Whether you are in love with or have been failed by a particular dietary approach, it’s time to not look back but to step forward beyond food. Maybe you are a committed vegan or a paleo purist. Maybe low carb, high fat is your thing. Perhaps, keto seems like the holy grail. Whether it is a Whole 30 approach, a GAPS or macrobiotic solution or the long celebrated, Mediterranian Diet, it is time to move beyond your plate and beyond food.
And I’m not going to say it is all about exercise either. The often-celebrated two pillars of health, diet, and exercise, are just not enough to lift someone to optimal health nor to prevent someone from a slide into dis-ease. Of course, they are important but we cannot neglect what lies beyond them any longer and expect to be bombproof.
Looking at the Mediterranean Diet, for example, we see the clues to the rest of the health kingdom. For years, people analyzed just the culinary spreads of people in this region and then held tight to the notion of olive oil, fish and the likes as being paramount to a long, healthy life. Many still do.
But this is like looking at a beautiful, comfortable living room and stating that it’s all about the furniture, the carpet and the paint color on the walls. There’s more to the picture.
What about the structure supporting those walls, floors, and ceiling?
What about the temperature controls and electrical makeup of the space?
Beyond the obvious or the areas of common focus, other factors exist. Some are supplemental but others are crucial and have a massive impact on the overall integrity of the room… or your health.
What are these factors that go beyond food?
There are many. Some have a more profound effect than others on different people at different times. But no matter how amazing your diet is working for you or how aligned your exercise routine is with your constitution, these factors will play a part in longevity, disease prevention, and optimal performance – physically, mentally and even, emotionally.
Diets can be good for you for awhile but their efficacy can change depending on so many factors like age, activity levels, hormonal balance, etc. Hanging onto a diet that is no longer providing well-being is too commonly a way to delay improvement in your health.
However, before you rush to dismiss your diet of diminishing returns and hold up the next shiny object of nutritional promise, I believe it would be a wise move to examine the other factors beyond food and exercise.
Needle Movers Beyond Food
This is not an exhaustive list but it is a good place to start. Hopefully, it will inspire you to revisit and reexamine the practices in your life that can either boost you up or weigh you down.
If there’s a base of the ultimate health pyramid, I’d say it is good quality and quantity sleep. I wrote about many ways to improve sleep quality as well as the value of sleep and the consequences of poor sleep in this article.
Sleep is a crucial time for restoring the body, cleaning it out and building resilience to handle our daily and long-term challenges. Many studies have linked good sleep habits to anti-aging. It is likely that poor sleep is one of the greatest accelerators of aging while good sleep is one of the most protective factors in disease prevention.
For many decades now, we’ve been scolded about the dangers of the sun and its being a major factor in getting skin cancer. The irony of this is that good vitamin D levels have also been shown to be cancer preventing.
It is also “odd” that most malignant melanomas, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are found in areas of the body never exposed to sunlight. In fact, some of the highest rates of cancer appear in populations with the least sunlight exposure.
While supplementing with vitamin D may be necessary, it is not equivalent or as effective as the process where sun exposure synthesized it in the body. For more details check out this article.
While the right amount and kind of stress is actually valuable and strengthening (read this article on hormesis), too many of us are chronically stressed for the wrong reasons and don’t manage it effectively.
Chronic stress burns out our adrenals and results in a hormonal cascade that can make the best diet and adequate exercise completely ineffectual at losing weight or improving our vitality.
If you are really in a runaway stressed out state, the last thing you need is to have a caloric deficient and an intense workout. Meditation is one of the most effective strategies you can implement to alter this dramatically – the science is there to back it up.
We are social beings and need human connection and contact. Loneliness has been shown to lead to early mortality and impair our ability to have a strong immune system and robust mental health.
One of the key variables in the success of the Mediterranian “diet” is the fact that many people have multigenerational connections or even households and have a tight-knit community. This kind of social support can go a long way to boost neuronal health and staving off disease.
Whether it be the pollution, the noise, the artificial lights, the negative attitudes of people or a mix of some or all of the above, our environment has a profound impact on our health.
Dr. Jack Kruse often says you can’t get well in the same environment you got sick in. While I don’t think you necessarily need to move, altering your environment to support mitochondrial and mental health is vital for quality of life, longevity, and happiness.
While Feng shui might be what some need, we all need to have a harmonious relationship with our surroundings if we want to thrive.
A lot of new research is coming out about the importance of when you eat and when you sleep. This is related to our body clock, our circadian rhythm, and how our diurnal nature is best left undisturbed. Good nourishment actually goes beyond food and into when that food is eaten. Even with the same nutrients, different times alter their effects.
Eating in the dark sends the wrong signals for our metabolism and consequently, our endocrine system.
It throws off melatonin which does far more than just help us sleep. It is a key antioxidant and triggers many health preserving and protecting practices.
Similarly, not sleeping early enough or too much in the sunlight, disrupts our system as well. Nature has an exquisite plan and when we don’t follow it, we suffer, sooner or later.
Viktor Frankl, the renowned Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning, said it best, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
We often have no more control in life than our attitude. While we can’t always prevent challenges from arising, we can choose how we perceive them. In that choice, we can improve our position or degrade it.
Our attitude, positive or negative, has an effect on our immune system and our mental health. For a deep dive into this subject, check out Bruce Lipton’s work, The Biology of Belief.
For example, if we simply change our attitude from evaluating our meals as macronutrients balancing acts and embrace the actual dish before us mindfully, we have taken a big step in becoming more nourished.
We can go even further and go beyond food to the ceremony and ritual of the meal as a social vehicle and an opportunity to connect to body, mind, spirit, land, ancestry, and tribe.
Perhaps the most useful survival skill for humans is our ability to laugh, especially at ourselves. Humor and laughter can make the unbearable bearable. As Bob Dylan wrote, “it’s life and life only…”.
If all else fails, laugh. When most of us were children we laughed at least ten times more than we do as adults. No wonder we often wish for a return to childhood. The cosmic joke is real. Enjoy it!
As I mentioned above, there are more factors than I just listed. Still, with the above out of whack, even if your nutrition and exercise are on point, you will be experiencing dis-ease or heading that way.
Longevity is only worthwhile with good health and vitality along the way. Lifespan needs healthspan to make it something to desire and this requires going beyond food.