The Two Words That Completely Changed My Relationship With Food

Just the other day, my friend and certified health coach, Natalie Radcliffe, said something that stopped me in my tracks. She introduced me to the concept of “primary food,” and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.

I’ve always had a poor relationship with food, from extreme dieting to overeating prior to said diet. I’ve spent years just consuming and obsessing about food, without ever really enjoying it … like the kind of enjoyment I had as a child before I realized there were such things as jean sizes or pounds. Choosing what to eat has been a source of stress and anxiety, and I’ve often failed.

So, when my friend Natalie reframed the conversation around food, it gifted me the freedom I have so long desired … the freedom to enjoy my life and trust myself — my body, my mind, my soul, my whole being. I asked Natalie to share her words with you, and I hope they inspire you, as they have me. 

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By Guest Blogger Natalie Radcliffe, Certified Health Coach, CPT

When the topic of nutrition arises, most often it concerns only the food we put in our mouths. But our lives and health are nourished by more than just the food we eat. Before approaching dietary changes, which can often feel daunting and, well, not that exciting, it’s important to look at what are called “primary foods.

Primary What?!
There are two types of food: primary food and secondary food. Both are important to a healthy lifestyle. Secondary food is the food we consume for physical nourishment and also enjoyment. Primary food goes beyond this.

The Institute for Integrative Nutrition gives the following examples of primary food:

  1. Consistent physical movement (beyond chasing your children)
  2. Meaningful relationships that have a positive affect on your life
  3. Doing work that is fulfilling whether in the home, career or volunteer
  4. Nurturing your spiritual life
  5. Knowing or discovering your passions and having the ability to pursue them
  6. Regular self-care
  7. Having fun, practicing creativity and the ability to be playful 

Although secondary food is extremely important, it cannot provide the meaning and fulfillment that primary food can. Oftentimes, we reach for secondary food as the solution for a lack of nourishment with primary food (ex: emotional eating, coping mechanism, boredom, toxic relationships).

I’m not a believer in perfect “balance.” There are times when certain areas of our lives dominate in such a way that balance just isn’t possible. Examples include starting a business, having a baby, taking care of an aging family member, making a cross-country move, and — let’s be honest — motherhood. And now, we can add a worldwide pandemic to the list!

However, even when not perfect, the “primary food” of our lives feeds us in a way that can’t be replaced by secondary food. When we’re deprived of primary food, health issues can arise. If our solutions lie only in secondary food, we also miss opportunities to strengthen our minds, bodies and souls. After all, kale can only do so much when the rest of our lives are out of whack. Even just the smallest practice can bring big impact over time. It’s not about perfection, but direction. Are you moving towards health and vitality, or away from it?

Added bonus: Feeding yourself with primary food will more than likely support you sustaining healthier food choices over the long haul. For me, personally, better secondary food choices are always easier to maintain when other aspects of my life are in greater balance.

Great. Now What?
Pick ONE area and focus on how you can nurture that aspect of your life for the next few weeks or, maybe, months.

Ways to help you find strategies to begin this investment:

  1. Weekly or monthly reflections
  2. Discuss with a partner or friend
  3. Reach out to someone whose life embodies this aspect of health 

This month, my primary food focus is on physical movement. The stress and exhaustion that have resulted from mothering young children during this crazy, quarantine time has led to physical issues, and my exercise routine has suffered. My intention is to spend more time in my pilates practice, three-to-four days/week for 10–20 minutes.

Is there a primary food for which you’re starved? How will you seek to nourish yourself this month?

Natalie Radcliffe is a Certified Health Coach, Personal Trainer and Pilates Instructor. She received her Bachelors in Health Education and Fitness Studies from Baylor University in 2002. This year she is celebrating 10 years of marriage to the love of her life, Jeremy. They currently live in Dallas with their two kids, Scarlett and Finn. You can contact her at nat.radcliffe@gmail.com.