The Power of Primary Food vs. Secondary Food

Enjoying a delicious pistachio and caramel "Paleta" or popsicle in Cartagena, Colombia

Enjoying a delicious pistachio and caramel "Paleta" or popsicle in Cartagena, Colombia

What do you think of when you think of food? Probably vegetables, protein, grains, sweets, or anything else that you can eat. Certainly these things are considered food, but let’s look beyond the goodies on our plate.  Let me introduce you to the concept of Primary Food.  

Primary Food is the metaphorical food that nourishes you beyond your plate including your relationships, physical activity, career, and spirituality.

This is a concept coined by the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, and one of the main concepts that drew me into their program to become a Health Coach.

This is my genuine happy face

This is my genuine happy face

Primary Food is something that each one of us needs to live healthily, happily, and vibrantly. Without it, our Secondary food, or the food on our plate, may not be able to nourish us to its full capability. This is why it is “Primary." For instance, there are plenty of people out there who spend hundreds of dollars on green juice a year, yet walk around morosely, and lethargically. On the other hand, there are some people in developing countries who live happily despite their poverty because they have a strong social network, dance or play music, and have a profound spirituality. This is obviously an extreme example, but I want to emphasize just how vital the things in our life that fuel our soul are, in regards to our health. Additionally, it is often when our Primary Foods are lacking that we fall back on the comfort Secondary Food can provide like sweets, binge eating, and junk food. Being depleted in Primary Foods can also have the opposite effect when we try to have some sense of control by becoming obsessed with healthy food, count calories, and over exercise. I have personally gone to both extremes and have learned that this can become a vicious cycle. If I only focus on the role Secondary Food plays in my life I’ll end up swinging from one extreme to the other if I do not focus on building my primary foods. 

Instead when primary foods are met, it can be much easier to make healthier food choices, and not over obsess about health.  

Integrating Primary and Secondary Foods with my Love!

Integrating Primary and Secondary Foods with my Love!

Naturally, the idea is to have both healthy Primary Foods and Secondary foods, and to recognize that the two are not mutually exclusive. Ideally, one does not have to be sacrificed for the other. However, life is not perfect, and there are times when the two might come into conflict with one another.  If you are curious to know how I balance the two in times of conflict, read here.

To explore how your relationship is with the four main Primary Foods, start by answering the 4 questions below:

1) On a scale of 1-10 how strong are the relationships in your life? ( you can also break this down by type of relationship i.e. with significant other, with family, with coworkers, with friends)

2) On a scale of 1-10 how happy are you in your career (or education if you are still in school)? How fulfilled does it make you feel?

3) What are the type of physical activities you partake in? How often do you perform these physical activities? On a scale of 1-10 how much joy do these activities bring you (you can even break it down by activity)?

4) What type of spiritual practice do you have? (keep in mind that this does not have to be affiliated with any religion but could be something like connecting to nature by hiking, or meditating) How often do you partake in this practice? How do you feel after engaging in this practice?

After evaluating your Primary Foods, choose one that you would like to improve. Decide on one action step you can take this week to make it better! Repeat as necessary. Keep in mind that the purpose of this evaluation is to not be completely perfect (no one and nothing is). It is a tool to help you become more aware of your current relationship with Primary Food, and to serve as a starting point to move towards balance. Remember: It is important to notice where there might be negative gaps, as well as to celebrate the areas that are positive for you! 

What Primary Foods are totally nourishing YOU right now? What areas do you want to improve upon, and what action steps will you take to do so? Share in the comments below!