By Claire Holmes
The old saying “you are what you eat” could be adapted to “you are what you absorb: food, energy, media, relationships, physical activity, chemistry, and biology.”
Nutrition is much more than what you eat, it is everything you absorb—from the energy you take in and the media you read, to the relationships you have and your physical activity. The body becomes a product of all of the elements it absorbs. YOUR body becomes a product of all of the elements YOU absorb!
So HOW do I improve my nutrition???
You can start small. Here are some basic tips to help you improve the many levels of nutrition in your life:
Tip 1: Cultivating Good Energy
Cultivating good energy can be done in many ways. Essentially, “good energy” is anything that makes you feel good! Engaging in what makes you feel good can be as simple as 1.) starting your day with affirmations, 2.) using more positive language, or 3.) laughing more:
1.) Self-affirmations have been associated with cognitive reward and positive valuation.1 This means that when you repeat an affirmation, your brain gives off signals of reward and positivity that make you happy (this usually looks like an increase in dopamine and serotonin!). Your affirmations can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. Here are some examples, but feel free to make them your own!
Start by repeating each affirmation 1 to 10 times when you wake up:
“I am good enough”
“I am proud of myself”
“I have a fire inside of me and will accomplish anything I set my mind to.”
2.) To use positive language, start by redirecting yourself when you notice you are entering into a negative mindset. Instead of “ugh, this is impossible” try “I can learn how to do this even though it is currently challenging.” This may seem hard, but as you become more conscious of your thoughts, you will be able to train yourself to build healthier patterns.
3.) Embracing laughter, even if you are not in the mood, can help brighten your day. Laughter has powerful psychological benefits that can help mitigate the effects of stress.3 In a study on forced laughter, participants rated their mood as significantly more positive after one minute of forced laughter.4 Laughter is a technique that we already have ingrained in our skillset from birth, we might as well use it to help us feel better!
Here is a technique on laughing yoga you can try: https://youtu.be/SVkG3L79sL4. It’s only 20 minutes and it makes you feel so good!
Tip 2: Take a Break from Screens and Social Media
In a highly digitized era, we depend a lot on our devices for communication, work, advertising, and even instant gratification. While there are many societal benefits to technology, too much screen time and social media have been associated with a negative impact on how we view ourselves in society. A study on 2-17 year olds found that screen time was associated with depression (in ages 14-17), less self-control (in all ages), and more distractibility (in all ages).5 These results were significant in individuals with high (7+ hours per day) to moderate (4 hours per day) screen use.5
Similarly, researchers have found a negative association between too much social media and depressive systems. A cross-sectional study on Norwegian high school students showed an increased association between social media exposure and depression, anxiety, and decreased quality of life.6
Spend a lot of time on your phone? To help mitigate your own use of social media and other applications, you can set a timer on your applications using your phone’s time limit settings. Limit your Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok to under 30 minutes a day. See if you feel any differences in your productivity or mood! A way to be more mindful of these differences could be to journal the changes day-to-day.
Tip 3: Look for Quality Information
Another important source of nutrition is the information we ‘feed’ ourselves with. Whether the topic is about health, nutrition, sports, or something that peaks your curiosity, it is important to make sure you are getting your information from a credible source. According to Wansink from the American Dietetic Association (ADA), “food and nutrition misinformation can have harmful effects on the health, well-being, and economic status of consumers.11” In the journal entry, Wansink (2006) discusses how this is particularly true when it comes to weight loss and anti-aging campaigns. These campaigns use insecurities and expensive products as a form of increasing their profit. Although this happens often in the nutrition and health world, misinformation can be found on any topic, and its effects can be just as harmful.
So HOW do we tell if we are reading quality information? (I want you to have some tools in your belt to help protect you against misinformation!)
To tell whether or not your resource is reliable, look at where it is coming from, the last three letters of the domain, and how it compares to other research on the topic. Generally, when looking at where the information is coming from, try to see if the person or organization writing it has an agenda. The most credible domains are “.edu” (educational) and “.gov” (governmental). If you are reading about a particular research topic, see if there are any other research studies to back up their claims, or if the organization producing said research has any conflicts of interest.
Whether it is a topic for fun or a research paper, always analyze whether or not the resource has accurate and unbiased information. You deserve to fuel your investigation with the confidence that the information you’re seeking is authentic!
Tip 4: Plan a Dinner or Activity with a Friend or Family Member who Makes You Happy
One of the best ways to feed your internal energy is to spend time with those you love. Ever wonder why you can’t stop smiling or laughing when you leave a friend’s house or lunch with your mom?
Having strong relationships and sense of community are extremely beneficial when it comes to preventative health. Those who are extremely involved in their communities are less likely to develop chronic diseases compared to those who are not involved.7 People who do not have social ties are associated with higher risks of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and cancer.7 Using several longitudinal studies (research conducted over several years), researchers discovered that lonelier participants had greater risks for the aforementioned diseases the longer they did not have a community.
The CDC recognizes “social and community context” as one of the five social determinants behind health risk factors. This means that close-knit communities could serve as a protective factor for your health!
To participate in these positive health benefits, how do we form and keep these relationships? According to several studies, people who participate in the act of giving (whether a gift or a favor) are reported to have greater satisfaction and longer-lasting happiness than those who invest in themselves.8 A study on gift giving for practicality, meaning the gift was given to the recipient with an intention to help them in some way, resulted in the recipient feeling more connected to the giver.10 When you give a gift with the intention of supporting a loved one, they feel closer to you. Not only does giving make you a happier person, but this technique can help foster strong, lasting relationships.
“Giving” comes in many different styles depending on the relationship and the people involved. You know your loved ones best! Think about how you can contribute to their lives in a way that makes them smile and feel cared for. Here are some examples of different styles of “giving” that people may appreciate receiving:
1.) Planning an activity you can do with a friend or family member after work or on the weekend.
2.) Paying attention to your loved ones’ interests and habits, and then engaging them in said interests.
3.) Doing thoughtful things for loved ones, such as clearing a space for their favorite activities.
4.) Purchasing a gift you know they’ll appreciate.
5.) Doing a small act to help make their lives easier (e.g., clearing the dishes, etc.).
6.) Clearing up your schedule to spend time with them.
Tip 5: Do an Activity You Love
If you love doing something, you are going to want to do more of it (which is particularly positive when this activity is good for you or brings tremendous happiness). In the context of physical activity, instead of going to a workout class you dread, try something that makes you feel inspired. For example, dancing and singing around the house could be a great workout for you if you enjoy music and movement! For me, I like any activity that gets me outdoors: biking, hiking, swimming. I love it so much that I don’t even realize I’m putting in physical effort.
This sentiment can be applied to any activity that brings you joy—from music and drawing, to something completely unrelated. There is a Positive Psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who extensively studied the concept of “losing oneself” in an activity that he calls “flow state.”
When people love doing something and this activity is challenging enough, there’s an experience of energy flowing through your body, out towards what’s engaging you. Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow State theory strongly implies that happiness comes from within. In fact, his research has found positive association between true happiness and engaging in these flow states.
If you want to know more about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi or his theories check out this link: https://positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/
To find what works for you, try different types of classes. Start with what is offered or what you can do in your neighborhood, such as classes in art, yoga, singing, or photography. It could also be something like volunteering your time at the local animal shelter or helping with your town’s natural resources committee. See which one is your favorite and then try to do it 3 to 4 times a week!
Tip 6: Eat Something that Makes You Feel Yummy
Now that we have covered some sources of nutrition that don’t necessarily have anything to do with food, let's talk a bit more about what is on our plate and how it makes us feel. If you have a generally good diet—you drink lots of water and eat a variety of fruits and veggies—you are on the right track. Now let's try to spice it up and make your food fun and comforting. When I say yummy, I mean yummy. Something that makes you smile, giggle, and feel like a child. This could be a super healthy food or a cheat food, it doesn’t matter as long as it brings you joy.
Try doing this once or twice a week and remember to be mindful by loving the food that is coming into your body. When practicing mindful eating, your digestive system feels that energy. This is because when you are in a state of relaxation, your parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, allowing for “rest and digest.” It is not necessarily the food, but the mood and the energy behind the consumption that helps with digestion. Mindful eating has been associated with increased digestive enzymes, improved nutrient absorption, and promotion of the parasympathetic nervous system.9
Need more of an explanation on how mindfulness and stress affect digestion? Check out this study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7219460/
Nutrition is bigger than what is on your plate! Nutrition is all of the aspects that come together to feed your body and become you. You want to make sure you are feeding yourself the highest-quality energy available. Try these tips: cultivating good energy, taking a social media break, inspecting your information quality, planning a dinner with a friend or family member, doing an activity you love, and eating something that makes you feel yummy. Take note of the positive energy that starts to flood into your being, and always remember to be kind to yourself and meet yourself where you are today. This is your health and your journey. You want it to be sustainable for you.
- Cascio CN, O'Donnell MB, Tinney FJ, et al. Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2016;11(4):621-629. doi:10.1093/scan/nsv136
- Louie D, Brook K, Frates E. The Laughter Prescription: A Tool for Lifestyle Medicine. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016;10(4):262-267. Published 2016 Jun 23. doi:10.1177/1559827614550279
- Yim J. Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. Tohoku J Exp Med. 2016;239(3):243-249. doi:10.1620/tjem.239.243
- Foley E, Matheis R, Schaefer C. Effect of forced laughter on mood. Psychol Rep. 2002;90(1):184. doi:10.2466/pr0.2002.90.1.184
- Twenge JM, Campbell WK. Associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents: Evidence from a population-based study. Prev Med Rep. 2018;12:271-283. Published 2018 Oct 18. doi:10.1016/j.pmedr.2018.10.003
- Skogen JC, Hjetland GJ, Bøe T, Hella RT, Knudsen AK. Through the Looking Glass of Social Media. Focus on Self-Presentation and Association with Mental Health and Quality of Life. A Cross-Sectional Survey-Based Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(6):3319. Published 2021 Mar 23. doi:10.3390/ijerph18063319
- Umberson D, Montez JK. Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. J Health Soc Behav. 2010;51 Suppl(Suppl):S54-S66. doi:10.1177/0022146510383501
- Guardian News and Media. (2008, March 21). The path to happiness: it is better to give than receive. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/mar/21/medicalresearch.usa.
- Cherpak CE. Mindful Eating: A Review Of How The Stress-Digestion-Mindfulness Triad May Modulate And Improve Gastrointestinal And Digestive Function. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2019;18(4):48-53.
- Rim S, Min KE, Liu PJ, Chartrand TL, Trope Y. The Gift of Psychological Closeness: How Feasible Versus Desirable Gifts Reduce Psychological Distance to the Giver. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2019;45(3):360-371. doi:10.1177/0146167218784899
- Wansink B; American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: food and nutrition misinformation. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006;106(4):601-607. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2006.02.019
One of the greatest gifts that I have received in my life was my own discovery of health through nutrition. My background in Environmental Engineering and my career as a Fashion Model have shown me the variety of pathways that affect our health as a whole. The environmental toxins in beauty products, nutrients in food, or the energy in media we consume all have a significant impact on our health. In order to continue my life’s passion and to be able to help others find their health, I have become certified as an Integrative Nutrition Wellness Coach by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and I am entering a masters program in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at Teachers College Columbia University to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I want to help others find their journey to sustainable health as I have found mine. I use the phrase “sustainable health” because health has to continuously work for you in your everyday life and environment. Perfection is not the goal, it is the journey that matters.