When we are born, it would be helpful if we were given an owner’s manual for our body, mind and soul. However, learning how to care for ourselves is part of our life’s journey. But to make it a bit easier for you, let me share five key items that I believe would be included in our owner’s manual.

First, before the list began there would be a disclaimer that explains bio-individuality. Bio-individuality means that no perfect way of eating works for everybody. The food that is perfect for your unique body, age and lifestyle may make another person gain weight and feel lethargic. Listening to your body’s unique messages will lead you to the combination of foods that work best for you.

The body’s owner’s manual would start off with what seems like an obvious one, but one that many people ignore. In general, we need 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Have you noticed that Americans have many tactics to avoid investing in a full night’s sleep? Many people try energy drinks, caffeine and various other stimulants to skimp on sleep. Using caffeine does give you a short-term energy but with a cost over time. Stephen Cherniske, M.S., explains in his book Caffeine Blues that consuming more than 300mg of coffee on a regular basis can negatively affect your liver, impair digestion and increase your cortisol levels — just to name a few common affects.

Next, the manual would state the type of fuel it needs. For optimum health eat whole, natural foods such as greens, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and naturally raised, clean meats. Would you ever consider putting diesel fuel in your gas engine? Of course not, so why would you run your body on sugar, processed foods and caffeine?

Thirdly, it would state to: drink plenty of clean water. Water does valuable things for you such as flush toxins, cushion your joints and muscles and helps you to have beautiful skin.

The owner’s manual would next discuss exercise. It would state to: move your body regularly by finding a type of exercise that you enjoy and make it a habit. Remember, the amount of exercise you do in your 30s, 40s and 50s determines how well your body will age and move in your 60s, 70s and 80s.

And lastly, I believe another key component would be to spend time relaxing and engaging in activities that feed your body, mind and soul. When people traditionally think of “being healthy,” they think about the food on their plate. But as a culture, we are beginning to realize that health goes much deeper. This area warrants further explanation because learning to relax can have a profound impact on your health.

Your Work
Let’s first address the topic of work. I invite you to think about how many of your waking hours are spent working. Are you working too many hours to pay for a large house, new car, material possessions and conveniences? I realize that there are people who are struggling to support a one-income family, others who work for unfair wages and couples who need to both work to just make ends meet. These are not the groups that I am addressing, but keep in mind that working too many hours without relief can lead to a condition called distress — a negative stress reaction. Distress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and insomnia. Research suggests that stress also can bring on or worsen certain symptoms or diseases. In addition, people who work too many hours tend to drink alcohol or overeat to try to manage the stress of overworking.

Let me share what I learned from recently downsizing my life in order to work less hours. Before downsizing, I thought I wanted more “stuff” such as home furnishings and more clothes. But what I realized from downsizing my car, home and closet is that what my soul desperately wanted was more free time. This extra time for family and enjoyable activities is what I found made me sincerely happy. I paid cash for an older car, bought quality clothes but less of them, purchased a simpler home and I’m the happiest that I’ve ever been. Another example of the positive affects of downsizing would be a friend of mine who downsized their large home for a townhouse and finally lost a stubborn nine pounds! She is an extremely healthy eater and exercises regularly, but she couldn’t lose the weight around her middle section. Within several weeks of downsizing their home, she lost the weight and has kept it off.

Why do we think we “need” bigger houses, nicer cars and more stuff? Because it is the job of advertisers to put this thought in our heads. Check out the movie Art and Copy for an honest look at how advertisers pray on fulfilling our emotions with buying more stuff. It takes independence and confidence in who you are to live against the mainstream. Wealth is a positive aspect of life, but if it is negatively affecting your health, perhaps consider simplifying your life.

Your Time
Let’s continue with another look at how you spend your time. Do you make time to actually sit down and just relax during the day? Do you have a meditation, yoga or journaling practice? Sadly, many Americans spend hours a day watching other people live their lives on TV. Have you thought about this before? Instead of fully engaging in your life, do you spend time watching others live theirs? Do you yearn to do something new like take a knitting class, tennis or dance lessons? Have you always wanted to take a creative writing course? Do you fantasize about going to college but don’t let yourself take the first steps?

Spending your time in a meaningful way improves your health by making your life more enjoyable. That, in turn, releases endorphins, which have been scientifically shown to improve your health. Less stress in your life will allow you to make wiser food choices, because you aren’t eating to relieve the stress.

A more fulfilling life also improves your health because it gives you another enjoyable activity to engage in besides eating. Have you noticed that food has become the favorite pastime of many Americans? They eat when they are sad, afraid, bored, stressed and lonely. I invite you to become conscious of how you’re living your life. If you took a third-person perspective of your life, would you be really excited to live the life you have created? Has mindless eating taken over your life? Start slowly and begin to listen to your intuition on what fulfilling activities you might like to try. Starting a new yoga practice, taking a class or simply learning how to relax with a cup of tea will go a long way toward improving your health and happiness.

Unfortunately we aren’t born with an owner’s manual, but consider the above recommendations when looking to make healthy changes. Also, many people succeed when in a group environment, so ask a friend to help you stay accountable on these simple recommendations. And perhaps, this friend will join a new class with you!

Maggie Christopher is a certified holistic nutrition counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. She combines the wisdom of whole foods nutrition along with emotionally-based therapy to support individuals in uncovering and healing the root causes of their cravings. She provides a safe environment to explore the emotional reasons for the eating habits that prevent you from reaching your health goals. She offers step-by-step guidance and delicious recipes that support you in introducing whole natural foods that promote health, calm cravings and allow you to feel satisfied. For a free nutrition consultation, visit her website or call.

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