As I got off the shuttle bus, I felt a rush of nervous excitement. Would I know her when she picked me up? Would she know me? What if we didn’t like each other after all? I thought about my journey, and not just the one that brought me halfway across the United States and into Ontario, Canada, but my entire wellness journey. My mind wandered back in time.
It began more than 30 years ago when my doctor told me I may never be able to eat a McDonald’s hamburger bun again! “What?” I thought. I was only 26, and they were testing me for diabetes, which I had never heard of. The results were negative for diabetes but positive for hypoglycemia. Meeting with a nutritionist was the first step of my wellness journey. Over time, I added to my knowledge base by attending lectures, reading books, eating new foods, and trying novel recipes. Quinoa was not new to me by the time it gained national notoriety!
From my personal experience, a passion was ignited in me to help others make better nutritional choices. But how? While visiting an esthetician friend, my mom came across a booklet about a nutrition school. She brought the booklet home, and within a few weeks, I was enrolled at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN).
What I learned at IIN changed my life. The opportunities extended beyond my education to the coaching I received, the people I met, and the relationships we formed. At the heart of my experience was the concept that wellness is a balance between primary and secondary foods. In his book Integrative Nutrition , Joshua Rosenthal, IIN’s founder, explains it this way: “Primary food is more than what is on your plate. When primary food is balanced and satiating, your life feeds you, making what you eat secondary.” There are four primary “foods:”
- Physical activity
Rosenthal writes, “Sometimes we are fed not by food, but by the energy in our lives. These moments and feelings demonstrate that everything is food. We take in thousands of experiences of life that can fulfill us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We hunger for play, fun, touch, romance, intimacy, love, achievement, success, art, music, self-expression, leadership, excitement, adventure, and spirituality. All of these elements are essential forms of nourishment.”
Try this simple exercise. Rank each of the primary foods on a scale of one to 10, where one is extremely dissatisfied and 10 is extremely satisfied. Which areas are you doing well in? Celebrate them! Which areas do you have room for improvement in?
Now, set two goals, create a simple action plan, and write it all down. Repeat this exercise every two weeks, and don’t forget to celebrate your achievements. This simple activity just might be the single-best stress reliever you’ve ever tried.
While in school, I also learned about nutrition, or secondary foods, because IIN teaches more than 100 diet theories. Nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. IIN teaches bio-individuality: What works for one person may not work for another. Bio-individuality is about the person, not the theory.
Now for the question on everyone’s minds: What should you eat? Author Michal Pollan puts it so simply, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Try crowding out the unhealthy foods you may have been eating with better alternatives: Replace that second doughnut with a banana. Patronize restaurants that can help you with your nutrition goals. For example, I love that Panera Bread offers an apple as an alternative to bread or chips. Did you know they will even cut it up for you if you ask? Still unsure about what to eat? Check out this Honest Food Guide for some pointers.
It can take a lifetime to transition to healthy eating. Be gentle and patient with yourself, and don’t forget to have fun and be curious along the way! A couple of years ago I took an “uncooking” class where I learned how to prepare raw foods. Soups, crackers, cheese, and even a cobbler are just a few of the fun items you can make and never consider them to be “raw” or vegetarian. A whole new world could open up before you.
After graduating from IIN in October 2013, I was certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners as a health coach. I immediately enrolled in IIN’s immersion graduate program where students were required to pair up as peer coaches. But whom would I pair up with? And how would I find him or her? After all, IIN is an international school.
I began my search by thinking about what I wanted out of a peer coach. He or she would have to be a professional, a goal-setter, an achiever, interested in starting a business, and someone I could relate to. After reviewing scores of online profiles, I came across Farah. Match found!
For more than two years, Farah and I spoke regularly on the phone, graduated from immersion training, and continued to help each other start a wellness business.
Fast-forward to the present: I felt a rush of nervous excitement as I retrieved my suitcase from the shuttle bus. I was really there, in Ontario, waiting for Farah to pick me up. My family questioned my sanity. Who goes to another country, by herself, to stay with a family you have never met?
Farah barely had the vehicle in park before she rushed up and gave me the biggest hug. For the next three days, I had the chance to enjoy visiting with her and her husband, and her new baby. We ate, drank, and talked until we were all tired out. Our goodbyes were tearful as I waited on the shuttle bus to take me back to the Buffalo airport.
My wellness journey continues, although my business plans are on hold. In February, I had the privilege of presenting “De-Stressed for Success!” at the HFMA Heart of America Women in Healthcare Luncheon. As a result of preparing for that presentation, the opportunity presented itself to contribute to this HERe newsletter. You never know what life holds in store.
As for me, I’m going back to Ontario to see Farah in October to meet baby No. 2!
Shanna Hanson, FHFMA, CHC, CC, manager of business knowledge, is the Human Arc leader with responsibility for research and reporting to executive staff on all legislative and environmental changes and trends impacting the company’s health care markets, services and product-development initiatives.