Food is a major factor in anyone’s personal wellness journey. In truth, it’s probably my favourite factor too! However, there are some equally important areas on this journey that often get overlooked, that can have a huge impact on the health of our immune system, gut, hormonal balance and our healing process itself.
Food alone is not enough, however the powerful combination of food and lifestyle is the key, whether you’re dealing with a chronic illness or not.
The areas I’m talking about include:
Sleep | For good health, adequate quality sleep is a must! Getting enough sleep isn’t just about preventing inflammation, it’s also about repairing the body and supporting the immune system. Our mind and body need sleep to function optimally, and inadequate sleep will also have a profound effect on our hunger hormones and metabolism. So how much sleep do we need? There is no clear answer unfortunately, however consensus says healthy adults need 7-10 hours of sleep per night. If you are healing from an autoimmune disease - you may need more (say 9 to 10 hours), or even more than that! Establishing your own sleep routine can be a great first step (even a second and third step). See more on this subject here.
Stress | Learning to manage your stress levels is one of the most important things you can do for your health, both short and long term. Yes, this is an easy thing for me to say, and living in today’s world means you will never fully eradicate stress from your life, however it is important to learn to manage it. To begin, “managing stress levels” usually refers to managing our cortisol levels, as cortisol affects everything in our bodies - insulin sensitivity, hunger hormones, mood, gut health and immune system function. If your cortisol is out of balance, you will most likely carry extra weight around your middle, need to pee in the middle of the night, have trouble sleeping and your energy will dip in the afternoon and spike again after dinner. You probably have a hard time trying to lose weight too! Getting quality sleep is key to managing cortisol (and stress levels), limiting your caffeine intake and getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids (see here) are all hugely beneficial steps. Getting out into the sun for a good dose of vitamin D, gently moving your body and making time for fun and relaxation are all wonderfully beneficial (and easy to do) too.
Movement | Gentle, consistent physical activity is a must in any wellness journey, especially for those of us living with chronic illness. Just the smallest amount of activity and movement can have huge health benefits. Movement can not only help manage symptoms whilst improving your overall health, it can also improve your mental health and mood, and walking is one of the best (and easiest) exercise anyone can do. New to exercise, then start slow and keep it simple. Even just 10 minutes for the first couple of weeks will be of huge benefit. Find it difficult to move? Perhaps even try chair yoga! Remember, ANY movement in your day is beneficial – whether that’s getting up from your desk at work and walking to kitchen or bathroom more often, taking the stairs, going for a walk in your lunch break, ditching the car and walking to the supermarket, or even busting some moves to your favourite song in the privacy of your home. Anything that involves engaging your muscles, stretching your body, and changing positions will be helpful.
Low-Toxic Lifestyle | We spend a lot of time focussing on changing our diet and lifestyle when on a healing journey, however one area that’s often neglected - the toxins we willingly bring into our home. Unfortunately, we have very little control over what happens outside our front door, but inside we do, and the products we use to clean our house, store our food and use on our bodies can have a massive impact on our health journey. This includes cleaning products, hand soaps, skin care and make-up. Everything we put on our body matters and the most significant consequence of built-up toxin exposure from artificial skin care products is hormone imbalances, since many products contain hormone disruptors. Look at replacing your plastic containers and switch to glass for storing leftovers, water bottles, kid containers and pantry items. Plastic leaks, and unless it's BPA free, it will leach chemicals you don't want in your water or food. Eat organic foods - even on a budget eating organic foods costs less than the price of illness (makes you think, doesn’t it!) Switch to holistic medicine – and by this I do not mean ditching Western medicine, but we are so very lucky to have options, so where possible, keep those over-the-counter drugs as a last resort and arm yourself with the power of natural medicine, like essential oils and herbs, which can be more effective in improving moods, illness, pain, aches, ailments, ointments, remedies than over the counter drugs created in chemical labs. Additionally, think about what happens to the environment - in some cases, cleaning products may greatly impact the environment and even the water you drink.
So how can we implement?
Simply by taking small baby steps and making very simple substitutions consistently over time, you will find yourself living a much healthier, happier lifestyle in no time and with ease.
Healthy Living Tips
Tip 1: Go slow | Don’t try and do everything all at once which will inevitably leave you feeling overwhelmed (and more stressed!). Choose an area that resonates with you the most and start there. Find your own personal “do-able” way to make this area easy and consistent. For example, simply swap your dish washing liquid to a chemical free brand during the first week, then in the second week swap your vegetable oil over to organic olive or coconut oil. You’re still doing the same process (washing dishes and cooking), but now you’re just using a more clean, healthy product.
Tip 2: Fun | Make implementing these tips simple and fun. They should make you feel confident and empowered and not overwhelmed, and by being consistent, these changes will become second nature in no time at all. What’s the point of healing enough to enjoy our lives if we then don’t go and live them with joy and laughter!?
Tip 3: Consistency | This is key. Continually making small, stress-free changes overtime on a consistent basis is the best and most simplest way to change and sustain these new healthier habits. Changes that you hardly notice will become second nature in no time, even if it takes 6 months.
Tip 4: Practice Patience | If you’re dealing with chronic illness, then your body (mind and spirit) most likely have a hell of a lot of repairing to do. Be patient (and consistent) and trust that you’re exactly where you need to be at this moment in time. Letting go and embracing patience will also help alleviate stress levels and in turn produce a better quality sleep. Win/win/win!