Updated: Mar 10
While there are several approaches to beginning a health journey, one of the most straightforward and rewarding steps is setting a foundation of nourishment for your body.
Here's a hint: it isn't fasting, it isn't juicing, and it isn't restriction with dieting.
What if some mainstream health trends are possibly not the most sustainable for everyone's health? Every approach eventually led me back to square one and ultimately backfired, causing many symptoms like acne, digestion issues, inconsistent energy, and wonky cycles. Rather than seeing these symptoms as my body trying to communicate that something wasn't right, I assumed it was normal.
In the past, I took approaches like:
· Skipping breakfast and thought I needed to be eating less
· Intense workouts when I didn't have the energy
· Restricting/demonizing food groups like dairy, carbohydrates, or meat
· Constant ''go go go'' mentality
· Ignoring hunger cues
Does the list above define what health looks like to you? Let's give you a different perspective.
One of the most valuable realizations is that not every diet is for everyone, and what works for someone else might not work for you. One size does not fit all, as we are all unique.
Once you take a step back and simplify nutrition and lifestyle, you will notice tremendous differences in your symptoms.
Several vital foundations can lead you toward your health goals while gaining a better relationship with yourself, regardless of where you are in your journey.
An easy way to understand this is by using the analogy of a tree. For a tree to grow, it needs sunlight, healthy soil, and water. We don't expect it to flourish if it doesn't have these foundations set. Similarly, we work the same way. How can we expect so much from ourselves if we don't have foundations put in place?
Here are six foundations to maximize your health:
1. Nutrient-dense Diet
Nutrient-dense foods contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential nutrients beneficial to our health. Including nutrient-dense foods is a great way to boost nutritional status and avoid nutrient deficiencies. Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to unwanted symptoms or disease. Recent research shares that nearly 1/3 of Americans are at risk for at least one nutrient deficiency or anemia (Bird, Murphy, et al., 2017). YIKES!
Equally mind-blowing, the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) represents daily nutrients needed need to avoid deficiency symptoms (chriskresser.com). The RDA does not represent the amount of nutrients our bodies desperately need to promote our best health.
Furthermore, when we are exposed to environmental stress or toxins, have stressful daily lives, or just aren't getting our daily intake of nutritious food, our needs for nutrients increase! If we're looking for our bodies to function correctly, having a foundation of nutrient-dense foods should be our first step. Our body's systems rely on what we give them, so feeding our bodies well allows them to function at an optimal level.
2. Sleep quality
We're probably all aware that sleep is essential to keeping us healthy. Getting enough sleep aids in healthy bodily functions, stress reduction, and recovery. We're often told to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep for good health. But how can we get good sleep if we're stressed, waking up in the middle of the night, or restless?
Here are a few tips that could be beneficial to you:
Dimming the lights before bed and blocking outside light while you sleep
Darkness is foundational to our circadian rhythm, our bodies natural sleep and wake cycle. Darkness aids in our bodies' production of the sleep-providing hormone melatonin. While light is essential for our wake cycle, unnecessary light at night can disrupt the production of this sleep hormone. Blocking outdoor light pollution with curtains can help get a good night's sleep and promote a healthy circadian rhythm.
Limiting electronics or TV before bed
Like light pollution and bright lights listed above, electronics can affect sleep quality. For example, late-night electronics and their blue light can overstimulate and suppress melatonin, making it more difficult to fall asleep. You probably often hear about limiting electronics before bed, and while it might seem challenging, your sleep quality can benefit immensely.
Eating a bedtime snack
A bedtime snack can promote restful sleep and keep your body satisfied throughout the night. Combining a snack of carbohydrates and protein can support satiety throughout the night and stabilize our blood sugar (blood sugar balance is crucial for your health).
Calming activities an hour prior
Destress and wind down
Calming activities before bed can aid in relaxation, reduce stress and heart rate, and help get you into the mode to let sleep come more naturally. Pick a small to-do list to get yourself settled in before bed.
Incorporating magnesium for better sleep
Magnesium is an essential mineral that helps perform many bodily functions. However, many of us aren't getting enough in a standard American diet. Around 48% of us aren't! Magnesium does a lot for us and can aid sleep by relaxing us and our nervous system.
*It is essential to supplement magnesium slow because your body can react adversely to high amounts too quickly or cause an imbalance in other minerals.
Hydration is a crucial aspect of overall wellness. Our body uses water for countless functions, making up nearly 55-60% of our body. Hydration supports us with significant processes like sweating and techniques like helping cells function correctly. In addition, it helps to cushion and lubricate joints, improves communication between cells, transfers waste out of the body, and keeps us alive. We know that water is so important for our daily hydration, but did you know you can further this habit and optimize hydration?
Here are a few tips to help optimize your Hydration:
Adding electrolytes to your water helps to utilize the water that you drink (a pinch of natural, quality sea salt, lemon, etc.), making it easy to absorb
While drinking adequate water is good for you, drinking too much at once can flush out essential minerals in your body (causing you to pee a lot), thus increasing your need for minerals. Drinking smaller sips throughout the day may help.
Along with water, utilizing mineral-rich drinks provides Hydration. I love to combine coconut water, aloe vera juice, tea, lemon, or lime with a pinch of sea salt daily.
4. Mineral Balance
Minerals do so much for your body and assist with hundreds of functions performed. They help our body function appropriately, build healthy bones, contract and relax muscles and transfer nutrients across cell membranes. Optimizing and balancing mineral intake can help improve consistent energy and digestion.
The body cannot make minerals, so they must be consumed. A deficiency in minerals can look different for everyone, but common symptoms include muscle cramps, anxiety, fatigue, constipation, restless sleep, etc. Replenishing our bodies with necessary minerals can improve these symptoms, helping our bodies be more resilient to stress.
How do we become deficient in minerals? To name a few:
Lack of including them in our diet
Not replenishing them after stress/exercise
Lack of nutrients in pre-ripened exported foods
How do we increase minerals in our diet?
Including nutrient-dense foods
Incorporating mineral drinks
Sourcing foods you can from farmers with sustainable farming practices
Minerals often work synergistically and interact, meaning balancing them is crucial. Excess of one mineral and less of another can disrupt their balance. When beginning to focus on mineral balance, I like to take a food-first approach. Using food before supplementing can be less shocking to your body if you're depleted in minerals.
Digestion is an essential process of our body that helps break down the food we eat for bodily functions, energy, nutrients, and growth. While we might think digestion works independently without our help, it's quite the opposite. Contrary to belief, digestion is a north-to-south process that begins in our brain, not simply in the stomach! So, how does this work?
Optimal digestion happens when we are in a relaxed, calm state. Without tuning into our PNS (parasympathetic nervous system, rest and digest state), our food will not properly break down, thus decreasing the number of nutrients absorbed and giving us symptoms like gas and bloating. Calming down before meals and taking deep breaths to soothe our nervous system help with the digestion of our food.
Digestion works throughout our body depending on the throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus to properly break down our food and use it for fuel. That's a lot of organs going into one function!
It might seem simple, but chewing our food thoroughly can make this seemingly complicated process easier on our digestive system. When we chew our food (to an applesauce consistency), our digestive system can quickly break down the food further, getting the most of its nutrients. As a result, you might notice an incredible difference in how you feel when you chew your food thoroughly.
6. Blood sugar regulation
If you feel anxious, energy crashes mid-day, you experience headaches, sugar cravings, and you tend to wake up throughout the night, it could be a sign of blood sugar imbalance.
Blood Sugar influences numerous body functions, including hormone balance, brain health, stress, and energy production. We might not often think that blood sugar balance affects us, but the symptoms you feel could directly correlate to blood sugar.
Glucose, another name for blood sugar, is our body's primary energy source controlled within a tight range in our bloodstream. When we eat, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose. So naturally when we break down food, glucose rises and our brain releases different hormones to communicate with our body to return it to its normal range.
How does it get imbalanced in the first place?
One of the biggest factors: Stress.
Our bodies are constantly scanning for threats to keep us alive. Some examples of these threats could be:
High-stress situations which cause cortisol release
Constant spikes or drops in blood sugar which cause stress on the body
Imbalance of macronutrients which causes blood sugar imbalance
Consistent spikes and drops in blood sugar can cause our bodies to overcorrect, releasing too many or too few hormones to bring it to the normal range; thus, you might feel anxious, shaky, or tired between or after meals. Furthermore, when our bodies are always in a chronic fight or flight state, it makes it more challenging for our bodies to balance our blood sugar.
One of the first steps to regulate your blood sugar: Balancing meals with protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Balancing meals is the most leisurely start to balance blood sugar. Combining macros will reduce spikes and drops in blood sugar, thus, supporting your body's resilience to stress.