When we think of being healthy, we often think of exercise and healthy foods. But there are many misconceptions about what a healthy lifestyle should be like. Functional Medicine is also often described as lifestyle medicine because, looking at the root cause of the “dis-eases” in the body, we attempt to address them by implementing a sustainable lifestyle and nutritional changes. We certainly have, more often than not, to complement with targeted supplementation. But, essentially, it’s all about changing what’s been causing the issues in the first place.
Essentially, being healthy is not complicated. Our innate nature knows best, and we are designed to be in a constant state of homeostasis or “healing”. When we lose track of who we are, we create space for discomfort and dis-ease to appear over time. I like to say that a headache is a gift! Because it is our body’s reminding us of an imbalance that we need to address before it becomes chronic and develops a cascade of other symptoms.
In my clinical practice, I have seen countless clients improve with simple, seemingly unimportant changes. Yet, those simple tweaks in their daily lives changed everything. So here are my top ten foundational tips for optimal health:
1) Increase Sustainable Nutrition
No matter what is at play in your body, nutrition heals. Simply eating real, whole, nutrient-rich foods can go a long way to creating sustainable health. Adding healthy fats, plenty of vegetables, having a moderate amount of carbohydrates and avoiding sugary beverages will already change the body’s biochemistry to pave the way for health.
Vitamin J! You cannot underestimate the power of daily, unapologetic, guilt-free joy in your well-being. While it is unique to the individual, there are some basics that we can keep in mind: Ask yourself, “If you had no restrictions in life, whether financial, family, work, etc., what would your chosen daily routine look like?” “Are you part of something larger than yourself that lifts your heart and inspires your soul?” – Joy will reconnect you with your true self and nourish you at the cellular level.
I cannot tell you how often I have had clients whose main issues stemmed from profound dehydration. Our bodies need water to function optimally. And gulping one glass every 3 hours will not do the trick.
4) Eating hygiene
Digestion starts in the mouth! Yet, these days, we rush to eat, hardly chew our food and don’t even take the time to enjoy time at a table with loved ones. Instead, treat eating as sacred. Chew, and you will not only digest well but also avoid overeating.
5) Sleep and Rest
Those are undoubtedly the cornerstones of health. Rest doesn’t just mean sleep: it’s relaxation, walking for fun and fresh air (vs “exercise”), naps, and freedom. But sleep hygiene also greatly matters: choosing your bedtime, the temperature in your room, what you bring into the room, and what you do before sleeping. Creating a ritual around rest and sleep is your gateway to homeostasis and natural healing.
6) Stress relief and Mindfulness solutions
Stress is a modern disease and, indeed, is the root cause of many, many health issues. I don’t think I have a single client who hasn’t suffered from deep, chronic stress at one point or another and, as a result, impacted their health. So, make an honest inventory and define tangible actions to change the significant stressors in your life. “Fight or flight” is an essential evolutionary feature. But these days, we don’t have to run so much for our lives, rather than go through our to-do lists and meet our many responsibilities. Or deal with our often negative – self-talk.
Physiology is stimulated by movement and activity. Therefore, a sedentary lifestyle – all by itself – promotes dis-ease, especially in the ordinary course of life, e.g. where you park, shop, and do during TV commercials. That also includes a natural opportunity to be outdoors in fresh air frequently. So make sure you introduce daily movement in your life, walk to the store, park further from the entrance of a shop/restaurant, or go for a short digestive walk every day after dinner. The possibilities are endless.
8) Cultivating love and self-care
Celebrating and honouring our truths, including what makes us unique, is vital. Next, create balance in your life. I like to tell my clients that it is about a 90/10 approach: 90% honouring what you know helps you thrive, and 10% giving yourself the freedom to do what you want at the moment. It doesn’t mean you can go on a do crazy things like eating what you are allergic to, but it does create space to indulge from time to time.
9) Address food gaps
What are you really “hungry” for: adventure, acceptance, challenge, freedom, touch/affection, autonomy, artistic expression, recognition, movement, outdoors, being “naughty” …? Explore every area of your life and question where you may be lacking something! Where are you not celebrating your unique and wonderful self?
10) Toxin Avoidance
Last but not least, we are surrounded by toxins, so avoid unnecessary ones: estrogen-mimicking chemicals (e.g. glyphosate, BPA), check your personal hygiene products, home cleaning products, heavy metals, consider the importance of airing out the house regularly (especially in the winter), choose organic as much as possible, avoid fluoride and chlorine. The small steps you take every day can go a long way!
Health is holistic! It’s not just about eating kale!
Let me know if you have implemented any of these foundational tips and what it changed for you!