As a Registered Dietitian, I make my living knowing anything and everything that I can about nutrition and food science. I am a self proclaimed “foodie” and love trying new recipes, going to farmers markets, reading blogs, and learning the latest and greatest research. Many of you reading this blog right now are also self proclaimed “foodies” and spend much of your time learning and discussing nutrition, especially the thrills of Paleo. While enthusiasm and positive energy about your daily diet is wonderful, it is definitely a double-edged sword. There is a balance on how much one should focus on their diet and sometimes diet is the least of someone’s problems. If you’re too focused on nutrition and are not getting the results you want, you may need to investigate other areas of your life that you may very well be forgetting. The obvious areas are sleep and excercise (both too much and too little hinder your health), but there is a broad spectrum of dimensions outside of these areas that we all need to explore!
As a Master’s student studying Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion, I am constantly learning that food is only part of the puzzle. So often do I hear people complaining that they are having trouble leaning out, are having issues with stress and high cortisol, or are just plain emotionally and physically drained, BUT they are eating well and have no clue what their problem is. They push themselves to try lower-carb diets, increase their protein intake, start drinking more water, or tweak anything else they possibly can to fix their already dialed in eating regimen. What they are forgetting is that there is more to health and wellness than nutrition. Yes folks, there is more to life and Paleo than food.
While nutrition is a big piece of the whole health puzzle, there are other separate, but related dimension that comprise human health. Whole health includes physical, emotional, social, mental, spiritual, and vocational dimensions.
Let’s explore what these other dimensions include:
The physical dimension of health includes: one’s level of fitness, metabolism, blood chemistry, presence or lack of disease and/or risk behaviors, functionality of body systems, and level of exposure to alcohol, stress, radiation, ect.
The emotional dimension includes: one’s ability to relate to personal values, self-knowledge, love of self and feelings of self-importance, empathy, and ability to express feelings appropriately
The social dimension includes: the ability to see oneself as a member of a larger society, social skills, comfort in social settings, and the extent of one’s concerns for others
The mental dimension includes: intelligence, sexuality, perception of others, adaptability, ability to cope and relax, decision-making ability
The spiritual dimension includes: survival instincts, creativity, ethics/integrity/moral code, trust, ability to love and be loved, feeling of selflessness, degree of pleasure seeking qualities, and commitment to some higher process or being
The vocational dimension includes: job satisfaction, advancement, financial success, service to humankind, and fulfillment of goals related to the “greater good”
So what does this mean?
Sure, people understand that there are multiple dimensions to health and can express an understanding of these dimensions, but do they really put that knowledge into action? If you’re too focused on nutrition you are surely slacking in one or more of the other dimensions.
The best way to describe this interplay between health dimensions and whole health is explained by Richard M. Eberst (1984). He explains health in terms of a children’s toy, the Rubik’s Cube, for ease of understanding. Each face of the Rubik’s Cube represents one of the six health dimensions. Each side of the cube is also composed of smaller subelements that comprise each dimension. For example, within the mental dimension there would be a subelement for intelligence, perception of others, ect. The Rubik’s Cube has six faces, each containing nine smaller moveable subelements of the same color (54 smaller elements). The solution to the puzzle requires that each smaller colored subelement be positioned and oriented correctly on the appropriate colored face. Thus, total wellness would be represented when all of the colors are aligned in the correct order.
Whenever one side of the cube is moved or relocated, the movement has a direct effect on almost all six sides. When trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube, most people focus on one color and ignore the other sides. They are unable to solve the puzzle, get frustrated, and give up. Similarly, many people will sacrifice parts of their mental, emotional, social, spiritual, and physical health in order to perfect one piece of their health (possibly nutrition). They will stress out about eating a bite of cheese, worry about social events involving food, spend too much time blogging, or baking perfectly Paleo meals instead of opening their eyes to a world outside of nutrition. These conceptual blind spots, resulting from an exclusive focus on nutrition, need to be eliminated to reach your total health.
So What Can I Do About It?
If you are constantly at your computer blogging, reading research, finding recipes, or deciphering which foods are “Paleo” or not, you might want to look at spending more time with your friends, volunteering, trying a new hobby, relaxing with yoga or meditation, or treating yourself to a massage or special event. Check out Groupon.com or other special deal websites to find something that you wouldn’t normally do and explore a little outside the realm of food. I promise, the blogs will still be there and you can easily sauté some veggies and cook some meat in minutes when you arrive home all refreshed.
If you create meal plans for the week that is the perfect time to “pen in” some you time. If your meal plan is more sporadic and you don’t use a meal planner, then schedule your you time on a calendar. Instead of slaving at the stove, why not throw something in the crockpot and get out and explore. So many people have not even begun to explore their local area for what it’s worth. Get out of your comfort zone and trying rock climbing or a new craft. Engaging in new activities does wonders for relieving stress and challenging your body and mind. You may just find a brand new hobby! If cooking really is your thing, try making something for friends and inviting them over to try the new dish. You could also volunteer as a cook at a homeless shelter. Programs such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters do wonders for lifting your spirits. Heck, you can even talk to these kids about healthy eating if you want, but just make sure you get some play time in as well!
Mark Sisson recognizes the “art of play” and I highly suggest checking out some of his material if you are at a loss for activities outside of nutrition.
While there may only be one perfect solution for the Rubik’s cube, there is no one perfect solution for total health. Health is dynamic so no one may be able to fully attain their perfect health. Having an incomplete “Cube” should not be considered a failure. It is only a failure if you acknowledge the pieces in life you are falling short on and do not try to better them.
Bottom line: In the Paleo world, nutrition is a big piece of the puzzle, but don’t “lean out” on other parts of your life.
Eberst, R. M. (1984), Defining Health: A Multidimensional Model. Journal of School Health, 54: 99–104. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.1984.tb08780.x