Eating well but not thriving? Other factors to consider.
A first hand account from wholefood and 'real food' advocate Ivy Thompson of Real Food Agenda (formerly Paleo in Melbourne) about how food is not the be all and end all, inspiring us to look outside of only what goes in.
I often talk about how changing your diet can be life-changing for the absolute better. But I also talk about how it might not change your life, health and outlook as much you expected it to. In other words, swapping from a diet full of processed foods towards a diet of mostly natural, real super-foods might not be that magic bullet you so badly wanted it to be. Have you ever considered that the magic bullet might consist of a lot more than just food?
Let me get one thing straight before we start: changing the way I ate and fed my family did us a world of good. I came from a place of poor health and desperately needed to get better. Had I not taken the leap towards Paleo and becoming a 'real-food foodie' four years ago, my physical health would be a complete struggle by now. I’d be battling an on-going fight with obesity, have thinning hair and brittle nails and suffer a yo-yo relationship with diets, joyless slogs on the treadmill and low fat foods.
I’d still be massively addicted to sugar, suffer horrible hay fever six months a year, monthly PMS and a have chronic sore lower-back and runny sinuses. My skin would show signs of ageing and my joints would be creakier. My sleep would be restless and anxious from all the sugar, which in turn would have me consuming even more sugar the next day to stay awake. I’d be grumpier, more tired and indefinitely more stressed.
These are all things that went away when I started eating nutrient-dense food for healing and health. I had no major or dramatic illnesses to combat; just a genetic track-record that pointed towards a potential future of diabetes, obesity and high blood-pressure. The rest were just a bunch of little ailments that didn’t bother me at the time. Getting rid of them was a happy bonus.
But I know first-hand that a Paleo-diet isn’t a cure-all that will leave you happily ever after. In my case a nutrient-dense Paleo-diet (I eat offal and bone broth weekly) gave me the energy to get on with three kids and busy days despite lots of physical stress. It allowed me to recover extremely quickly from both surgery and illness.
But Paleo didn’t make me bulletproof nor did it give me X-ray vision or other awesome super-hero traits (still waiting for that to happen). Occasionally I have even gone through stages of fatigue and have been forced to question and re-asses how and what I eat. It’s called living life. And life consists of a lot more than food.
Like life, our health is never a steady and perfectly balanced journey. It has ups and downs, burst of energy followed by lethargy and plenty of both good and bad (but our aim is to have it mostly good, right?). There are weeks where I sleep soundly and deeply every night, and those weeks are generally magic as far as stamina goes. Then there are weeks where I have a sick child and suffer interrupted sleep for several nights in a row. Those are the weeks where only the bare minimum gets done, including exercise. Read more about our 10 Favourite Sleep Hacks to improve your sleep-quality.
The weeks I manage to go to do yoga 4 times and squeeze in a few runs are fantastic, the weeks where I don’t make it at all leave me feeling sluggish and tired. The weeks where I consume more sugar and dairy than I normally would leave me exhausted and grumpy. I have done healthy eating long enough to experience the parallels between food, sleep and stress with how I feel and perform. To think that your diet will fix everything is naive at best.
So where am I going with all this? Acknowledge that how you eat, sleep and manage your stress affects how you feel. Let’s not treat diet and food as a one-stop solution and a fix-all. See the food you choose to eat as a major part of a bigger, holistic picture that also includes stress-management, sleep, nurturing connections with friends and family, joy, exercise, time in nature and adventure. Embrace appropriate health-care when it’s needed. Focus on your wellness before your looks (because one follows the other).
In a result-driven society we never seem to appreciate that it takes many different avenues to get our health right. We want solutions and we want them straight away. I’m certainly guilty of this and it takes time and patience to unlearn the urge for instant fixes. Eating well but not thriving? Start considering the other important factors in your life. It the words of Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, "It Starts With Food", but it does by no means end with it.