When we look at health, we look in the context of humans, which consists of three distinct parts or layers: the body (the physical nature), the soul (the mind, will and emotions), and the spirit (the part of us that transcends this world and communes with God).
Our spiritual life is what gives us the foundation for living and provides the strength we need for everything else. Our soul, the second layer, is the “intangible” part of us. You can’t touch it, but it is there, and not only is it there, but it is what drives most of who and what we are! Then, finally, our body, the outermost layer, is the physical shell that houses our soul and spirit. All of these are intricately connected and affect each another.
We cover these three layers in four different parts this month:
1. Spiritual Health: Two weeks ago we looked at the benefits and importance of developing a vibrant spiritual life and gave you some easy methods to help take your spiritual life to a deeper level.
2. Emotional Health: The mind, will, and emotions. Last week, we covered the importance of a healthy soul, specifically the mind, will, and emotional aspects of life. We looked at how our inner person is such a vital part in making sure we live the kind of life we desire, and we learned how our emotional life can become healthy, strong, and lively.
3. Physical Health—Nutrition: Today, we will begin a two-part look at the body and physical health, concentrating on the area of nutrition. It is important that we fuel our body properly because energy comes from the foods we eat. Just like a vehicle runs off of the fuel we fill it with, if we put the wrong kind of fuel into our body, it will not run properly. Put the right kinds of foods in, and it will run like the high-performance engine in an expensive sports car!
4. Physical Health—Exercise: Week 13 will look at the important area of exercise. “I need to exercise” is the first thought that occurs to most people when they think of health. We do need exercise, and three weeks from now, we will take a more in-depth look at this important topic.
Let’s dive into this week’s focus, Physical Health: Nutrition.
We have covered the two “inner parts” of human health this month, and now it is time to look outward at the body. The body is a fantastic gift, a physical masterpiece that is ours for life. It grows, develops, and is the vehicle with which we go through our entire lives. You only get one body, and it’s important to make the most of it. This is why it is so important for us to take the issue of physical health seriously. The body is in a natural state of decay, and it is our job as stewards of our body to treat it well and keep it in tip-top physical shape, which can help delay the process of aging significantly. With proper care, our bodies can stay finely tuned. Especially with the medical advancements available to us in this generation, we can experience the longest life spans in the history of mankind. Today, one of the fastest-growing segments of society is the 80 years and older group! The average lifespan for both men and women living in the United States is now in the mid-to-late 70s. Incredible!
One of the key aspects of keeping our bodies fit is the nutritional aspect. Now, before we go further, let me say that the following advice should not be taken as specific medical or nutritional advice—you should see your physician for that and create a plan specific to your needs and lifestyle—instead, these are general guidelines for leading a physically fit lifestyle as it relates to nutrition. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some specific guidelines for physical health as it relates to nutrition.
Get Back to the Basics
There are two parts to physical health. We all know them, and together we could all say in unison: “Eat right and exercise!” Physical health, in its simplest form, comes down to these two basics: Eat right and exercise. Next week we’ll talk about exercise, but this week let’s cover the “eat right” message. Simply put, we must eat right. At its essence, this is a key that is pretty simple to monitor. We all have a basic understanding of what it means to eat right. Pick one of the following as a good versus not-so-good choice for a snack: A handful of nuts or a candy bar? For dessert: A small portion of fruit or a pint of ice cream? We all know what it means to “eat right.” It is a simple concept, and it’s one we would benefit greatly to focus on.
A good analogy to help put this issue of nutrition into perspective would be to think of your body as a vehicle. Now, imagine for a moment that you had worked hard and had been able to save enough money to buy the car of your dreams. Maybe it is a fine luxury car that costs $75,000. You love every aspect of it. It gets you where you want to go, and it gets you there in style! Now, after driving for a few hours, you know you will run out of fuel, so you turn to the owner’s manual and find it tells you that you need to use unleaded fuel. Would you then go fill up the car with diesel? It wouldn’t run right if you did. It wasn’t designed for diesel. In reading the owner’s manual, you would also see a recommended grade of fuel in order for the car to run at its most efficient level. There will be an octane suggestion; it might be 89. Now, the car could probably run on 87 octane, but not as well as on 89. So you would put in 89 octane. You must fuel the vehicle properly. The same is true with our bodies! We are designed to run on good fuel. There are other fuels we can put into our bodies, but they won’t run as efficiently if we do.
Most of the time, people tend to eat what they eat because they want something that tastes good in the moment—instant gratification. What would happen if we began to eat not what we crave, but what our body needs for fuel? It would revolutionize our physical health. If we begin to view our bodies with the “body as a vehicle” analogy and the need to fuel it properly, we will find our bodies respond by running better, more efficiently and for longer periods of time. That sounds good to me! Start to think of your body as a vehicle that needs to be fueled properly.
Consult with a Physician or Dietitian
I would strongly encourage you to have a visit with someone who is an expert in the area of nutrition. Sit down with your physician or dietitian and go over your nutritional plan. You might say, “But Jim, I am not overweight. I am in good shape.” I would encourage you to visit with your health care professional anyway. Just because you aren’t overweight doesn’t mean you can’t improve your nutrition, which will in turn improve your health.
Take in a Healthy Supply of Good, Nutritional Fuel
Unlike the vehicle we drive, our bodies can run well on a wide variety of foods. Could you imagine if you had to eat the same kind of food every time you ate? That would get boring very fast! Fortunately, we have plethora of foods that can fuel our bodies properly—all of the healthy choices of fruits, vegetables, breads, grains, meats and dairy products that can help our bodies operate at maximum efficiency. Be sure to eat a wide variety of foods and enjoy them!
Stay Away from Foods That Are Not Good for You
What would you do if you went outside one evening and found the neighborhood kids playing a prank on you and getting ready to fill your car’s fuel tank with sugar? You would put an end to that quickly! Why? Because you don’t want the neighbor kids to have fun? No, because sugar isn’t good for the car! The point? There are certain things you wouldn’t put in your car’s fuel tank and there are certain things you shouldn’t fuel your body with, either. The more diligent we are in staying away from foods that are not good for us, the better our bodies will run.
All Things in Moderation
That is an old saying. Most health problems, nutritionally and otherwise, come from a lack of moderation. Can we eat sugar? Sure, just not too much. Can we eat some pie sometimes? Certainly, but not too much. Anorexia is a nutritional challenge we face in our society today that many young people have fallen prey to. They eat too little, and as a result, suffer many serious health problems. Moderation means we don’t eat too much or too little. We eat just enough—in moderation. We fuel our bodies properly. We don’t weigh too little or too much. We weigh just enough for our body frame.
Develop Good Eating Habits
Part of the problem we experience in our nutrition has to do with our habits. What do we do habitually? Do we get in the habit of stopping at a fast-food place for lunch every day and eating high-fat foods? Or do we exercise the habit of taking 10 minutes every evening before we go to bed to prepare a lunch to take with us filled with healthy foods? That simple habit will pay for itself in nutritional soundness. Developing good eating and nutritional habits will pay dividends for a lifetime.
Develop a Lifelong Plan of Nutrition
One of the best things we can do is to sit down and take time to develop a sustainable, long-term nutrition plan. I believe one of the reasons so many diets fail long term is because short-term people will change the way they eat to enable themselves to lose weight, but these changes are not realistic long term. Once they lose the weight and get to their ideal weight, they stop eating the way that helped them lose the weight and they go back to their old ways of eating. And what happens? You guessed it—they gain the weight back. To ensure long-term nutritional health, we need to have a sustainable, long-term plan of nutrition. The plan should be nutritionally sound and one we personally enjoy and are able to commit to.
Again, remember, just as you invest money and time in the pursuit of health in other areas of your life, invest in this area of nutrition as well. Your body will thank you for it!
Until next week, let’s do something remarkable!