Integrative Nutrition Plan: 12 Steps to Better Health

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We’ve examined the politics surrounding the food industry and the difficulty of breaking out of contemporary cultural attitudes that influence our eating habits. We’ve looked at the innate wisdom of the body, learning to trust it and to understand the importance of the signals it sends to us in the form of cravings. We’ve examined dietary theories and looked at the pivotal issue of primary food. Now it’s time to integrate this knowledge into one of the most laid-back health plans out there. No one way of eating will work for everyone, but you can take steps each day to improve your health. The steps in this chapter act as general principles and suggestions, not rigid rules. This approach has flexibility according to each individual’s needs, recognizing that no two people are alike, and no two people have the same food preferences.

I don’t expect you to make changes all at once. On the contrary, I have found that drastic, sudden shifts are difficult to maintain because they force people to repress their food cravings and embedded eating habits. The more habits are repressed, the more powerful they become, leading to internal stress that builds until people fall off the wagon and the diet fails. A gradual introduction of basic changes allows people to create a larger shift without as much effort or strife.

Even by choosing to follow just one step from this chapter, significant changes are likely. Think of it like climbing a ladder. You have to take it one rung at a time, or you might fall off. I’m offering many suggestions, but it’s up to you to find the ones that fit. Most diet books recommend that you completely alter your current way of eating and follow their strict rules. I say choose the things that you most want to do, and leave the hardest ones for later. As you start doing the easier ones, your body’s energy will kick in, and you will pick up momentum. You will find yourself doing the hardest things with greater ease because you’re not starting from zero. If you like the idea of a hot towel scrub, do that. If it’s appealing to eat more sweet vegetables, do that. Whichever suggestion you want to follow is the right one for you. One thing I can tell you is they all work. You don’t need to follow the steps in any particular order. Pick one, and then go on to another when you are ready. Go at a pace that’s suitable for you. You could tackle one new step a day, a week, or a month. This isn’t a short-term diet; this is a long-term lifestyle. Trust your instincts, and know that each change you make has a tremendous impact on your present and your future.

I also wish to make one more recommendation. You don’t have to do it all alone. Everyone has someone in their life who also wants to improve their health. Who is that for you? You can be supportive and hold each other accountable for making the small changes that lead to improved health. Friends make life a lot more fun, and you are more likely to keep up a healthy lifestyle when you surround yourself with people who are on a similar path.

  1. Drink More Water

The body is 75% water, so it makes sense that this essential fluid must be continually replenished. We can go for a month without food, but we can live only two or three days without water. Water is crucial to our survival. Many people are confused by how much water they should be drinking; they are always told to drink more. What is more? What is the correct quantity of water for your body? Some experts recommend eight glasses a day, but this raises the question, how big is one glass? Eight ounces? More? Less? The answer must come from your own experience. Much will depend on your size. A smaller person will need proportionately less water than a bigger person. It also depends on your level of physical activity, the climate in which you live, and your diet.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, drinking more water increases in, making the body light and airy and expanding energy through the whole system. If you are too yang—too tight or contracted, suffering from stress, headaches, and bodily tension—you may want to try increasing your water intake to balance these symptoms. In addition, cravings for sweet (yin) foods may actually be signals of dehydration. Drinking water may reduce or eliminate the cravings.

The late Dr. Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, an Iranian-born physician, gained international attention with his claim that regularly drinking water can treat a vast array of illnesses. “You are not sick, you are thirsty,” he asserted in his best-selling 1992 book Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, which attributes most pain and sickness to chronic dehydration. Through years of reading and research, Dr. Batmanghelidj concluded that ordinary water prevents and cures depression, asthma, arthritis, back pain, migraines, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, and many other illnesses. He also opposed the use of costly drugs for treating illnesses, saying that you “don’t treat thirst with medication.”

Dr. Batmanghelidj was jailed as a political prisoner in Iran following the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Because he was a medical doctor, other prisoners came to him with medical problems. Having no access to medicine or drugs, in desperation he told an ulcer patient with severe abdominal pains to try drinking two glasses of water. To his surprise, the patient’s pain receded within minutes. During three years in prison, he treated more than 3,000 fellow prisoners who suffered from peptic ulcers, viewing the prison environment as an “ideal stress laboratory.” After his release in 1982, he came to the United States and continued to explore the role of water metabolism in the human body until he passed in 2004.

A large majority of people are dehydrated, which contributes significantly to a poor state of health. Regularly flushing out the kidneys and bladder with water ensures that waste products can be expelled before they reach toxic levels. Maintaining hydration can prevent premature aging, reduce pain and headaches, lessen hypertension, and promote weight loss. Some people say they can’t drink water because they don’t like the taste. I advise them to add a squeeze of lemon, a slice of cucumber, or anything that creates an appealing flavor.

People always ask me what kind of water I recommend. This issue has become increasingly complex. In the past few decades, bottled water has become one of the most popular beverages in the world. Global bottled water consumption is big business, and worldwide consumption reached almost 75 billion gallons in 2014.1 That’s a lot of plastic! It’s fascinating to me that people, including holistically minded ones, drink water flown in from Fiji, Holland, and other parts of the world. Many times, the cost of the water is for the brand, and the water is not much different from what comes out of your tap. Federal standards for tap water in the United States are actually higher than those for bottled water.2 Plastic water bottles are also a huge strain on the environment. The amount of fuel, not to mention plastic, used in these bottles is tremendous. I’m not saying everyone should drink only tap water, but drinking solely bottled water is simply not sustainable for our planet. When you’re out and about, sometimes drinking bottled water is the only option. I recommend you try different kinds—look for options in glass bottles and even eco-friendly boxes.

Most tap water does contain chlorine, fluoride, and sometimes lead. So if you are going to drink tap water, I recommend getting some kind of filter system. A wide variety of filters are on the market, and they vary in price as well as quality. Most people are familiar with the pitcher filters or faucet filters, such as Brita, which are relatively inexpensive. You can also try a carbon water filter or a reverse osmosis filter, both of which are more expensive but are known for eliminating a higher amount of toxins. You can research the different kinds of filters online to find one suited to your needs and your budget. If after researching water filters you decide to invest in one, be sure to change the filter regularly.

Timing is also important in water intake. After waking up in the morning, it’s good to drink one or two glasses of water to hydrate the body. Many people realize late in the day that they didn’t get enough water, so they drink a lot right before bed. Good sleep is integral to health, and you don’t want to disrupt it by waking up to go to the bathroom. Complete regeneration occurs only when we sleep deeply. If you notice that you are waking up at night to go to the bathroom, I suggest drinking most of your water in the morning and early afternoon.

Many health experts say water is the only liquid that can hydrate the body and that juice and tea don’t count. As far as I’m concerned, caffeinated drinks, like coffee, soda, and black tea, don’t count because they are dehydrating. Herbal tea, soup, and juice all help hydrate the body, although not as much as pure water.

Others recommend drinking warm water with lemon first thing in the morning, claiming it’s good for cleansing the liver. If you try this, notice how your body reacts. It may bother your stomach or have a diuretic effect on some people. Experiment to find out what really works for your body. The same thing applies to ice water and hot water. A lot of people refuse ice in their water, thinking it’s unhealthy because the water used is poor quality or the coldness disrupts digestion. These people may think nothing of drinking pints of hot tea, creating an overheated condition. The body, through its natural wisdom of seeking balance, will often compensate by craving something cooling, such as ice cream. Ice water can often help restore the imbalance caused by excessively drinking hot liquids without the side effects of sugar.

Remember to look at your whole day’s intake when deciding how much water you need. Certain foods are more water dense than others. Cooked grains are two parts water, one part grain. Vegetables also have high water content. Steaming or boiling vegetables, as opposed to frying or baking them, further increases their water content. If you eat a dry breakfast cereal or a muffin, you will take in little to no water from these foods.

Considering the proven impact of water on human health, it amazes me that people remain so unaware and uneducated about this subject. They spend most of their lives dehydrated, needlessly suffering from low energy, cravings, and symptoms, not realizing they could feel much better by merely drinking more water. Also, most of the added sugar in our diet comes from sugar-sweetened beverages, so a simple switch to water can have huge health benefits for those who are looking to reduce their sugar intake.

  1. Practice Cooking

It’s a well-known paradox that only a skilled cook knows how to prepare a meal in just a few minutes. You would think expertise would bring complexity, but making a meal can actually be divided into two simple stages: preparation time and cooking time. Preparation time for rice is short—about a minute. Take it out of the bag, measure it, rinse it, and put it in the pot. The cooking time is longer, but this doesn’t mean you need to hang around the kitchen, impatiently testing the rice every few minutes to see if it’s ready. Just flip on a timer, and go about doing whatever else you need to do.

Vegetables, which are seriously lacking in most people’s daily diets, are especially easy to prepare. Making a salad involves rinsing and chopping. Cooking vegetables takes a couple of minutes of prep time to rinse and chop and then a few minutes of cooking time to steam, sauté, or boil. Juicing is an instantaneous way to prepare vegetables; all you need is a juicer and a few minutes to clean it once you are done. Other easy ways to eat vegetables are buying bags of baby carrots or celery sticks or simply washing vegetables and eating them in their natural, crunchy state. Dip them in hummus, yogurt, or nut butters. The key is to have them available and ready for snacking. Learning the art of simple meal planning will help you get all the nutrients you need as well as release you from dependency on restaurant food, fast food, and other processed foods. We eat differently when we are feeding ourselves from when we are out and about. Restaurant food is usually very salty and sweetened, as it’s designed to be a taste sensation. It often comes in oversized big portions, more than enough for the average person. By buying and preparing our own food, we eat in accordance with our body’s actual needs, and we are less likely to overeat or consume excess salt and sugar. Cooking delicious, satisfying meals in a brief period of time is a skill worth learning. It’s not difficult, but it takes practice. At first, you may burn the rice or overcook the kale, but that’s okay. You may go through an initial period of trial and error. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. It’s like starting a new office job. The first few weeks seem complicated because you have to figure out how the phone system works, how the photocopy machine works, where the bathroom is, and who’s who in the office. In the beginning, it seems like a huge task, but a month later you are doing it without even thinking about it. You know it all by heart. Cooking is just like that.

For many people, the task of cooking seems daunting. They are puzzled and ask questions like, “How do plain, ordinary vegetables turn into such a delicious meal in a few minutes?” A chef is like an alchemist, turning simple ingredients into gold, transforming a caterpillar into a butterfly. But few cookbooks talk about the initial, most-challenging period. They don’t mention that cooking a meal takes much longer when you are an inexperienced chef than when you have had some practice. It is a great gift to be able to cook with ease and confidence. It just takes some patience and practice. In a short time, you will be effortlessly washing, chopping, cooking, and nourishing yourself and others.

Creatively selecting combinations of foods is similar to a painter choosing colors from a palette. Cooking is the only art form that actually enters the bloodstream. You can look at a painting and find it inspirational or listen to a piece of music to create a mood, but homemade food has a much deeper effect because it goes into your body. A very intimate relationship exists between a meal and the person who consumes it.

  1. Experiment with Whole Grains

Many fashionable diet theories advise people to avoid carbohydrates, naming them as a culprit in our obesity crisis. Over-consumption of carbs in Western society is no doubt an issue, but eliminating high-carbs foods isn’t always the answer for all people and cultures. By looking at the delicate, thin bodies of Japanese people, who consume high-carbohydrate diets composed of large amounts of rice and starchy vegetables, one can conclude that not all carbs lead to weight gain. Still, the subject of whether to eat grains does stir up emotions for many. Some people live on brown rice and oatmeal; others do better with less grains, and some swear by getting off grains altogether. No food is inherently “good” or “bad,” so I encourage you to experiment with whole grains and see which ones work best for you, if any.

Whole grains have been a central element of the human diet since we stopped hunting and gathering and settled into agrarian communities. Until very recently, people living in these communities on all continents had lean, strong bodies. In the Americas, corn was the staple grain, while rice predominated in India and Asia. In Africa, people had sorghum and millet. People in the Middle East enjoyed whole-wheat pita bread and couscous. In Europe, it was corn, millet, wheat, rice, pasta, and dark sourdough breads. Even beer, produced by grain fermentation, was considered healthy. In Scotland, it was oats. In Russia, they had buckwheat or kasha. For generations, very few people eating grain-based diets were overweight.

People are gaining weight today because they eat too much processed junk food containing refined carbohydrates. Remember refined carbohydrates, like sugar, are associated with weight gain, while complex carbohydrates are associated with healthier BMIs (body mass indexes). People will eat all kinds of junk food, yet they avoid natural, whole grains, which might significantly benefit their health. Whole grains can be a good source of nutritional support, as they contain high levels of dietary fiber and B vitamins. Because the body absorbs them slowly (due to the fiber), grains provide long-lasting energy and help promote satiety. Whole grains release sugar into the bloodstream slowly, in contrast to the sudden rush and energy crash caused by refined sugary foods and sodas.

Sally Fallon Morell points out that people traditionally soaked or fermented their grains, often for a few days before cooking. Soaking grains, or fermenting them by soaking in hot water with vinegar, reduces the phytic acid and makes the grains easier to digest. All grains contain phytic acid in the outer layer of the bran. Phytic acid combines with certain minerals in the body, such as calcium, magnesium, copper, and iron, and can block absorption in the intestines, which may lead to digestive disorders, mineral deficiencies, and bone loss. Eight hours of soaking in warm water will significantly reduce the phytic acid and greatly improve the nutritional benefits of grains. Even an hour of soaking will help. If you have difficulty digesting grains, you may want to try soaking them overnight.

The most common grain in our culture is wheat. Some people may be sensitive to wheat and not know it. Wheat products are heavily subsidized, and the food industry incorporates it into almost all breakfast cereals, cookies, cakes, and crackers. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, is difficult for some to digest. If you are sensitive to gluten, you can experience bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or gas after eating wheat and other glutinous grains. Other related problems are brain fog, chronic indigestion, and candida. In more severe cases, someone might have celiac disease, which causes an autoimmune reaction to gluten that damages absorption sites in the small intestine. If you are allergic, you may experience hives or have difficulty breathing, and need to remove all gluten from your diet. Sometimes the symptoms occur immediately after eating, but they can also take time to manifest. If you think you have a gluten sensitivity, experiment with removing or reducing wheat and gluten products from your diet for a couple of weeks, and see how you feel. During that time, stick with gluten-free grains, such as amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum, and teff.

4. Increase Sweet Vegetables

Almost everyone craves sweets. Instead of depending on processed sugar, you can add more naturally sweet flavor to your daily diet and dramatically reduce sweet cravings. Certain vegetables have a deep, sweet flavor when cooked, like corn, carrots, onions, beets, winter squash (butternut, buttercup, delicata, hubbard, and kabocha), sweet potatoes, and yams. Some lesser-known vegetables that are semi-sweet are turnips, parsnips, and rutabagas. And there is another group of vegetables that don’t taste sweet but have an effect on the body similar to that of sweet vegetables. These include red radishes, daikon radishes, green cabbage, red cabbage, and burdock. Because many of these vegetables are root vegetables, they are energetically grounding, helping to balance out the spacy feeling people often experience after eating other sweets. Other delicious ways to incorporate sweet vegetables into your daily diet include eating raw carrots, baking sweet potato fries, roasting squash, making soup with corn and onions, or boiling beets to put on top of your salad.

5. Increase Leafy Green Vegetables

If vegetables are the scarcest food in the Western diet, leafy green vegetables are lacking most of all. Learning to cook and eat greens is essential for creating lasting health. The color green is associated with spring, a time of renewal, refreshment, and vital energy. In Asian medicine, green is related to the liver, emotional stability, and creativity. Nutritionally, greens are high in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, and vitamins A, C, and K. They are crammed with fiber, folate, chlorophyll, and many other micronutrients and phytochemicals.

Some of the benefits gained from eating dark leafy greens are:

  • blood purification
  • reduced cancer risk
  • improved circulation
  • immune strengthening
  • promotion of healthy intestinal flora
  • improved liver, gallbladder, and kidney function
  • reduction of congestion, especially in lungs, and reduction of mucus

When most people hear “leafy green vegetables,” they probably think of iceberg lettuce, but the ordinary, pale lettuce in many restaurant salads doesn’t have the power-packed goodness of other greens.

You can choose from a variety of greens. Broccoli is very popular among adults and children—each stem is like a tree trunk, giving you strong, grounded energy. But remember to be adventurous and try greens you’ve never seen before. Rotate between bok choy, napa cabbage, kale, collards, watercress, mustard greens, broccoli rabe, dandelion, and other leafy greens. Arugula, endive, chicory, lettuce, mesclun, and wild greens are generally eaten raw. Get into the habit of adding these green vegetables to your diet as often as possible. Nourishing yourself with greens will naturally crowd out less health-supportive foods. Try it for a month, and see how you feel.

6. Experiment with Protein

Protein is the basic building block of the human structure, helping our bodies form muscles, skin, and hair. Because of our bio-individuality, protein requirements vary dramatically from person to person. I recommend experimenting with reducing or increasing your protein intake, trying different sources, animal and vegetable, and noticing the impact on your body. So many people today eat way too much protein. Some people need protein-rich foods more often because of their constitution or dietary needs like iron deficiency. Low protein can lead to low energy and a variety of cravings. On the other hand, many people feel lighter and clearer and notice a decrease in physical symptoms when they reduce animal protein in their diet.

Vegetarian and vegan people often attempt to get their protein needs met through beans and bean products. Some individuals may find beans difficult to digest, but little things like choosing smaller beans (like lentils), cooking with a piece of kombu, or cooking for slightly longer than normal may help to facilitate digestion as these foods are introduced into the diet. In Mexico and Central America, where beans are a fundamental part of the daily diet, the most frequent bean dish is refried beans. The beans are cooked then fried in oil or butter to ensure easier digestion. A similar situation exists in Japanese cuisine with soybeans. Rarely, if ever, do the Japanese eat soybeans unless the beans have first been fermented or aged. They convert the beans into foods like miso, soy sauce, tempeh, and natto. They also eat tofu in small amounts.

Soy is a popular, and sometimes controversial, ingredient derived from the soybean legume. It is a complete protein rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, fiber, and potassium. Soy is a typical replacement for dairy and/or meat in the diets of vegetarians and vegans. Although it may be considered a health food, not all soy products are created equal.

Soy products, both fermented and unfermented, range in their degree of processing, from soy flour and soy protein to more traditional foods like miso, tempeh, and tofu. Highly processed items to limit include soy cheese, soy yogurt, and imitation meats. Focus on traditional forms to maintain the soy’s nutrient density, and keep in mind that nearly 95% of soy products come from GMO beans, so if you want to limit your consumption of these foods, opt for organic soy.

Some research shows that a certain chemical found in soy, called genistein, can potentially damage fertility, especially in men. Traditionally, in Zen monasteries, men would eat tofu to help reduce their sex drive so they could sustain a celibate lifestyle. Soy isoflavones can also increase estrogen activity, and some research shows that consuming soy products during menopause can ease some of the negative symptoms that some women experience. But other research links increased estrogen activity to higher risks of developing breast cancer. In general, much research is still needed on the effects of soy. My basic advice is to eat soy in moderation and listen to your body.

For those who don’t eat meat but who are okay with eating animal products, eggs may be a good source of protein. High-quality yogurt may also be a good option for those who are not lactose intolerant. I strongly encourage buying organic eggs and dairy that are free from hormones and antibiotics.

When it comes to animal-based sources of protein, I encourage you to seek out variety. Many Western diets rely on beef, but you can try other meats, such as duck, pheasant, buffalo, lamb, chicken, and fish, and rotate these in your diet. Quality of meat is really important, and organic is always the best option. Search for humane and more sustainable options whenever possible. As I mentioned before, we take in an animal’s energy when we eat it. Wouldn’t you rather take in the energy of an animal that was treated humanely throughout its lifetime?

When deciding how much animal food to eat with a meal, I urge you to follow the guidance of Dr. Barry Sears. He recommends eating a piece of meat “no bigger and no thicker than the palm of your hand.” A proper serving is about 3 ounces per portion and a much healthier choice than having a huge slab of meat as a main course. Think quality not quantity.

Again, there is no right and wrong here. Food is not religion. No special heaven is reserved for vegetarians. So please find the fuel that is most suitable for your current needs. Finding the optimum protein intake is a key to a balanced, healthy life.

7. Eat Fewer Processed Foods

One of the biggest hurdles to having a healthy diet these days is avoiding the bounty of highly processed junk foods available. These foods are typically found in boxes, cans, bags, and bottles, i.e., soda, crackers, candy, and more. But notice I still said eat less, not eliminate completely. That’s because not all processed foods are created equal. Remember, processing a food could be as simple as grinding coffee beans, shredding carrots, or buying spinach in a bag. These minimally processed foods are convenient and generally healthy. You may also find processed foods like canned tomatoes (cooking tomatoes actually makes the nutrients more available) or frozen veggies that are picked at their peak and stored for later use useful. But when it comes to a bag of chips with a long list of ingredients or refining a grain and removing its more nutritious parts, these are the foods to reduce as much as possible.

The problem with highly processed foods is that they have become too common for most people. One study3 found that almost 58 percent of all calories consumed in the U.S. alone come from these ultra-processed foods. Highly refined foods can be a major contributor to inflammation, a precursor to many chronic disease states. Most people who reduce processed junk foods in their daily diet feel more energized. If someone is already sick, cutting back on these foods can help to support recovery and vitality.

I think where people struggle the most is with processed foods that seem healthy, such as salad dressing or canned vegetable soups, which can contain added sugars, preservatives, or unhealthy fats. You need to be a food detective and read labels to determine what works for you. My easy rule is that if the list is too long or has ingredients I don’t recognize, I just put it down. The good news is that you can make your own salad dressing at home in less than five minutes by whisking together olive oil, lemon, mustard, and maybe some chopped garlic or shallots. A great way to practice cooking and avoid more highly processed foods in your diet is to make more of your own sauces, dressings, and snacks.

I would rather add in than take away from anyone’s diet—a process I call crowding out. This concept is simple: Focus on adding more good things into your diet as opposed to reducing the not-so-good. By adding more real, whole foods without trying to change everything all at once, a natural cycle of abundance and curiosity sets in that gradually “crowds out” the junk foods. You’ll find that your preferences change with time, and it will become much easier to have balance in your food choices. You can explore a diverse diet of different colors and textures, including vegetables and fruit, grains, different sources of protein, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It doesn’t matter if you’re an omnivore, vegetarian, macrobiotic, dairy-free, or any combination of them all. The most important thing you’ll learn is how to truly listen to your body.

When you are surrounded by highly processed convenient foods, find strategies you can use to choose more whole food options. Will you practice making more of your own foods, give yourself more time at the store to read labels, or simply start by replacing highly processed foods with more minimally processed foods? The choice is yours.

8. Make a Habit of Nurturing Your Body

The tongue cleaner, hot water bottle, and hot towel scrub are three of my favorite daily tools to establish a loving relationship with the body. This relationship is a key component of overall health, and it’s often overlooked by the medical community. Increasingly, I’m happy to see more people taking an interest in self-care. It’s not just about eating healthy foods, but about deepening our connection with ourselves. Try some of these habits, or make up something new that works for you. The key is to find simple ways to consistently give back to your body for all it does for you each and every day.

The tongue cleaner, an inexpensive yet transformative tool, is a simple, thin, U-shaped piece of stainless steel with a blunted edge to remove gunk from the surface of the tongue. Dentists recommend the tongue cleaner more and more because it helps fight cavities by removing bacteria from the mouth. It also prevents bad breath. The tongue cleaner comes from the tradition of Ayurveda, which says people who use them are better at public speaking, expressing themselves more thoughtfully, and speaking more sincerely and authoritatively. Some people ask if the same effect can be gained by brushing the tongue with a stiff toothbrush. Brushing the tongue moves the coating around and is helpful, but a tongue cleaner is more effective, since it clears out the deep deposits and generally keeps the area cleaner and more stimulated.4

The tongue cleaner also helps with cravings by cleaning the tongue of leftover food residue that could lead to cravings for those foods eaten previously. A clean tongue has fewer “food memories” on its surface. A tongue cleaner reverses the process of desensitizing your taste buds, which happens to everyone to some extent. It allows you to taste more subtle flavors in food so that you can eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains with greater enjoyment. When old residue remains on the tongue, we aren’t able to taste the natural flavors in whole foods. When you have a clean tongue, you will be better able to taste your food, and you won’t need to eat as much, since you will have gained greater satisfaction from your meal.

A big advantage of using a tongue cleaner is that it enhances kissing by making the tongue sweeter, fresher, and more sensitive. If you are in a relationship, I invite you to check this out with your partner. Make an agreement to scrape twice a day for one week, and feel the difference. The tongue cleaner takes just seconds to use, and it can easily be worked into your morning and nighttime rituals. You can purchase tongue cleaners at most health food stores or online.

It’s an ancient and natural feeling for both men and women to seek some kind of warm coziness at night, and a hot water bottle can help create this feeling. It’s also an easy and inexpensive way to heat up your bed before sleeping. For years, I’ve recommended people try using a warm compress on their bellies. The lower belly is the home of your Hara, the central balance point of your body, and, according to Asian philosophy, it is the center and source of your life energy. The Hara is the gate, the doorway to the universal energy surrounding us. Heat from a water bottle brings more energy and more blood circulation to the digestive organs in this area, which are really the engine of your body. It aids in digesting food and in unblocking energy that may be stuck after a heavy meal.

At bedtime, place an old-fashioned hot water bottle on your belly for about 15 to 20 minutes. Most hot water bottles today are plastic, so you’ll want to put the bottle in a pillowcase or get a cover before placing it against your skin. On a psychological and emotional level, warmth on the belly may promote absorption and digestion of whatever feelings or mental input are left over from the day’s events.

I get a lot of feedback from single people about how they dread getting into a cold, empty bed at the end of a busy day. After being introduced to the hot water bottle solution, some of them even start using two or three of them to create a soothing, comforting feeling that helps them relax and sleep better. It’s a simple and effective way to feel nourished.

Women can also use a hot water bottle, similar to a heating pad, to help relieve the pain and tension associated with menstrual cramps. It conforms to your body, and you can use it at night and not worry about falling asleep with it. British scientists have proven that applying heat to your abdominal region actually deactivates pain at a molecular level, similar to the effect of taking over-the-counter painkillers.

The hot towel scrub is an incredible tool for relaxation, circulation, and detoxification. The skin is the body’s largest organ of elimination. More dead cells, toxins, and waste products from the body get eliminated through the skin than through urinating and having a bowel movement. Stimulating the pores of your skin with a rubbing action allows them to eliminate better. The only thing separating you from your external environment is your skin. The hot towel scrub rejuvenates this living organ, creating a better two-way flow of sensory information between you and your environment. It’s a great source of primary food because it creates a loving connection between you and your body. Also, the heat and friction may help to reduce the appearance of cellulite.

Here’s how it works: Dip a washcloth into hot water, or hold it under running hot water, then wring it out, and rub your entire body with it for five to 10 minutes. There is no right direction in which to rub. Try head to toe, toe to head, toward the heart, away from the heart, whatever feels easy and natural for you. It’s invigorating if you do it in the morning and relaxing if you do it in the evening after work or at night before you go to bed. It has a neutralizing and balancing effect on the mind.

Some people say it’s similar to using a loofah or skin brush, but the added effect of using heat to open pores is very important. So, don’t settle for brushing. Also, take the trouble not to do this in the shower. Instead, stand by a sink. It makes a difference because showering is such a routine, mechanical act. By the sink, you are looking in the mirror and seeing your body, and you are more present to the sensations the hot towel scrub is creating in you.

When I show a washcloth to my students and say, “This will change your life,” they are naturally skeptical. But afterward, I get a lot of positive feedback, like “I can’t believe how well this works!” and “I feel my skin opening up, vibrating,” and “I’ve fallen in love with my body.” If you use it for a few minutes every day, or even once a week, your body will thank you.

These simple tools really speak to improving the quality of each day. The tongue scraper, hot water bottle, and hot towel scrub are three of the fastest, easiest, and least expensive means of creating a loving relationship with your body and, in turn, a new level of health. You can also find other methods that work for you, like stretching your body in the morning, starting a meditation practice, or spending more time in nature. What nurturing habits appeal most to you?

9. Have Healthy Relationships

It’s rare that I meet someone who feels entirely supported by his or her family, friends, coworkers, boss, and significant other. Sometimes the answer to getting the support you need may be as simple as asking for help from your loved ones or from a professional. Other times, the answer may lie in creating new relationships and letting go of the old ones that no longer serve you. Start by developing the relationship you have with yourself. When you find ways to nurture and love yourself, you will be better able to communicate your needs more effectively to others.

Figuring out what kind of love relationship works best for you is essential to your well-being. Love is food for the soul and nourishes the body, mind, and spirit. For some, a happy marriage early in life is their main goal. They are clear that they want to have children and build a firm structure for their whole life and for future generations. Others look for alternatives to marriage or wait until later in life to settle down with one person. Many people feel pressure from their families or society to get married and have children, while this is simply not the right path for some. It is important that you take time to determine what you want, and then work practically and positively toward it.

Some people love being alone, while others love being around lots of other people. Most people fall somewhere in the middle. I encourage you to find a type of love and intimacy that is appropriate and nourishing for you. Find the right balance of togetherness and aloneness, and know that these needs will change with time, just as dietary needs change and just as everything in life changes.

How can you make sure that the relationships in your life are nourishing your soul and keeping you healthy? Consider these tips.

Open Communication: In a healthy relationship, whether it is with your mom, best friend, or partner, you should have an open line of communication. If something is bothering you, talk to that person about it. If you are happy about something, call that person, and share your joy with them.

Mutual Support: A strong relationship lasts through the good and the bad. You should be able to lean on each other when you are going through hard times like a breakup or losing a job. If your friend is constantly coming to you with problems but seems to be absent from your life when you are going through a hard time, then it may be time to reevaluate the relationship.

Laughter and Fun: Celebrating in the good times is just as important for a healthy relationship as supporting each other through the tough times! Being able to spend time laughing and rejoicing with your loved ones will feed you in a way that food cannot.

We all need to discover what kinds of relationships work best for us, so take the time to look at your relationships and find people in your life who support you.

10. Enjoy Regular Physical Activity

A lot of people go to great lengths to make sure they are eating healthy food, but they don’t bother to exercise regularly. Inactivity is more prevalent than ever, with 1 in 3 adults not active enough worldwide.5 Movement aids digestion, assimilation, circulation, and respiration, and it is a crucial part of any healthy person’s regimen. Many people don’t like exercising. It’s challenging for them to find an exercise routine they enjoy. Think about what you loved to do as a kid. Did you dance, bike, or hike? This is a good place to start when looking for a new exercise routine. Look for a gym or yoga studio near your home or on the way to the office where you can work out. It’s important to find a location that’s convenient and where the atmosphere is pleasant, comfortable, and welcoming. This will enhance your chances of going regularly.

Exercising can be an opportunity to reconnect with nature, perhaps by going to a large park if you are a city dweller. Research shows that exercising outside has mental benefits, too, including increased energy and feeling less tense.6 Getting out to a rural environment—somewhere you can breathe clean, fresh air, hear the birds, and see the sky—on a regular basis can be very healing. We can live without food for months and without water for days. However, we cannot live without air for more than a few minutes, so it makes sense that air quality is essential to life quality.

11. Find Work You Love

Career can be one of the most dysfunctional areas of adult life. Many people resign themselves to doing tedious work in jobs, offices, and corporations that are not in alignment with who they are. They do this not for a day, a week, or a month but for years and even decades. Sometimes they are working in fields that are diametrically opposed to their own personal values. As a long-term lifestyle, this path is bound to affect their health. If you are one of these people, I encourage you to explore potential options to proactively improve or remedy the situation. Do you believe we are spiritual beings in a material world? If so, I think you’ll agree that what we do all day, every day is central to why we are here.

Many people feel trapped in jobs because they have a retirement fund, 401(k) plan, or accrued benefits. They know they should leave, but they have a mortgage or bills to pay. And they just need to work a few more years before they can quit or retire. If this describes you, the challenge is to find a way to love the work you have. You can try making your office environment more attractive, identifying people at work who can be allies, and avoiding people who are irritating. Get an office with a nice view if you can. Use a comfortable chair that supports your back, and take stretch breaks every hour.

You can also try to identify what isn’t working in your job on a personal level and find ways to address these issues. Maybe your deadlines are too quick, and you have problems with procrastination. Or maybe you have a hard time communicating with large groups because you are shy. Maybe you feel you are overqualified for your position and feel bored at work. Instead of putting all the blame on your work environment, see what you can learn from your current situation and how you can make changes. Research local seminars on organization, public speaking, or continued learning in your field. You may be surprised to find that when you make changes in yourself, your job may feel more fulfilling.

12. Develop a Spiritual Practice

Spirituality is what gives depth and meaning to life, creating the feeling of divine order and harmony that exists above and beyond human limitations. Spirituality, like food, comes in all forms. I don’t recommend a specific path, but I encourage people to have a spiritual practice. For some, this means embracing their religion of birth, following the traditions of their ancestors, and seeking depth through prayer and with God. Others feel discontented with the past and explore new avenues, such as meditation, mindfulness, or the religion of their partner. Some people blend together different religions or spiritual practices that align most with their values, which I call “integrative religion.” For people who are agnostic or atheist, being spiritual may mean going for a walk in the late evening and feeling the vastness of the night sky or walking by the ocean and enjoying the sense of infinite, endless space. It has been my experience that when people feel connected with the big picture, they get healthier faster. We all crave meaning and purpose in life, and developing a spiritual practice can help us feel connected and deeply committed to our lives.

If the idea of developing a spiritual practice sounds overwhelming, you might begin with ways to keep your spirit lifted. You may find doing random acts of kindness for others or unplugging for an hour at the end of the day could be the perfect avenue to experience this part of life. For others, you may schedule time to attend church, read inspirational texts, or attend a silent retreat. Ram Dass, author of the best-selling book Be Here Now,7 says that when he wakes up each morning, he takes time to read a spiritual passage. He keeps books by his bed to help him remember to keep up this regular practice.

Sometimes the biggest challenge when it comes to something new is simply the act of beginning. Start small, and don’t overcomplicate it. If you aren’t sure what kind of practice you want to develop, make time to talk with others, or research various forms of spirituality on your own. You may feel like you don’t have 30 minutes a day for a meditation practice, so start with a set time that feels doable for you. Remember, a seed doesn’t struggle to become a plant; it just takes the right amount of nourishment. Find a practice that is enjoyable and feeds your soul.

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