The experience of Covid-19 has brought the issue of health to the fore for many of us. I’ve noticed increasing numbers of people with health anxiety in my hypnotherapy practice, leading many clients to commit to adopting healthier lifestyles, often including weight loss.
I’ve never been a fan of dieting, having been liberated in the 1980s by Geoffrey Cannon’s book Dieting Makes You Fat. Notions of good/bad foods, starvation and denial seem punitive so I find myself becoming increasingly attracted to the idea of food as enjoyable “medicine” which can help us both protect and heal our bodies.
Good health is not simply the absence of disease, but a sense of physical and psychological wellbeing. We’re born with five natural health defence systems in our bodies, which we can support (or sabotage) through our food and drink choices:
The immune system; blood vessels/circulation; DNA; stem cells and the microbiome (microbes, mainly bacteria, particularly in the gut)
Research into how we can eat to support these natural health defences is still fairly new but as it continues to develop it’s becoming increasingly relevant to our current reality. With mounting levels of obesity, diabetes, allergies, heart disease, cancers and stress, it appears that our gut health – our internal eco system – has worsened over the years through increased amounts of processed foods, more chemicals from the environment and antibiotics which kill off the good bacteria in our gut.
This internal eco system contains a mind-boggling almost 40 trillion microbes. The bacteria found there can help us to both ward off and also recover from illnesses when it’s in a healthy state, and that health can be increased by our dietary choices.
Our personal microbiomes are as individual as our fingerprints, so a one-size-all approach can’t cover our different dietary needs, however, there are some fundamental principles that can help:
Adopt a more plant-based diet – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, wholegrains, legumes, beans and oils all count as plants and the gut loves as large a variety as possible rather than eating the same selection every day. This doesn’t mean going vegetarian or vegan but looking for ways to increase our plant intake – it could be adding more herbs and spices to our food, using more beans or lentils, trying new veg etc.
Studies show that the so-called “Mediterranean diet” can help reduce cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and even depression, as food also impacts our mental health.
Adding small amounts of fermented foods – live yogurt, sauerkraut or kimchi, encourages good gut bacteria and reducing salt (found in large quantities in processed food) helps lower bad cholesterol, heart disease risks and blood pressure.
Very dark chocolate with 80% plus cacao and no added sugar can lower stress chemicals, add to gut health and help stem cells.
Green tea and coffee can support our DNA.
These ideas are only an introduction to this growing area of research. Perhaps it’s time to stop focusing on the foods to cut out of our diets, (although certainly there are some obvious ones to cut down on), and start thinking more about the health-promoting foods we can add or increase that are also enjoyable – foods we feel good eating as well as benefiting our internal eco system.
Putting an alternative emphasis on our thinking can help us get away from the tyranny of dieting and pave the path to adopting a more enjoyable and healthful relationship with food.
You may want to consult a qualified nutritionist to help you find out how food interacts with your own body if you’re interested in taking this further.
- Michèle Lazarus became a Solution-Focused Hypnotherapist in 2013 after experiencing how hypnotherapy helped her make changes in her own life. Her past career was as a counsellor and management trainer in a variety of health and social wellbeing roles in the NHS and the not-for-profit sector.