Once we find out that certain foods are causing problems with our health, it can be so easy to get tunnel vision on our diets. The concept that everything we put in our bodies can either heal us or hurt us is quite powerful, and it’s not uncommon for me to see my health coaching clients zero in on it. They cling to diet with an iron grip, meal planning, getting serious about what foods they bring into their homes, and focusing on what they can’t have — and sometimes this causes them to neglect other important parts of their whole health.
The truth is that in order to thrive, yes, we need to fuel our bodies with the right food, but diet is only one part of the equation. We are not fed by food alone. If our diet is perfect but our relationships are suffering, we can’t achieve whole health. Likewise if we don’t take satisfaction in our work, our spiritual life is lacking, our stress is unmanaged, or we aren’t regularly exercising and getting adequate sleep. I don’t say this to make you feel like you have to be perfect in every single aspect of your life, but rather to underscore the concept that we all need to zoom out and look at the big picture from time to time. Often, when we make adjustments in one area, we experience benefits across the board.
I’ve been guilty of neglecting one big area of my health myself. In part because I eat well most of the time, and in part due to genetics, I’ve always happened to weigh a reasonable amount. Because of this, I told myself it was okay that I was never motivated to exercise — I don’t really like the discomfort of exercise, to tell you the truth. Even when I had a personal trainer write a plan for me, I couldn’t be counted on to reliably get to the gym to do it. I figured, “Eh, I’m not too heavy, exercise is optional.” Here’s the thing, though: by neglecting this aspect of my whole health, I’ve also been cheating myself out of a whole slew of benefits that I preach about, but hadn’t been actually practicing until now.
I recently signed up for personal coaching at a local gym in my town, but this time my approach was different. I didn’t ask someone to just write me a plan and then assume I’d be good about following through. I’m working with my coach one on one for each training session to start out. While it’s more of a financial commitment, this is immensely helpful in terms of accountability for me. I’m showing up reliably, and the momentum I feel with fitness has buoyed other areas of my life. I am feeling physically strong for the first time ever. I’m prioritizing sleep. I’m showing up in my relationships in amazing ways, and I feel like a leader in my family and work life. My mood is lifted and stress feels more manageable. Things feel less effortful in general.
While making these changes has created many “aha” moments for me, it has not been easy. Committing to learning how to exercise has taken a lot of dedication and effort. I want to share some of my learnings in making this change, because they apply to the nourishment of one’s whole health — and I don’t want it to fall by the wayside even if you feel like you’ve got your diet figured out.
Tell yourself a different story. “I just don’t like vegetables.” “My relationships are…fine.” “My job is sucking my soul, but the benefits are great.” “Church just isn’t for me.” Or, if you’re like me, “I’m just not into working out.” These (and many others) are the stories we tell ourselves to let ourselves off the hook for applying effort toward our work, our relationships, connection with spirit, and physical activity. My coach refers to all his clients as athletes, and when this word was applied to me, (after I stopped laughing in his face) it changed my whole mindset! Pay attention to those moments you’re telling yourself a negative story and work to flip the narrative to something more open-minded. “I’m on a mission to find the best way to prepare brussels sprouts,” for example, or “There’s a job out there that’s a great match for my skill set — now I need to find it.”
Making a change takes focus, dedication, and consistency. At first, setting aside the time and the money to embark on my fitness journey was really difficult. Beginning to wind down in the evenings earlier than I ever have so I can get good sleep is hard. But the benefits I’m experiencing from these two habit shifts have given me extra energy to put other places. Now that I have a little momentum, I’m more motivated to continue these new habits and unlocking the benefits.
If you feel like you’re stuck, reach out for help. Seeking someone with a fresh perspective is a guaranteed way for me to find new motivation to improve. To tell the truth, I was a little ashamed. Here I am, a nurse and a health coach, and I don’t know how to really exercise?! I definitely took weight training in high school and thought I had knowledge, but boy, did I need training. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know, if you catch my drift. Working with a coach is not only a great way to increase accountability, but I also have someone else who is tracking my progress, educating me, and pointing out areas where I’m improving. Win-win! There are helpers all around us if we take the time to look for them, whether health coaches, life coaches, career coaches, spiritual advisors, or counselors — and there is no shame in seeking help from time to time.
Look at the big picture. We often go through life in triage mode, dealing with whatever problem seems most pressing until the next one looms so large that now we have to deal with it. I’ve found that I am more nimble to respond to problems when my whole health is in a good place. Perhaps discovering the right diet for you felt like a problem that was taking up your whole field of vision for a long time, and now that you’ve made some changes, you can assess other areas. Ask yourself how you’re doing in the four areas of relationship health, meaningful work, connection to spirit, and physical activity/adequate rest. Don’t try to fix them all at once. Plan a new habit in one area and try it out for a month — see what happens as you work toward improved whole health!