Nutrition: Eight Easy Steps

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Diet & Detox

As you strive to maintain a healthy diet, there are many other factors at work. The following are the elements of maintaining total nutrition that can also influence your goal to create optimum health:

Emotions

Food is a highly charged emotional issue for women, which is one reason women who try to lose weight with a diet mentality often fail. Your thoughts and perceptions affect every aspect of your health, including your weight. I am sure you have wondered how a seemingly healthy woman who “eats right and exercises” gets ill or stays fat while another woman who smokes, drinks and eats poorly avoids illness and stays slim. I can confidently say that the key is her emotions. Regardless of what you eat, what supplements you take or how much you exercise, your attitudes, perceptions and daily thought patterns set the stage for health or illness. For example, if you eat brown rice and vegetables in an effort to be healthy and lose weight, but you feel guilty about eating in general, you will have chronically high levels of cortisol, which can lead to carbohydrate and fat binges. Exploring your third emotional center can help you unravel your attitudes and thought patterns.

Genetic Heritage

Our genetic heritage plays an important role in how food affects us. For example, the Pima Indians of the Southwest have an 80–90 percent risk of developing diabetes unless they stick to their native diet of squash, beans and low glycemic index foods. In families with large numbers of alcoholics there is an inherited tendency toward hypoglycemia and sugar cravings. It is always best to work with your genes rather than trying to fight them.

Cultural and Family Heritage

In many families a woman’s value is determined by how often she cooks and how much she feeds others. It is very difficult to stay slim if you are constantly preparing food for others, but never having it served to you. Every family and culture has a unique emotional relationship with food. What is yours?

Macronutrient Intake

Macronutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrates. You need all of these in the right amounts and types to create a hormone-balancing food plan.

Most experts still do not agree on the “right” amount of protein. Many women do not get enough protein, especially if they follow high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets or have eliminated animal products from their diets. I find that if I eat a bit of protein at each meal, whether it’s from soy or some form of animal protein, I have more energy and am less hungry throughout the day. You have to judge for yourself what your protein needs are. There are formulae in many of the newer diet books I have mentioned that can help you with this.

Fats are another sticky area for women. Many women avoid healthy fats the same way they avoid saturated fats. I cannot stress enough how important “healthy fats” are, especially omega–3 fats, which are necessary for the production of good eicosanoids and the functioning of every cell in the body, particularly nervous system tissue.

As with fats, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Many of your favorite carbohydrates may be high on the glycemic index, which means they convert to glucose in the body very quickly. While some people do not have a problem with high glygemic index carbohydrates (I call them genetically gifted), it is still best for your health if you eat carbohydrates that contain a lot of fiber and have a low glycemic index, meaning they convert to glucose very slowly in the body.

Micronutrient Intake

Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and phytonutrients. Ideally, you should be able to get all of the micronutrients you need from food, provided you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. However, the nutritional value of our food today is highly dependant upon where the food was grown, when it was harvested, and the quality of the soil or waters in which it grew. Organically-grown foods typically have higher nutritional content. If you feel that you need additional support, supplementation with the right nutritional supplements can help.

Environment and Relationships

Where you eat and with whom can have a huge effect on how well nourished you are. Try to fully allow yourself to focus on the food you eat at mealtime, without watching TV or reading the newspaper. Do not talk with your mouth full. Chew your food completely. Eat slowly and mindfully. This will allow your body to metabolize your food properly. If you find that you always eat with a person who influences you to eat too quickly, or one who needs distractions at a meal in order to sit through it, ask that person to slow down and participate in nourishing his or her body with you, or remove yourself from the situation. Banish all guilt talk about food. Eat with people who fully enjoy meals.

Balanced Exercise

Exercise can be empowering or intimidating, joyful or burdensome. The trick to a successful exercise regime is to stop thinking about it as a way to lose weight and decrease body fat. If you dread exercise or use it as a way to escape from stress, you’ll miss out on its full benefits. The best form of exercise is one that feels good to you; this will also keep you fit because you will continue to move in a way you enjoy. Try to include some cardiovascular exercise, resistance training and some form of stretching and relaxation. Learn your limitations; rest when you need to and push yourself when you feel you can. Set regular and reasonable fitness goals, such as walking to a landmark in less time than you have previously, or lifting heavier weights. Having and meeting fitness goals keep exercise alive and meaningful. Enjoy exercise as a lifelong process.

Food Chi

In Oriental medicine there is a belief that everything in the universe is composed of chi (also spelled qi). Chi is the life energy or life force that is responsible for all creation. The human body is considered to be a mini universe housing 12 energetic channels through which chi flows. Chi can be both inherited and acquired. Food is acquired chi.

The majority of packaged or processed foods with long shelf lives have very little or no chi — they are “dead.” Food that is fresh from the garden is alive and brimming with chi. Likewise, food that is prepared with love and care will have more chi than that which is prepared by people who dislike what they are doing.

Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, uses the principles of complementary and opposing energy, yin (female, earth) and yang (male, heaven), as well as the five tastes (spicy, sweet, sour, bitter, and salty), to determine a balanced diet. The idea is that you can balance your deficiencies with the proper foods. Your energy channels can be blocked if you are unable to absorb enough chi, and corrected by adding the foods with the compensating chi. For example, if you are too cold (yin), you could eat more spicy or warm (yang) foods, such as scallions or ginger, to help balance your chi. If you change your diet from one high in fats and refined sugars to one rich in legumes and grains, you may free chi to move throughout your system.

Listen to Your Body

Do You Have a Diet Mentality?

Our culture has programmed us to think that women who are not thin lack self-discipline and willpower. It’s no wonder so many women diet in an effort to be thin and to show outwardly that they have self-control. But, I believe what my friend, Louise Hay, says, that changes that happen through self-abuse and denial are transient. If you have a diet mentality, you will always be dieting and probably never keep the weight off. Changes that are loved into being are permanent.

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you may want to get in touch with the elements of total nutrition before you embark on your next eating plan.

  • Do you routinely avoid food you really love?
  • Do you avoid eating all day so that you can binge at dinner?
  • Do you weigh yourself several times throughout the day?
  • Do you beat yourself up if you weigh a pound or two more than usual?
  • Do you let your weight determine your mood?
  • Do you starve yourself, only to gulp whatever is in sight later?
  • Do you constantly say to yourself, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow”?
  • Do you know the caloric count of almost every food?

Learn More — Additional Resources

Last Updated: October 13, 2006

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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  1. Judith Driscoll
    1 year ago

    In an Wayne Dyer interview, Dr. Dyer said that you had told him of research that showed that a vegetable garden tends to produce the very nutrients that the gardener needs. Various Google attempt doesn’t turn up the research, so I thought I’d go right to the source!

    I was diagnosed with Melanoma in 2012, just after I bought a farm. I followed a strict diet and healed without the second prescribed surgery–using food raised in my own garden, rest, and self-directed inner work (I’m a psychotherapist). Today, I have no signs of the cancer.

    I’m fascinated by this concept of the connection between gardener and garden, and would love to be directed to the study you read, so I can marvel at the intelligence in my beautiful garden. Thank you!

    1. R Figueroa
      1 year ago

      I did hear Dr. Northrup say this in one of her lectures. figgy1@aol.com

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