This is the first in an 8-part journey toward a healthier immune system and a healthier you. Getting healthy was what led me to go back to school to become a certified health coach. I love helping people see that it doesn’t have to be complicated, and they don’t have to change everything at once. Focus on a couple of small things a month and, one step at a time, you’ll begin to ache less, have more energy, be more focused … and your immune system will be doing a happy dance!
In my experience, no one journey is the same. Test ideas and if they don’t work, we can look for another solution.
Part One: I Fed the Critters in My Gut the Food They Thrive On
I used to have horrible allergies and caught colds and bronchitis regularly. I’ve even had pneumonia a few times. Now? I can’t remember when the last cold was, but it didn’t sink into my chest leaving me gasping for air, coughing, wheezing, sweating one minute and chills the next. And, it was gone in two days!
Allergies? I occasionally get itchy eyes and sneeze, but no wheezing or asthma in years! The eye thing tends to happen when one of my neighbors uses fabric softener sheets. I still have issues with perfumes and chemicals, but I don’t think that’s an over-reactive immune system, rather a healthy one … it knows those chemicals are bad for us!
Add in to crowd out! The founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Joshua Rosenthal, has taught this concept since 1992, long before the explosion of interest in wellness went mainstream. That’s where I went to school and learned the concept.
Americans really do love junk food and that makes it hard to stick to a healthy plan. Everywhere you look there’s a decadent photograph of unhealthy food!
So, instead of changing everything at once, choose to go slow and start by adding in one thing that’s good for you. You might try adding in an apple. (I love a good Gala!) Think about how happy you’ll make your body when you toss in the thousands of eensy teensy micronutrients in that apple … I guarantee you’re not getting them in your multivitamin!
Want to take it to the next level? Eat a handful of nuts with the apple. Whoa! Now, you’ve created an amazing burst of nutrition the likes of which have been unknown to your cells! Clean protein! Healthy fat! Fiber!!! Your microbiome will be feasting!
Microbiome is the term for the trillions of bacteria, bacteriophage, fungi, protozoa and viruses that live in your gut. Keep in mind that there is a well-orchestrated balance of good guys and bad guys in your microbiome. The good guys love the nutrients and fiber from plants, and we want a LOT of the good guys!
Overly processed and chemically-laden foods (artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, and a ton of other additives) do NOT support healthy gut flora.
How does this impact your immune system? Your gut, and its critters, is the seat of your immune system’s soul. By feeding it with clean, real food you are making your immune system happy by supporting the good guys and challenging the bad ones.
A happy immune system is much more likely to step up and do its job of recognizing and destroying intruders. Rather than focus on ‘boosting’ your immune system, it’s helpful to think of it as bringing into balance. You don’t want an over- or under-reactive immune system. In one case it unleashes a defense system that attacks your own healthy cells (autoimmune), pollen or peanuts (for example). In the case of an under-reactive system, not much of a defense is launched and we catch colds, bronchitis, strep, pneumonia, etc.
Back to ‘adding in.’ Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is the key. Different varieties of plants feed different critters. Some might like the hundreds or thousands of nutrients in an apple and others the nutrients in strawberries or blueberries. Spinach might feed one type, while celery feeds another. The fiber in raspberries may be the perfect food for that little guy in the corner.
Here are some ideas for how to add in good food:
- Have a tray of veggies with dip out on the table while preparing dinner. It’s the only thing you and the family can munch on before dinner. Have celery and carrot sticks, cauliflower and broccoli, cherry tomatoes and radishes already washed and sliced. You can also have dips such as guacamole or salsa … even ranch.
- When you cook at home more often you control the quality of ingredients. Notice I said more, not exclusively.
- If you don’t know how to cook, try borrowing a kid’s cookbook from the library. They have great basics! Chop! Chop! is a great magazine that is designed for families to learn how to cook healthy foods. Check it out! chopchopfamily.org
- Try the nuts and fruit above instead of a candy bar. I know the feeling when the vending machine starts calling my name … having raisins and nuts nearby can make all the difference whether it’s in your desk drawer, purse, or the console of your car.
- A quick run through the grocery store for a rotisserie chicken and salad is a better choice than burgers or tacos from a fast food restaurant. Try adding something you’ve never eaten before to the salad. Oh, come on … Just put a bit on the side!
So much of the time, articles about eating healthy remark on how expensive it can be. It’s true that a burrito from Amy’s is more expensive than a Hot Pocket, but when you learn how to prepare simple things yourself, you cut the cost drastically.
Give your immune system the nutrition it needs by adding in something healthy every week or month and crowding out the things that disrupt it. You will be on the way to creating the next best version of yourself … All painlessly and one step at a time!
If you’d like more ideas on how to add in the good stuff and crowd out the bad, check out my book, No Kale Required: Healthy Eating Ideas for the Rest of Us.
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