Nurturance has always been something I’ve looked for. I think I have traveled along a path that many would be familiar with. I looked for nurturance in other people to give me the love and kindness I craved. I looked for nurturance in fad diets to get the results physically that I wanted, as an athlete to be fit and strong, and also as a woman, to be healthy and attractive. I spent a long time looking for this outside of myself and thought there were people and times when things appeared to line up, but nothing was ultimately sustainable for me.
My health continued to decline, even though I felt I was doing everything right, based on the information I was getting at the time. This led me to investigate deeper, both nutritional science, and my own psychology. I kept stumbling across an interface between the two, that I wasn’t seeing talked about, but from my perspective was significant. That is when I first started to draw the line between food and mood, which is really another way of describing brain health.
Simultaneously, I was exploring that old adage, that “you have everything you need already,” or “all that you seek is within.” I realized that placing my longing for love, belonging, health, wellness in anyone or anything external was a set up to be disappointed and disempowered. Empowerment is really about taking care of myself and I hadn’t really been doing that, even though it looked like it. I was denying my own needs to make relationships work and last. I was ignoring my body’s signals to continue following a diet that was actually sabotaging my health. Making the shift to put myself first, by really listening and honoring what I needed both emotionally and physically has been a gradual learning and ultimately is making all the difference in my health and quality of life.
Eating healthy is definitely a concrete way to practice this kind of inner guidance. And eating healthy, to me, is not just about following a diet regimen, although what we know from nutritional science is valuable and important, it is also about listening. Because it is true, that what works for one will not necessarily work for another. I believe our medical pedagogy is moving in this direction and beginning to recognize that human beings are complex and extremely unique.
When we start to unpack our relationship to food and take a long look at the foods we choose to eat, we have an opportunity to touch into some very personal and vulnerable territory. Ultimately, what I see in my practice and what I’ve known to be true to myself is that our eating habits often belie our sense of self worth. This is the cornerstone to why eating healthy matters to me. As someone who did not grow up with a strong sense of self worth, I’ve had to build this for myself as an adult and putting health eating into practice has been a powerful way for me to do that.
Usually, we know what is nourishing us or depleting us. The challenge lies in whether we pay attention to this information or override it for the sake of short-lived pleasures, habits, or fear of change. This is a question that can be applied to food but also to any area of life. However, applying it to food, and listening to the answers we do get, and responding accordingly by removing depleting choices and increasing nourishing choices lays a new groundwork for our entire lives to shift towards nourishment and away from those depleting choices, whether that was food, relationships, or any aspect of our lifestyles.
In my work as a health and wellness counselor I have noticed that starting with food changes, and shifting to healthy, more nutrient dense choices provides energy and resilience to address some of the bigger life obstacles that may be present. In other words, when we nourish our bodies with healthy food than we strengthen the part of ourselves, a part I call the inner health advocate, that is aligned with our wellness and highest good. As we strengthen the inner health advocate by listening, responding and honoring our needs then we inevitably create health and wellness that goes far beyond eating.
For me, eating healthy is a gateway into a healthier life. It is a way to become more self-aware and practice loving kindness with ourselves, letting go of judgment. Too often, people are trying to judge their way out of something, convinced that pushing themselves in this way is how to create positive change. But positive change does not come from negative methods. And there tends to be an awful lot of judgment people hold around the foods they eat or don’t eat. Instead of getting lost in the judgments and limiting beliefs, I think it wise to acknowledge that this is present because this is a vulnerable and important area for self-discovery. When we can persevere past the inevitable judgments, shame, and guilt that can go hand and hand with food and eating, then we enter a territory that is a ripe opportunity for love and forgiveness. This is the place where real, lasting healing can occur.
Being willing to dive into this area and take a good long, loving, and honest look around is the beginning of empowerment and of laying a new foundation for our lives: one that emphasizes our worth, and our lovability regardless of any condition. And I know the fear can be that letting go of self-restraint (which is really a form of control and dominance over ourselves) will lead to being out of control but actuality the opposite is true. Swinging back and forth between tightly controlled and out of control eating is not what I am talking about here. That is not freedom but still an attempt to deal with the limiting beliefs and judgments by alternately agreeing with them, then fighting against them.
Addressing these tendencies, whether they are extreme or subtle, is a practice in slowing down, being mindful of what is motivating us, and recognizing that we can make different choices. This is a process and just like we will always need food everyday, the opportunity to stay awake and loving with ourselves is ever present. There doesn’t appear to be an end point, but it is an ongoing process. And the sooner we make the choice to start, the sooner we are on the path of wellness and changing the trajectory of disease. The science is becoming clearer and clearer that what we eat absolutely affects the trajectory of our health in powerful ways. I don’t think we can afford to be mindless about this anymore.
The good news is that becoming mindful about our eating and addressing our needs, is the beginning of moving in a new direction. It may not feel possible to change your mindset or your circumstances, but it may feel possible to make small changes right now to your diet. Letting go of those depleting choices and focusing on what nourishes you are the small steps that lead to big change.
Eating healthy matters to me because it is the way that I take care of myself every day, and it sends a concrete message to myself that I do care, and I am listening and I will be an advocate for my own life. We all matter. Everyone of us matters enough to make nourishing choices where we can. So, allow that nurturing to build in your life and then, let it fill it up. Then let it overflow.
This article originally appeared on Madeline Sharples' blog, Choices.
Francie Healey is the author of "Eat To Beat Alzheimer's and has a Master’s Degree in Counseling and is both a Certified Health Counselor and Licensed Mental Health Counselor.practitioner.