Food vs. Lifestyle: Which One Wins?

What is primary food and are you getting enough of it? Could lack of primary food potentially inhibit your progress toward fitness, health or lifestyle goals?

As a current student of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition’s (“IIN”) Holistic Health Coaching Program, “primary food" was part of the foundation program. The philosophy of primary food theory resonated with me and caused me to take a closer took at my so-called “healthy lifestyle” and consider what was missing.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines lifestyle as “a particular way of living”. A Google image search of the word brought up multiple images of outdoor exercise, adventure, family, meditation and nature, which is exactly what I picture when I hear the word. I used to place all the responsibility of a healthy lifestyle on what food I ate but now I realize how I was wrong. A healthy lifestyle goes beyond the plate.

Primary food is a term that was created by the founder of IIN, Joseph Rosenthal, 30 years ago. Primary food is divided into four different categories- a fulfilling career, regular exercise, a strong spiritual belief (organized religion, a regular meditation practice, etc.) and good relationships. When the primary food groups are balanced then food becomes secondary.

Have you ever gone on holiday and indulged in all those things you would not ‘typically’ eat at home. You worry during the trip about the weight gain and resign yourself to work it off once you return. Once home, you hop on the scale to face the reality of the situation and make a plan of attack. Lo and behold, the numbers are the same or even less that pre-vacation. What the *%&?!? How could this be possible with all the ice cream, melty cheese fondue, beer, wine, tiramisu, bread, crepes, etc.

Lack of weight gain and/or weight maintenance even while indulging on vacation as the one described above is primary food at its best! This is what happens when living life with decreased stress, spending time with family and friends and potentially exercising more than normal due to lots of walking to see the sights.

The above vacation story was mine more than once over the last 5 years. Primary food fell to the bottom of my list of priorities due to significant life changes: the arrival of our second child, moving abroad, changing jobs, etc. Each brought about a new layer of responsibility and associated stressors. As I drifted from regular exercise and felt increasingly dissatisfied with my long-term career, my sleep suffered, migraines increased and weight gain continued. I did not find myself doing the things that truly fed my soul but found my way back to them naturally when away on holiday.

It’s important to make primary food part of your daily diet to create a healthy and balanced lifestyle. I was able to start incorporating more of it by simply raising my awareness of the small and meaningful moments throughout the day. Once I was mindful, I appreciated the amazing things happening in the moment - a sweet hug from my daughter, the chance to go to a peaceful lunch with my husband during the work day (without children), etc.

Try setting small goals at the beginning of each week to get as much of the primary food groups (relationships, fulfilling career, spirituality, physical activity) per day. Consider some of the following ideas:

  • Multi-task: Persuade your loved one to come with you to run errands, no matter how mundane. You can still make the most of the time spent together.

  • Plan a family or BFF getaway. It’s said that one of the best parts of going away is the planning of the trip and the excitement of waiting for it.

  • Community: Find ways to connect (or reconnect) with your community through organized activities whether through a dance class, church groups, etc.

  • Move: If you can’t find the requisite 30 minutes a day to exercise, fit it in a few minutes throughout the day — take a 5 minute walk at lunch, take the stairs or even download a 7 minute workout.

  • Meditation: Download an app and start with just 5 minutes a day.

  • Dream big: Consider big changes if one aspect of your primary food needs an overhaul. It may be scary but remember that this is something that no amount of kale can fix!

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