Diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, depression – what do these chronic conditions have in common? Every single one of them has been linked to poor nutrition. Our 21st-century world is increasingly plagued with non-infectious (chronic, long-term) types of illness, and this trend is affecting all populations across the globe.
The Impact of Food and Nutrition
Fortunately, not every one of us suffers from a chronic condition, and you might consider yourself healthy or “relatively healthy”, if only you could have a bit more energy, sleep a bit better, be a bit less anxious… Sounds familiar? Apart from the serious conditions, various other health issues are direct results of our food intake, and can make our lives less enjoyable or even - somewhat miserable.
Some are directly caused by the consumption of food, such as:
Allergies to peanuts, shellfish, or wheat (celiac disease)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel disease (IBD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD
But numerous other problems can also occur as result of a poor diet, just to name a few:
Feeling overwhelmed, fatigued and stressed
Experiencing poor sleep, brain fog, aches and pains
Frequent migraines and headaches
Feeling tired and burnt out
Concentration and memory problems
Bodyweight issues (unable to lose/gain weight)
High cholesterol/blood pressure
Type-2 diabetes and insulin sensitivity
Hormonal issues, PMS
Poor immune system
Various digestion issues (bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhea etc).
This is a long list, and it could go much longer. It’s incredibly exhausting to battle with unresolved health issues day in and out. In this state, attempting to make any change can feel stressful, anxiety-provoking and just impossible.
There Is No Universal Diet
Most of us have an idea of what healthy eating should be about, in principle: less processed food, less sugar, more vegetables and fruits. If it’s so simple, why do we suffer from so many health conditions related to poor nutrition?
But what does poor nutrition even mean? There are a few general rules here: under- or over-eating, not having enough of the healthy foods we need each day, or consuming too many types of food and drink, which are low in fibre or high in fat, salt, and/or sugar have all negative health consequences. In addition, many people are highly deficient in various nutrients due to the modern food production and processing methods, as well as due to the lack of knowledge of what counts as good food for them.
Despite the general rules, this is a highly individual subject – what counts as poor nutrition for me, doesn’t necessarily mean the same for you.
Why? Because context is everything. Your nutritional requirements are not one-size-fits-all and there is no universal diet that will work for everyone. Your needs depend on many individual factors, such as certain health and life conditions (like stress, addiction, pregnancy), or medications. You might be getting enough to eat, if you are not eating a balanced diet that is tailored to your unique health needs, you may still be at risk for certain nutritional deficiencies that can lead to various health conditions.
For decades, public health nutritionists and dieticians have used food pyramids, food plates, calorie counting, recommended intakes (RDAs), and simplistic health messages like ‘five-a-day’ to educate us about nutrition and healthy eating. But recommended intakes (e.g. RDAs, RIs) are average numbers based on population data for ‘healthy’ people, so they cannot address the unique nutritional needs of a particular individual.
Balance in diet is unique for each person, and to find balance, you need to be aware of your own needs. This doesn’t just mean the properties of foods you eat, but all other factors that play a crucial role in your wellbeing: stress, sleep, lifestyle.
Finding Your Version of Health
Much like in the case of nutritional needs, there is no standard answer to what it means for us to be healthy or “relatively healthy”. In fact, we all have a unique, personal version of feeling healthy and well. And this too depends on many factors, like our mindset, lifelong habits, life events, physical and social environment, our sleep, eating habits… the list goes on.
One such factor is food, which acts as a foundation medicine – it may be slower to take effect, but it very profoundly affects all systems of the body and can influence your overall health over the entire course of your life.
The way I see it, whatever struggles you are facing, you have two choices: you try controlling them, or they will control you. There are, of course, a lot of aspects of life we simply cannot control. But what we can control, happens to be one of the core foundations of health. This means that enjoying good health is less about good luck or having good genes, and more about evolving habits that undermine our health into conscious, smarter, healthier choices.
Aiming For Meaningful Change Over “Quick-Fix”
Here's the thing: success is not about a specific diet, rules and restrictions. It is about sustainable behavior changes – improving our relationship with food: what we eat, how we eat. Smart nutrition and food choices can not only help prevent health issues, but can also support our body to cope with existing conditions more successfully.
Your body has a remarkable capacity to begin healing itself IF it’s given the chance to do so, but you have to give it the time and patience - you cannot expect to reverse lifelong bad habits in just a month. Truly profound change is rarely seen or felt immediately; our biology is subtle and complex and is completely unique to each and every one of us - it can take a little time to ‘re-calibrate’. Long-term, sustainable change is the golden ticket you are looking for.
Always keep in mind: you deserve the time, consideration and space necessary to unlock your own capacity for healing. The main goal is to develop a flexible, personal eating and lifestyle “program” over time, that meets your unique needs and encourages wellness, happiness, and healing.
When To Seek Support
We are all on our own personal journey – some prefer to go on their own, while others do need support to get started on their wellbeing journey. The information out there can be overwhelming, resulting in more confusion and less motivation - not to mention the lack of personal relevance when you google "best diet for blood sugar balance". Fortunately, there are ways to cut through the noise and get started with confidence. This is where working with a Dietician, a Nutritional Therapist, or a Nutrition & Health Coach comes into play. What is the difference between these three?
Dietitians can help diagnose and treat nutrition-related illnesses. Clinical dietitians work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, in- and outpatient clinics, and private practice. They often care for individuals experiencing eating disorders, substance abuse issues, or medical conditions with symptoms that can be improved or managed with diet. Registered dietitians create unique nutrition plans for their clients and help them maintain healthy eating habits based on their medical needs.
Nutritional Therapists work under the principles of functional medicine, which gets to the root cause of symptoms or illness. They create specific, nutrition-based guidelines for clients to address specific health issues and complex chronic diseases. They can prescribe certain diets and supplement protocols based on client lab tests, as well as develop specific meal plans for clients to monitor symptoms, bloodwork, etc.
Nutrition and Health Coaches (like myself) focus on a holistic approach to health and nutrition, exploring all areas of a client’s life that affect their wellbeing. Their goal is to empower clients with the tools and skills needed to make healthier food and lifestyle choices, and adopt sustainable healthy habits and behaviors. They can:
Give you the tools, space, and support to clarify your purpose and mindset
Work together as a team to identify the best strategies to achieve your goals and stick to them
Optimize your diet with personalized meal plans and nutrition recommendations, instead of having to endlessly search through possibly unreliable sources online
Provide support with the difficult emotions that can arise as you embark on your journey
Help you to build confidence in your food and lifestyle choices
Provide a safe, structured environment in which you can discover the impact of small daily choices that help take back control of your health
While considering what type of practitioner may best suit your needs and your preferences, make the best informed decision possible.
No matter what you decide, optimizing your nutrition is hands-down one of the best investments you can make for yourself to create and sustain better health, wellness and a balanced life.
If you are unsure whether Nutrition & Health Coaching is right for your specific needs, feel free to get in touch and I’m more than happy to answer any questions!
Sources & Further Reading
Di Renzo L, Gualtieri P, Romano L, et al. Role of Personalized Nutrition in Chronic-Degenerative Diseases. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1707. Published 2019 Jul 24. doi:10.3390/nu11081707
Kris-Etherton PM, Petersen KS, Hibbeln JR, et al. Nutrition and behavioral health disorders: depression and anxiety. Nutr Rev. 2021;79(3):247-260. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuaa025
Kolb H, Martin S. Environmental/lifestyle factors in the pathogenesis and prevention of type 2 diabetes. BMC Med. 2017;15(1):131. Published 2017 Jul 19. doi:10.1186/s12916-017-0901-x
Koene RJ, Prizment AE, Blaes A, Konety SH. Shared Risk Factors in Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer. Circulation. 2016;133(11):1104-1114. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.020406