To be honest, I did not expect to learn that much regarding nutrition at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) when I enrolled in their health-coaching program. I’m a huge nerd, you see, and I am obsessed with learning all I can about healthy living – specifically about nutrition and fitness.
This has been going on all my life. It started with reading my mom’s and grandma’s fitness and womens’ magazines, following Denise Austen and Kathy Smith through their workouts on VHS, and playing “workout instructor” with my best friend. I have done what’s felt like a million diets, struggled with binge-eating, and participated on dance teams growing up. Magazine articles led to different books, documentaries, and going down various online rabbit holes. I’ve worked in fitness studios and experimented with various ways to move my body. It has been a lifelong research project full of tons of contradictory information, imperfection, and trial-and-error. Over time, everything seems to have fallen so much more in place and finally has started making sense to me. This is especially true thanks to my similarly fitness-obsessed significant other who exposed me to so much other information and books and styles of doing things.
All of this is to say, I was excited to learn better coaching techniques at IIN but doubted there was anything they could tell me about nutrition that I hadn’t heard before. As a personal trainer, I would get frustrated to not be able to provide my clients with nutrition information when I believed that was the key to the results they were after. It was out of my scope of practice at the time and could put me in an uncomfortable legal situation. I simply wanted to pursue a certification that would really allow me to be able to coach around everything I thought was important.
IIN is a nutrition school, but they have a broader definition of nutrition than you do if you’re like I was. They teach about primary foods and secondary foods. Secondary foods are what you put into your body, what comprises your diet. Primary foods are all the other ways you nourish yourself mind, body, and soul. The curriculum dives deep into both, and I have learned a great deal more than I expected.
To give you more of an understanding about what I’m talking about here, let me explain this in a couple of more ways:
I am sure that even if you’re not information-hungry or passionate about this topic like I am, you still know you should drink more water, avoid processed food, eat more greens, stop eating when you’re full, don’t eat when you’re not hungry, cook more food at home, etc. So why can it be so difficult to adopt such simple habits? It’s likely that you have something lacking in at least one area of primary foods in your life. Primary foods are primary. Secondary foods are secondary to primary foods.
If your primary foods are out of whack, forget about being able to stick to healthy secondary food habits!
We’ve all likely heard weight-loss stories where the main character realized when they reached their weight-loss goals they still were just as unhappy as they were when they started on that path to “health.” Even in instances where people can overcome their lack of primary foods and control their secondary foods, in the end they don’t achieve happiness. Primary foods are key.
This tool, called the Circle of Life, was particularly helpful for me in keeping this concept in perspective for me:
Each little pie slice on this circle represents an area of Primary Food. Perhaps it’s a bit imperfect at first sight – this visual gives each of these areas equal weight in thinking of a well-balanced life. However, if you do the following exercise, you’ll see that the key to balance here isn’t giving each area equal attention, rather finding satisfaction in each area.
You can print this image out, take a screenshot of this chart and do the exercise in an app where you can draw on your phone, or go to this site to perform the exercise online. In each slice of the circle, place a dot on the line to indicate your level of satisfaction in each area of your life. When you’ve done this for all parts of the circle, connect the dots and you’ll have a visual representation of how balanced your primary foods are.
When I first performed this exercise, it was a huge wakeup call. I realized I was focusing primarily in what I did well, which feels really good for lots of people. I was basically ignoring the other areas of my life, because it felt better to me not to think about where I wasn’t doing well. I felt that to achieve greater happiness, I just had to do EVEN BETTER in the areas that were already getting more than their fair share of attention. Wrongo!
This discovery took me outside of my comfort zone, and I began focusing more on ways to create/nurture my friendships, experiment with different mindfulness practices, and spend time seeking joy rather than chastising myself if I strayed away from being “productive.” I feel comfortable with being imperfect while seeking more balance in my life, but I do this exercise regularly to re-calibrate my perspective on how my life is going.
Learning about integrating feeding yourself primary foods as well as the right secondary foods for you as a means for achieving health is the biggest takeaway I got from IIN. It opened my eyes to ways I could improve my own health, and it taught me how to make a bigger impact on my clients’ wellbeing by looking at health through a more holistic lens and integrating life into their lives.
All of this is to share with you a great tool I was humbled by as well as give you a better understanding of what I do as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. I urge you to do the Circle of Life exercise and think of at least one small way you can shine light on an area of your life you’ve been neglecting.
Thanks for reading!
Been there! Here's my gift to you that'll help you understand why you've fallen prey to self-sabotage, how to regain control to change your habits, and what you need to know to create lasting motivation.