Bio-Individuality: the Missing Ingredient to Reclaiming Your Health
What do you think of when you think of being healthy? I want you to really ask yourself what that word means to you. Health can be approached similarly to how many people perceive success - a one size fits all game. Skinny is to health as money is to success. This approach is outdated, yet still it persists. We receive millions of messages daily that being healthy is equated with losing pounds, going to the gym every day, and eating and looking a certain way. These messages are almost impossible to ignore. Fortunately, this is starting to change with the Body Positivity movement, companies changing their policies on photoshopping, and curvier models in the mainstream like Ashley Graham and Mia King. Yet, we are still not where we should be. This topic deserves a far longer post, and it will get one (or many). For now, I want to talk about one way we can approach health, particularly nutrition, in a more positive and self-empowered way. How? By embracing bio-individuality.
Bio-individuality is a term coined by Joshua Rosenthal, the founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. It is a concept that encompasses the belief that each person has a unique way of eating, and being healthy, that may differ from someone else. Some individuals thrive on a plant-based vegan diet, while others are energized by eating lean meat and free range eggs. One person might love salads and raw veggies, while another opts for roasting, and sauteéing their veggies. Your partner might love a big lunch, but you prefer a few small meals to get through the day. Do you see where I am going with this? There is not a one size fits all approach to nutrition - or any other aspects of health for that matter. It is so easy to feel pressure to adopt certain diets, but ultimately you have to listen to what’s best for your body. Additionally, your diet may not only differ from other people, but it might change in your own life based on your age, activity level, and where you live. Bio-individuality is a process of constant experimentation to find what foods, activities, and lifestyle helps you be the best version of yourself!
My own experience with bio-individuality has taught me an abundance about my personal, nutritional needs. Some experiments I have tried for myself in nutrition are: cutting out dairy, cutting out meat, exploring a 100% plant based vegan diet, cutting out caffeine, adding in superfoods, adding in protein supplements, adding in grass fed meat, adding in smoothies, adding in ancient grains, eating three meals a day, exploring new healthy oils and fats, eating five small meals a day, and experimenting with different ways to cook and prepare vegetables. Some things I’ve discovered are:I do best with an 80% plant-based vegan diet. I do well with meat, but I don’t need a lot - maybe only 1-3x a week to feel my best. My body loves and thrives on healthy fats and oils like tree nuts, avocados, coconut oil, ghee, and olive oil. I also do best when I can incorporate foods that remind me of home, like a nice bowl of beans with tomatoes, fajitas, guacamole, and calabacitas. As someone who is naturally curious, I am constantly exploring. I also feel that the more I can use myself as a guinea pig, the more I can support my clients in discovering what works for them, when I become a Health Coach.
In addition to learning more about myself, bio-individuality has taught me to be open to what other people in my life need to be healthy. For instance, I used to think it was absurd that Christian would drink so many protein shakes because I could never do that myself. But after living with him and learning his activity level, and witnessing his metabolism I know that he really does well with this supplement in his diet. I have also learned to be more supportive and accommodating towards friends or family members who might be exploring different aspects of their diet. I love cheering people on as they find what works best for them. If I am hosting, I will do everything I can to make a meal that suits my guests bio-individuality and nourishes their belly AND soul! This has proved to be one of the most rewarding aspects of adopting this approach to health because food is often times one of the areas where we are most critical of one another. Instead of giving or receiving criticism, imagine being curious about your cousin’s new way of eating. Imagine your friends and family being more supportive of you as you try to heal your chronic joint pain, headaches or acne through nutrition. This is the gift of bio-individuality! It allows you to create a more loving, individualized approach to nutrition in your own life, AND influences the level of love and support in your community!
You take back your power when you learn what you need to thrive, without the influence of the media or external forces. You learn to have more faith in your internal knowledge, and this trickles into all other aspects of your life - your relationships, sex life, physical activity, home, career, creativity and social life. So screw all the messages in the media. Screw the pressure to lose weight, look a certain way, fit a certain size, have six pack abs, and eat a certain way. This year is all about you baby - own it! You deserve to feel radiantly healthy- and only YOU can decide what that means for you, and what it means for you to get there.
If you are wondering how to get started, I got you boo! Here are 5 suggestions to start exploring your bio-individuality AND embracing others bio-individuality!
1) Pick one thing to eliminate from your diet for a short amount of time. If you are suspicious that a certain food you are eating is causing some negative side effects, experiment with cutting it out for a bit. Many people have adverse side effects when they eat dairy, gluten, and sugar, or drink alcohol or caffeine. These are the most common ones, but other sensitivities might include eating nightshade vegetables, fruit, cruciferous vegetables, grains of all kind, and beans/legumes. The only way to find out what works for you is testing it out for yourself. The recommended amount of time to eliminate something is usually 21 days, but you could even try for three days, or a week. Make sure to notice how you are feeling on the days you cut it out, either mentally or by keeping a journal, and track how it makes you feel when you add it back into your life. Depending on its effects you may choose to keep it in your diet, eat it sparingly, or eliminate it completely. And if you are nervous about this step, have no fear, look at the next one!
2) Choose one new clean food to experiment with each week (clean meaning unprocessed or minimally processed). When first exploring bio-individuality in nutrition, it’s helpful to focus on what you are adding into your life rather than what you might be taking out. Often if we focus on what we are eliminating, we crave it more! So the next time you head to the grocery store, pick up a new fruit or vegetable, new superfood, new bean, new cut of grass fed meat, or new alternative milk! The only qualification has to be that you have never tried it before!
3) Throw away the scale, and focus instead on your energy and how you feel. Obviously this is a controversial recommendation. There are some situations, like if someone is experiencing obesity and is at risk for major diseases, where weight loss is the main priority for health reasons and a scale is necessary. But if this is not you, throw it out. You are not a number, you are a human being. That scale cannot measure your joy, your energy levels, and your health - only you can. So when you are tempted to see what number you are at, take a deep breath and ask yourself “how am I feeling? How did what I just eat make me feel - emotionally and physically?” These are powerful questions that only you can answer.
4) Never comment on someone else’s weight- even if you think it’s positive. Oh lord, I find it jarring, the number of times I have had people comment on my weight, and I hate it. Weight can be super deceiving when it comes to health. Calling someone skinny is not always a compliment, and commenting on someone’s weight gain when they are really happy in their lives can have negative repercussions. Making these kind of comments can disrupt someone’s learning process about their own health, and negatively focuses on someone’s superficial looks versus how they are feeling inside. That person is the only one that lives in their body, and is the only person who can decide when he or she feels best - not the scale, not the mirror, and certainly not you. Instead, if you notice changes in someone’s diet, or how they look, ask them how they are feeling. Or if you notice they are trying a new way of eating, ask how you can support them. Ask what they are learning in the process, and if they think it’s been a positive experience for them. These questions support the individual rather than place judgement on the individual. By approaching them with love and curiosity, that person can feel more empowered and capable in themselves.
5) Remember to infuse your experiments with love. As exciting and important as it is to explore one’s bio-individuality, it can sometimes feel frustrating, confusing, and time consuming. So, remember to practice self compassion and go easy on yourself. You have all the time in the world, at the end of the day, the changes you make are for you. If you feel overwhelmed by the process, slow down, take a deep breath, and practice your favorite self-care ritual.
If you are curious about exploring your bio-individuality and feel like you need support - shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be starting to practice as a Health Coach in April 2018, and would love to keep you updated on opportunities to work together :) In the meantime, I am sending love to you on your journey!
Pssttt! In this post I only talked about bio-individuality and nutrition, but the great news is that you can apply this concept to literally everything! Think - bio-individuality and exercise, bio individuality and sex, bio-individuality and socializing, the list goes on and on! Have fun with it!
If you like this post, I would love to hear from you! Have you experimented before with bio-individuality? What did you learn? What has been your experience with the mainstream approach to health, and how can we change this together? Share in the comments below!