How I Balance Primary + Secondary Foods in Times of Conflict
In my first post about the difference between Primary and Secondary Food, I explained the importance of prioritizing the experiences in life that nourish our soul before what’s on our plate. While I believe that the goal is to create a healthy balance between Primary and Secondary food, I also recognize that these two things can sometimes come into conflict. Here are two examples of how I experienced this conflict in my own life, and how I dealt with them. I will also offer suggestions for you the next time you are experiencing difficulty balancing Primary and Secondary Food.
The first example of when I experienced this conflict in my life was when I experimented with being vegan. At the time, I felt it was something I really needed to do for my body, and I was disgusted with the way animal products were manufactured and how it affected the planet. I learned a ton during this time. I learned positive skills like how to cook healthy, nutrient packed meals that were completely plant based, and also more surprising things like how important it is for me to feel included in meals.
While I felt decently healthy with what I was cooking for myself, I would get super down whenever I had to eat with family and friends. I tried my best to contribute to meals by bringing my own vegan dishes to family events. Everyone was amazingly understanding and supportive about my dietary changes, but I still felt excluded every time. I come from a large hispanic family, and food plays a central role in our lives and our time together. We love to cook together, talk about the different flavors in the meal, and indulge in comfort foods together that remind us of home (fresh made tortillas, enchiladas, pinto beans, green chile, tamales, the list goes on). Whenever I was with them during meal time, I became distressed rather than joyful. Rather than taking the opportunity to fuel my Primary Food, I was depleting it.
I realized that the meal was not actually about the food on the plate, but the opportunity to connect and enhance our relationship. By not including myself in the meal, I was refusing their love.
It took me a while to figure this out, because I thought I was doing everything right to be the healthiest version of myself. I read book after book about plant based diets, watched documentaries, and cooked all my own meals. Yet, no matter how “healthy” I was, it did not compare to the joy I could reap from sharing a meal with my family. I learned that this source of Primary Food, was more important than my Secondary Food. I decided that it was in my best interest to be more flexible with my diet. I decided to continue cooking plant based meals, but would share whatever meal was offered to me when I was with family and friends. This flexibility has allowed me to fuel my body with the Secondary Foods it needs the majority of the time, while still prioritizing space for Primary Food. I will never again try to refuse fresh green chile chicken enchiladas or a bowl of fresh pinto beans (seriously, I think years of my life were cut off by the willpower it took to do this). These plates are delicious, but it’s not about the physical food. It’s about their ability to fuel my relationships with love, aka Primary Food.
The second example of experiencing conflict between Primary and Secondary food, took place over many years, and took a lot longer for me to address. In college I looooooved to party. I went out every Friday and Saturday night and sometimes even during the week. I am a big extrovert, and this fueled my social butterfly spirit. Drinking and staying out late was a way for me to meet new people, connect with friends, and have fun. It wasn’t until my Senior year that it came to a point I could not sustain this habit in a happy way. Although I had various episodes of blacking out and acting out, it wasn’t until one Halloween night that I recognized just how detrimental this behavior was to my well being. That was a turning point for me. After that incident I hardly went out at all, and when I did decide to drink it was usually a negative experience.
I learned that even if I had fun one night drinking excessively, the after effects were not worth it. It didn't just give me a hangover. it triggered depression for me for days on end that took a long time for me to recover.
This realization caused me to lock myself up and I became very isolated and disconnected. Even though I recognized that drinking was harmful to my mental health, I didn’t know how to bring in alternative social time. Since I derive energy from spending time with others, and being in isolation for too long depletes my spirit, I learned that this solution was just as hurtful. After spending a lot of time reflecting, I realized how much of my social identity I attached to drinking and partying. I realized that I was transforming, and no longer desired this association. I decided that I would have to be proactive in changing this, and learn to be both social and healthy in a way that worked for me. I gave myself permission to decline invitations to parties if I knew I would be tempted to drink a lot. With each invitation I declined, I would offer an alternative option to get together. I suggested things like going for a walk, trying a new yoga class and grabbing coffee afterward, going thrifting, seeing a concert, having a picnic, or just watching a movie. I changed most of my social time to the daytime, or early evening. I avoided extremely late nights since those were times I was especially triggered to drink and lose sleep. I focused on healthy activities that were good for my mind, body, and spirit. This approach didn’t only enhance my social time, but my health, and my relationship with myself. It doesn't mean that I never drink, but it means that now I drink in moderation, only when I choose (rather than reactively drinking without thinking) and when it's enjoyable for me.
In both of these experiences, I found a way to balance my Primary and Secondary foods, but it took time. It took trials and errors, fallbacks, and small successes. I had to engage patience, creative problem solving, and self reflection. Your conflicts between Primary and Secondary food might show up in different ways than what I experienced, but I promise that if you keep working with yourself and honor the time it takes, you will be able to find a healthy balance that works for you!
Here are a few suggestions to move you forward in times of conflict:
1) Journal about it.
Words are powerful! When you put something on paper, it allows you to reflect, and create space for problem solving. Usually you know when something doesn’t quite feel right for you. Rather than just sitting with those feelings, write about it. Take note of your emotions after certain events, and certain interactions. This will help your mind move through the issue, rather than getting stuck on it. You can also refer back to the exercise in my first article, and reflect on what areas of your Primary Food might be suffering. After practice, you may find that it will also lead to “AHA” moments, and when those come, write about those too so you don’t forget!
2) Tweak something- anything!
Remember that you don’t have to make a drastic change to make a difference. For instance if you hate your job, but it provides you security, it doesn’t mean you have to quit to feel better. Maybe instead you just take a 5 minute break a few times throughout the day to walk around, or meditate. Remember that you can tweak something as many times as you want. If the last thing you tweaked didn’t quite work for you, try again. You have the power.
3) Ask yourself, is this hurting, or serving me in the long run?
Maybe something serves you in the short term, and hurts you in the long run, or vice versa. Examples of this include how drinking was for me, or it could be something like eating junk food with your friends. When you answer that, focus on what serves you in the long run because that is what will sustain a happy healthy life.
4) Reach out + talk it out.
I don’t know about you but talking about things I’m dealing with always helps me process things. Find someone (or a few people) that can help be your soundboards for whatever you are figuring out. Sometimes you just need these people to listen, and other times, they might be able to help you brainstorm solutions.
5) Make Secondary Food part of your Primary Food.
If you are really having trouble balancing things, and find that you are never able to eat healthy Secondary Food, I recommend prioritizing Secondary Food as high as your other Primary Foods. This is something they teach us to do at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and it works extremely well. It sounds contradictory to what I’ve talked about, but it really does encourage you to make nutritional health a non-negotiable in your life. This could manifest in ways like making time to meal prep, and setting aside time to make home cooked meals a few times a week.