Fresh-VegetablesIn starting my own wellness coaching practice, I deeply reflected upon what principles of healing had best served me on my personal journey toward wellness and revisited some of my favorite teachers to discover what these diverse gurus had in common.  And in doing so, I crafted what I truly believe are the 12 Principles of Wellness we should all strive to incorporate into our daily lives.

  1. Eat Whole Foods
  2. Love your Greens
  3. Kick the Sugar Habit
  4. Incorporate Healthy Fats
  5. Move!!!
  6. Sleep yourself Healthy
  7. Manage your Stress through Self-care
  8. Develop a Spiritual Practice
  9. Live with Gratitude
  10. Create a Social Support Network
  11. It’s Good to be “Bad” (once and a while)
  12. Live with Passion

Today, I’d like to focus on Principle One: Eat Whole Foods.  But how do we even recognize whole foods in today’s confusing marketplace?  Here’s a few easy tips from one of my all-time favorite authors and activists Michael Pollen, who stresses the importance of consuming a diet focused on whole foods with an emphasis on the plant variety.  In his book Food Rules (a fun, informative must-read), Pollen has created simple guidelines to help us navigate through all the confusion.  A few of my favorite tips regarding whole foods are:

  • Don’t Eat Anything your Great Grandmother Wouldn’t Recognize as Food. Yes, my Grandma Betty got it right when she cooked everything from scratch and used real butter.  All those Twinkies, Big Macs, fries and cheese puffs (sadly my all-time favorite) are not whole foods.  The real problem with these edible food like substances is that they’re calorie-dense and nutrient poor.  Meaning you’re taking in a lot of calories, but getting absolutely no nutritional benefit.  Even more alarming is that the over-consumption of these foods is the leading cause of avoidable lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and depression.  Not to mention the fact that processed food makes us feel sluggish both mentally and physically, which prevents us from accomplishing all the amazing things we want to do each day.  Think of that afternoon slump we’ve all experienced.
  • Avoid Food Products Containing Ingredients that No Ordinary Human Would Keep in the Pantry or Contain More than Five Ingredients. I find these tips most helpful when I’m at even the health food store.  As a rule of thumb, always read the food label first, and if there is a long list of ingredients and a Third-Grader Cannot Pronounce most of them, ditch it!!
  • Avoid Food Products That Make Health Claims or You See Advertised on Television. I always shake my head when I see a bag of potato chips claiming to be trans-fat free, as if that inherently made it an ideal snack choice.  But the sad truth is food companies are all about making money and use advertising and mislabeling to entice us to buy their products.  Have you ever seen a commercial advertising heart healthy kale or broccoli?!  Along these lines, Avoid Foods that Are Pretending to Be Something They Are Not.  For example, imitation butter or nonfat cream cheese requires an extreme amount of processing.  You’re better off having a little of the real stuff.
  • Shop Peripheries of the Supermarket and Stay out of the Middle. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad. Speaking of which, Don’t Eat Anything that Won’t Eventually Rot, like that cheese in a can seeming to last for decades!  And Get Out of the Supermarket Whenever You Can.  Every Saturday in the summer Gatsby (my golden retriever) and I go to the local farmers market and get the most delicious fruits and vegetables to cook with for the week.  Of course, he particularly likes the lady that sells the natural dog treats ;).

Please don’t fret if you’re worried about giving up all your favorite snack delights.  From my own experience and what countless conquerors of the bulge will tell you, the trick is to slowly over time crowd out the junk and replace it with whole foods.  Once you begin to see how fantastic eating and cooking with these jewels of the market place will make you feel, you’ll want to grab for that apple a day.  An easy first step is to replace one thing in your current diet with a whole food or two.  For example, replace those cookies you have for an afternoon snack with a handful of raw nuts and your favorite fruit, or instead of having a bag of chips with your sandwich have some raw veggies or a side salad.  The key is to make small sustainable changes over time.  In addition, I’m on the lookout for easy and fun healthy recipes to share with our wellness community on my website.  If you have any all-time favorites please send them my way at erin@erincliffordwellness.com.