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Integrative Nutrition: 4 Factors More Important Than What You Eat

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Before I founded the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the world's largest nutrition school, I worked in a small natural food store. All day I watched health-conscious customers read labels and ask questions about the products in the aisles. They gave great care and attention to the foods they chose to eat.

Then after work, sometimes I would go to the movie theater next door. There I saw people munching on buttery popcorn, eating candy, and gulping down soda, all the while laughing and having fun with their friends or partner. It struck me that the moviegoers often looked so much healthier, happier, and more alive than the people shopping in my store.

This got me thinking -- health wasn't just about the food. The idea of holistic health is to look at the integrated system, which includes the physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional parts of life.

Here are four factors that are just as important, if not more important, to your health as the food you eat. At Integrative Nutrition, we call them primary food, and they are the forms of nourishment that truly feed your hunger for life.

Relationships: The quality of your relationships with your parents, children, spouses, partners, friends, and coworkers explains a lot about your quality of life and your health. Love, friendships, intimacy, and effective communication are all essential forms of food for the soul.

When examining relationships, try to understand your personal preferences in regard to how much intimacy you want in your life. Some people love being alone, while on the other end of the spectrum, some people love being around other people. Most people fall somewhere in the middle. Where do you fall on this scale? No rules, no judgment -- just find and honor what is true for you at this point in your life.

Check out this blog post to learn more about how meaningful relationships can contribute to good health.

Physical Activity: Our bodies thrive on movement and quickly degenerate without it. When it comes to working out, the challenge is to find the types of exercise you enjoy most and build them into your life.

Something interesting I've noticed is people's inclination to choose exercise that further imbalances them. After living at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, practicing a very relaxing style of yoga every day, I realized I needed to get more grounded. So I switched to weightlifting and running, which provided great balance and stability in my life. In a way, movement is a lot like food. Once you understand how different types of movement nourish you, you can put together a menu of activities to keep you in balance.

Career: Most of us spend more than half of our waking hours at work. Yet how many of us really enjoy it? We don't realize the extent to which our lives would improve if we were doing work we loved.

I'm a big fan of the saying "do the work you love and love the work you do." For the first part, take a sheet of paper and list all the things you love to do, including your hobbies and what you enjoy in your leisure time. Somewhere in this list lies the key to your new career. But sometimes it's simply not optimal to go out and create a new career. In that case, think about your job and evaluate -- what is working and what is not working? By making adjustments in just a few key areas, you could make your job much more rewarding. Ask for a raise, request to join a new project, redecorate your office -- it's up to you to ask for what you need.

There is no one right answer about how to find happiness in your career. Maybe you love working hard in a corporate environment, or maybe you need a more flexible, less conventional position. Be honest about what works for you and remember, we all need to nourish ourselves by finding work we love and being paid fairly for it.

Spirituality: Spiritual nutrition can feed us on a very deep level and dramatically diminish cravings for the superficial rewards of life. I encourage clients and students to develop and deepen their spiritual practice.

I was raised in an orthodox Jewish family. It felt good to be one of the "chosen" people. But it all kind of fell apart when I went to a Catholic college and found out they thought they were the chosen people. So I decided to let it all go and find a path for myself that made sense to me, which took many, many years to evolve.

Daily meditation, attending religious services, reading inspirational texts, or walking in the woods -- whatever it is, I encourage you to commit to your practice. As you deepen your connection to the greater processes of life, you may find yourself coping with stress and emotions more easily, relating more lovingly with others, and finding more joy in life.

I'd love to hear -- what about primary food most resonates with you? Have you ever improved your health and your life by addressing one of these factors? Is there a form of primary food you'd currently like to focus on? Find us on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook and join in the conversation!

Joshua Rosenthal is the founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the largest nutrition school in the world. Visit the site to learn more about the program and sample the curriculum.

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