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There’s More to Health Than Food, and There’s More to Life Than Health


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I write a lot about diet and nutrition, and there’s absolutely no doubt that the food we eat is one of the most important factors that determines our health.

But it’s a mistake to assume that food is the only consideration that matters when it comes to health, and that all health problems can be solved simply by making dietary changes. Unfortunately, this seems to be an increasingly common assumption in the Paleo/Primal nutrition world these days.

I see a lot of people in my practice that have their nutrition completely dialed in, but don’t take care of themselves in other ways. Maybe they don’t manage their stress, they don’t exercise, or they don’t sleep well.

Even if this person eats a perfect diet, are they really healthy?

And what about the person who doesn’t eat particularly well, but sleeps like a baby, gets a massage a couple times a month, has a lot of fun, spends lots of time outdoors, and doesn’t have any health problems?

What is health?

Moshe Feldenkrais, the creator of the Feldenkrais Method, defined health as “the ability to live your dreams“. I think that’s an interesting way to look at it. Using the examples above, it’s entirely possible that the person with the perfect diet but the rest of their life in shambles is less healthy than the person who doesn’t eat that well but takes care of himself or herself in other ways.

If you were to embrace Feldenkrais’ definition of health, how would you live your life differently? Would you put more time and energy into perfecting your diet, or would you spend a little more time focusing on the areas of your life that you tend to neglect? Which path would take you closer to being able to live your dreams?

In a previous article, I argued that the biggest obstacle to optimal health is our mind. The more patients I work with, the more convinced I am that this is true. From the article:

What I’ve observed in myself, in working with patients and in almost 20 years of meditation practice is that each of us has a significant blind spot or area in our lives where we lack awareness and insight. As a crude analogy, let’s call this a weak link in our chain and assume that the chain represents health.

Most of us invest the majority of our time and energy strengthening the parts of our chain that are already strong. These stronger links are where we feel comfortable and confident, where we can operate safely within the bounds of who we think we are.

And this is where the problem lies. No matter how much we strengthen the links in our chain that are already strong, if there’s still a weak link the chain as a whole isn’t stronger. It can break just as easily.

A better approach, of course, would be to focus our efforts on the strengthening the weak link. But that is much, much harder to do. Why? Because it usually requires us to step out of our concept of self and challenge our very identity. It asks us to grow and evolve and shine the light of awareness into the dark corners of our psyche. This isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s not as simple as popping a pill or eliminating nightshades from our diet. It’s a life’s work.

Yes, it’s important to pay attention to how much omega-6 fat you eat. Yes, it’s best to minimize phytic acid consumption by soaking nuts. Yes, it’s wise to avoid excess fructose, especially if you have digestive problems. These finer points of nutrition do make a difference.

But optimizing nutrition is only one variable in the equation of health. And if all of our attention goes there, at the expense of other variables that are also important (like sleep, exercise, stress management, pleasure, etc.), our health will suffer. That’s why only 4 out of my 9 Steps to Perfect Health are explicitly related to food and nutrition.

There’s more to life than health

In the same way that there’s more to health than food, there’s more to life than health.

I’m sure some of you have a friend or acquaintance that eats well and takes great care of themselves, but they’re a wreck in their personal or professional lives. Maybe they’re in a toxic relationship, they have a job that they hate, they can’t get along with co-workers or friends, or they feel lost, empty and unfulfilled.

And maybe you know someone that has struggled with a chronic illness for years, but has deep, rewarding relationships, meaningful work, a sense of purpose, and a rich, vibrant life.

Of course we all want to be as physically healthy as possible. There’s nothing wrong with that pursuit. But the cold, hard truth is that not all health problems are solvable. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we don’t have full control over all of the conditions of our lives.

What we do have control over is how we relate to ourselves and these conditions. In my opinion, this – more than anything else – is what determines our happiness and sense of well-being.

It’s possible to be physically healthy, but live in a constant state of struggle and dissatisfaction. Likewise, it’s possible to be ill, in pain, or physically disabled and be happy and at peace. I wrote about this in more detail in a previous article, Living with Chronic Illness: The Power of Acceptance.

I’d like to end this article by asking you two questions:

  1. What aspects of health do you tend to ignore? And how does that keep you from living your dreams?
  2. What areas of your life – beyond your health – could use more attention? How would addressing those areas bring you more happiness and peace?

I hope you take some time to think about your answers, or even write them down. They may surprise you!

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Chris Kresser in kitchen
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Join the conversation

  1. I thought this was such a good post. Interesting that Gabor Mate’s books were mentioned. I love that you’re looking at the “Big Picture” here. There are many pieces. Gabor does offer some important ones. Mainly about how close communities have largely become extinct and families are spread far and wide – people fall between the cracks. The simple life of strong family-based communities and self-sufficiency was a very important part of our existence and has only changed so recently. Our children were raised by parents and close family members instead of being “farmed out” to paid care-givers (same with the elderly) all for the pursuit of prestige and wealth. Focusing on proper nutrition is a great way to start but what about all the other things? Do we really want to regain our Ancestral State of mind and accept all of the demands of close family groups and communities? Is there a good compromise? Interesting to see where it all lands. Perhaps when the industrial-military complex finally collapses, we will be forced to grow our own food using our own hard labour again. This will lead to small-close knit communities and extended families…it will be interesting to see how it comes together…..or not.

  2. Hi Chris

    Theres something that I think you should know…of all the emails I get on health related topics, you are the only one that really makes any sense to me…seriously, you must be one of the wisest people around…keep up the good work!!! You rock!!! Cheers Debbie

  3. Someone posted elsewhere why 80/20 and not 100% when it comes to diet. You don’t have to be so obsessed.
    Usually diet, exercise and supplements can improve some of those other health conditions.
    In regards to obesity there seems to be the advice in the primal forums to just concentrate on eating the right foods, forget the ratios and calories which is wrong particularly if no fat loss as we see health conditions improve with normalizing body fat levels.

  4. Chris, have you ever heard of Dr. Gabor Mate? He’s a Canadian doctor who specializes in drug addiction, especially with Native Americans. He has a book “When the Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection”

    Dr. Gabor Mate has said that a possible cause for illness could be the inability to say “No”. In other words, people who don’t know how to express their anger and emotions. These people are usually defined as “sweet”, selfless, kind, puts others needs before their own. Is being “too nice” making us sick? I’m sure we’ve all bottled up our anger before, and it caused us to stress a little. Parents these days can’t say “No” to their kids (I know people like that in my life, and have you watched Super Nanny?) and as a result, we have stressed parents.

    • Yes, I read Mate’s book many years ago and it was one of the books that started me on my path.

  5. After filling the stomach with enough healthy foods and satisfying myself with the fact that I’m safe with a roof above my head and enough monies to last till the end of the month, I guess the next question my busy mind will want me to ponder on is “How can I be better?” But I try to hash it and just enjoy the moments as best as I could. 🙂

  6. Practice “Earthing.” It ‘s the missing link in almost everyone’s health. Earthing is the practice of connecting your body directly to the earth, as in walking barefoot on grass. The earth’s electrical energy is the most powerful antinflammatory and antioxidant known. With earthing products, you can ground yourself for 12-16 hours a day, even more, with no effort.
    Every living thing on the planet — plants, animals, bugs, even bacteria — is naturally connected to the ground, around the clock. It’s the way that life was meant to be. When you make direct contact with the Earth, there is an flow of free electrons from the ground into your body that floods it with healing energy — energy that wipes out any type of inflammation, anywhere in your body.
    Studies indicate that people who are grounded function better than they do ungrounded. They are, in fact, physiologically different when grounded. Earthing restores and maintains your body’s most natural electrical state, which in turn promotes optimum health.


    • Thanks for this! I’m going outside right now in my bare feet! I usually avoid since I have dogs and of course they pee and poo in the grass… but what the heck- i’ll do a good ball playing session with them barefoot before I plan to shower!