Holistic Health and Nutrition

(This is the first assignment for my Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition degree at Hawthorn University.  The majority of my assignments will be posted on my website ScienceSpeaks, but I felt this one better fit Holistic Odyssey.  Please subscribe to my website blog so you won’t miss my posts.)

Holistic health is a journey, an “odyssey,” if you will; it’s a process where your knowledge, understanding, and habits deepen over time.  It’s not a destination; you don’t wake up one morning as a master of holistic health, but rather you start making small changes in your lifestyle, growing continually throughout the process.

I am a very unlikely candidate to be on the road to holistic health.  I grew up with several unhealthy mindsets that started me down the path of disease and poor nutrition.  As a single mom until 2014, I found myself attracted to the world of cheap, convenient food.  At the time, I had no grasp on the negative consequences these decisions would have on my health or what I was teaching my son.

I opened my mind to the possibility of holistic health in 2017. It started with a 21-day challenge called “The Daniel Fast” that a friend encouraged me to join (Ducharme, 2019).  It was basically a real food, Vegan eating plan, based upon the book of Daniel in the Old Testament of the Bible.  This was the first time I had ever restricted processed food from my diet.  It was difficult and I faced horrible withdrawals during the first week.  My cravings improved, but my mind was still focused on what I couldn’t have rather than appreciating what I could eat.  I did the Daniel Fast for spiritual reasons, but did notice that my skin was more radiant and I started sleeping better.

On my very last day of the Daniel Fast, my physical therapist suggested I try a gluten-free diet, such as the Whole30®, where I would continue to eat real food for 30-days.  I could eat meat, but there were other restrictions, such as certain oils and whole grains (The Whole30® Program, n.d.).  I reluctantly agreed, and as the month progressed, I started feeling better!

These two months helped me recognize the importance of eating real foods rather than processed foods and were a significant step in my journey to holistic health.   I’ve learned that when I muscle through clean eating and avoid processed foods, fast foods, questionable oils, preservatives, etc., my health improves and I look and feel better.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found the consistency I need to be completely successful. I continually find myself reverting to my old ways, in some aspect or another.  I have experienced a great deal of guilt and shame due to my failures.  Michael Moss’s book “Salt, sugar, fat: how the food giants hooked us” (2014) enlightened me to the addictive nature of foods.  I had never considered the lengths industry would go to increase profit!

When I applied to the Masters of Holistic Nutrition program at Hawthorn University, I felt like I had established a manner of eating that worked for me.  I had stopped eating refined carbohydrates (for the most part) and that improved how I felt, removed my need for medication, and returned my weight to the healthy range.  Intermittent fasting stabilized my glucose and insulin levels (Fung & Moore, 2016) and I’ve used a couple of longer fasts to focus spiritually, as well as reboot my immune system (Longo & Panda, 2016), and break addictive cravings. I had also developed a practical plan to recover from dietary setbacks and felt I had done a good job of maintaining my progress.  Even though my compliance was not 100%, I felt in control of my eating.

I originally thought that holistic nutrition was simply eating real food and removing as many chemicals from your life as possible.  I now realize that the path to holistic health encompasses more than I considered.  This was only the start of my journey and I’m so thankful to be enrolled at Hawthorn University to continue my growth!

For me, the first step of holistic health is to break all cravings to processed food. My approach for doing this was to adopt a “food as fuel” mentality, which helped me initially.  I wrote about this in my orientation discussion board post for Hawthorn University, but I now recognize my idea was incomplete.

Suzan Walter defined holistic health as an approach that “considers the whole person and how he or she interacts with his or her environment.  It emphasizes the connection of mind, body, and spirit. The goal is to achieve maximum well-being, where everything is functioning the very best that is possible” (Walter, 1999).  This definition has deepened my understanding of holistic health.

I am particularly fascinated with the spiritual side of holism.  As a Christian, I have a strong moral compass and a deep understanding of sin and grace.  I had previously recognized the relationship between holistic health and spirituality in my life, which was the basis of breaking addictions and overcoming sinful patterns of eating.  I was convicted to respect my “body as a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1Corinthians 6:19, English Standard Version) and fuel it appropriately.

I had never considered the notion that food is to be celebrated and enjoyed, even though that idea is rooted in the Bible.  We are called to “eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart” (Ecclesiastes 9:7).  I lost sight of that and became a culinary legalist, defining foods as “good” and “bad” and then condemning myself for my failures.  While I understood that a person’s nutrition must work around their life in order to be sustainable, I viewed that more as having a plan to get back on track after poor eating choices, rather than seeking nourishment over simple nutrition (Bliss, 2016).  There was certainly no “joy” in my approach to eating.

The statement in Nishanga Bliss’ webinar “Mind, Body, Spirit, Planet: What is Holistic Health” (2016) quoting Michael Pollan that Americans are the “world’s most anxious eaters” resonated with me.  Another paper cited how this anxiety is caused by conflicting information and can cause distrust of health professionals. (Robison, Wolfe, & Edwards, 2004, p. 17).  The very evening I studied this material, my personal food anxiety was illuminated.

My husband bought me a giant fresh-baked cookie because he knew I was struggling with stress.  I was angry at his gesture because I was trying to eat “healthy”.  I later recognized that I acted as a judgmental food legalist, rather than embracing a more holistic perspective.  While it is true that the cookie was not nutritionally dense and ended up being a stumbling block for me, my health was more affected by the stress of the situation than from the nutritional deficiency of the cookie.  What’s even more concerning is eating just one bite to appreciate my husband’s gesture led to me binge eat the rest of the cookie and later, I felt guilty for my failure.  I missed the mark entirely.

Holistic nutrition is a whole body approach to wellness. I believe it is very similar, even interrelated, to spiritual growth.  When you become a Christian, you don’t wake up the next day with a perfect grasp of righteousness.  I still sin, despite my best efforts, and I’ve come to accept that my growth and maturity is a process.

This notion holds true with holistic health.  It’s not a switch that gets turns on, but rather it’s a process of understanding individual nutritional needs and making strides to improve health. Holistic health starts with learning to appreciate real foods, decreasing reliance on processed foods (Weil, 2014), reducing chemical additives (Weston A. Price Foundation, 2005), and avoiding pesticide contamination (Environmental Working Group, 2019) – basically improving the quality of your diet.  This takes time, as does breaking the stronghold the Standard American Diet (SAD) has on health.  However, holistic health doesn’t stop there.  It also encompasses finding enjoyment in cooking meals, savoring nutritious foods with friends and loved ones, and being a source of encouragement and an example to others embarking on this same journey (Bliss, 2016).

My view of holistic health is more than nutrition – it also includes learning to effectively handle stress and anxiety and responding to those events in appropriate manners.  It’s practicing mindfulness and slowing down from the frantic pace of our world.  It’s reducing my reliance on pharmaceuticals to treat metabolic conditions, by seeking healing from my diet and lifestyle.

I see holistic health as choosing to not be overwhelmed by the negative aspects of our current world, and feeling power to improve my circumstances.  It’s focusing on the positives and minimizing the negatives.  It is finding balance and being centered and not putting a pressure on myself to be perfect, nor demand that perfection from my clients.  It’s encouraging better health without letting fear and anxiety take over.

To me, holistic health involves loving myself exactly where I am, learning about how “food” has changed, making the best decisions I can about what I consume, and finding peace with everything else, even in the midst of difficulty.  It’s about sharing my authentic struggles and victories with other people to help them on their own journey to wellness.

References

Bliss, N. (2016, June 7). Mind, body, spirit, planet: What is holistic health? Parts I, II [webinar]. Retrieved from Hawthorn University (Student Portal, Portal Contents, Webinar Archives).

Ducharme, J. (2019, January 16). Chris Pratt Is Doing the Daniel Fast Diet. Is It Healthy? Retrieved August 11, 2019, from https://time.com/5503754/what-is-the-daniel-fast/

Environmental Working Group. (2019). EWG’s 2019 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™. Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

Fung, J. & Moore, J. (2016). The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting. Las Vegas: Victory Belt Publishing.

Longo, V. D., & Panda, S. (2016). Fasting, Circadian Rhythms, and Time-Restricted Feeding in Healthy Lifespan. Cell Metabolism, 23(6), 1048-1059. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2016.06.001

Moss, M. (2014). Salt, sugar, fat: How the food giants hooked us. London: WH Allen.

Robison, J. I., Wolfe, K., & Edwards, L. (2004). Holistic Nutrition: Nourishing the Body, Mind, and Spirit. Complementary Health Practice Review, 9(1), 11-20. doi:10.1177/1076167503252945.

Walter, S. (1999). Holistic Health. Retrieved August 7, 2019, from https://ahha.org/selfhelp-articles/holistic-health/

Weil, A. (2014, June 10). Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRTKgp5nz18

Weston A Price Foundation. (2005, December 26). Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry. Retrieved August 9, 2019, from https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/modern-foods/dirty-secrets-of-the-food-processing-industry/

The Whole30® Program. (n.d.). Retrieved August 11, 2019, from https://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/

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