era known as the agricultural revolution began. People transitioned from being nomadic hunters and gatherers to more stationary people tending the land. In more recent times, western civilizations underwent the industrial revolution. The documentary, Food Inc., which tracks the way this era transformed the food industry makes the case, “The way we eat has changed more in the past 50 years than in the previous 10 thousand.” Industrial food has left a tremendous impact on the type, quantity, price, and nutrient density of food available. People went from subsisting on fresh vegetables, meats, fruits, nuts, and seeds that they hunted, gathered or grew themselves or in their local community to suddenly having access to foods that were formulated in labs and produced in factories. Initially, this seemed like a great thing. People had access to cheap and convenient food that enabled them to work full time in other jobs instead of living off their own land. It is hard to argue that this fast, convenient food revolution isn’t directly linked to the epidemic of most of our culture being undernourished. The technologies and processes birthed out of the modern industrialized world offer many benefits but they can’t outwit nature. Food being produced in laboratories, no matter how enriched and fortified, cannot compare with consuming fresh, locally grown and harvested food that has kept humans nourished for generations.
What does this mean for us?
The truth is that almost everyone in our western civilization has grown up in this era where, from birth, people are chronically undernourished. Real, whole foods previously made with our own hands have been replaced by juices, pouches, bars, and other food like substances. Many who stand to profit from this industry will argue it, but look at any graph or chart showing the rise of modern day diseases and they correlate entirely with the availability and consumption of industrial food. The scariest trend of all being that these diseases continue to develop at younger and younger ages. Our bodies are simply weakening through the lack of proper nutrients it needs to build, heal, and repair itself.
The resiliency of our bodies is amazing. However, when we continually bombard it with unrecognizable “food” and a lack of necessary nutrients, it can only go for so long without breaking down. I don’t want to discount the role that genetics plays in this, but recent studies on epigenetics (the study of how genes can change based on inputs) is finding that in fact the food we put into our bodies has the ability to turn on and off the expressions of genes. Going back to our previous discussion on inputs and outputs – input properly prepared, real, whole food, the output is a nourished body. Input processed, convenient, sugar laden food like substances, the output is a weakened body susceptible to disease and illness.
That being said, the body IS extremely resilient and desires to be strong and healthy. The formula is basic; eat nutrient dense, real, whole foods, move your body, live in community with others. Think about the ways that people have lived for thousands of years. They didn’t sit at a desk and eat a bar out of a machine when they were hungry. All their needs were met within the community they lived in and contributed to. I get that our world looks much different today than it did then, but it doesn’t mean we can’t to steps to replicate these ideas. Walk to the grocery store instead of drive. Even better, volunteer at a local farm and pick the vegetables yourself. Prepare your food manually (i.e grind or chop it by hand instead of with a blender or processor). In all of these things we are creating multiple streams of healthy inputs for our bodies involving both movement and providing nutrient dense foods. Real nourishment comes through more than just food, which is a whole other topic to tackle.
Bringing it back full circle.
My main message is this. What does it look like to focus on health instead of external appearance? I hate to break it to you, but that image of the perfect body you have in your mind is probably not the healthiest body for you. And chances are, that model on the cover of the latest magazine you picked up is FAR from well nourished. If you are overweight, losing weight does not mean you are now healthier. Period. Eating nutrient dense, whole foods does. Chances are, in the long run, weight loss may be a result of eating a nutrient dense diet but it will not (and should not) happen overnight. In fact, it is likely that you could gain weight before losing it.
Why is that?
Our bodies have been starved for nutrients for so long that once we begin feeding them properly, the body often wants to hold on to those nutrients for dear life and store them. It knows that it wasn’t previously fed this way and so out of a survival mechanism can store extra weight during this transition time as a result of being chronically undernourished. Like I shared above, I spent many years subscribing to a low fat and low calorie diet. When I realized the damage I was doing to my health and began feeding my body nutrient dense foods, I not only gained the weight back to where I initially started but actually gained 20 pounds more than that. My body was way healthier but from a purely weight standpoint, it certainly would have been viewed as an unhealthy transformation by most onlookers. This has normalized to a happy medium but it took almost four years of feeding it nutrient dense, whole foods to recover from two and a half decades of poor nourishment.
I can’t stress enough, it doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, how ripped you are, what a perfect beach body you have, or even how “normal” you look – if you are experiencing any issues related to poor health, compromised immune system, pain, lack of energy you are likely under nourished and your body is trying to tell you something.
Instead of heading into this new year with a goal to have a flatter tummy, wear a certain size, or reach a certain number on the scale, make it your goal to pursue real nourishment. Feed your body what it really is longing for and I guarantee that while you may or may not reach those appearance related goals, you will definitely be happier and healthier in the long run.
Having studied nutrition in college and now being a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, along with my nutrition journey mentioned above, preparing nourishing food has become a passion of mine. It brings me joy to help busy families put nourishing food on the table. If you in any way are looking for help in this, have questions, or want to know more about how I manage this for our family, please send us a message through our Contact page and I would love to hear from you!