Balance can be a funny concept to grasp, because it looks different for everybody. When it comes to feeling well and defining what it means to be in good health, it really comes down to maintaining homeostasis, which is the science-y word that refers to a state of steady internal, physical, and chemical conditions maintained by living systems. This is the condition of optimal functioning and includes many variables, such as body temperature and fluid balance, being kept within certain pre-set limits. Our bodies, moods and life are in a constant state of flux; what makes us healthy is our resilience and ability to bounce back and adjust to the inevitable shifts within us or happening to us.
So what does balance look like when it comes to food and nourishment? Trick question – there is no one answer. However, consistency can be a great ally in achieving homeostasis and living “in balance”. When we are consistent with eating well – colourful foods that are alive, lots of fibre, eating until full but not stuffed, eating mindfully, drinking ample water, opting for organic high quality protein when possible, consuming ample healthy fats, eating diverse meals – let’s say 80% of the time – we have the capacity to enjoy foods for the pleasure, nostalgia, convenience, etc. for the other 20%. We’ve set consistent conditions for our organs and systems to function optimally with adequate nutrition, so we can have the glass or two of wine, the slice of cake, the late night pizza, Honey’s donut, etc. These foods – while not nutrient dense – can evoke a lot of joy, make memories and enhance an experience – and joy, pleasure and human connection are integral to feeling well from a mental and physical perspective.
Interestingly, when we consume food and tell ourselves it’s “bad” or we hold shame around it, our body will digest it differently. Those negative or shameful thoughts evoke a stress response in the body, and when we’re stressed, our body puts pause on digestion and hormone release and focuses on preparing for running away from the perceived threat. This can cause our body to store fat – like a protection mechanism – versus properly digesting that food for fuel. This is why it’s so important to truly enjoy, savor and celebrate the food you eat – whether society has deemed it a health food or junk food. You can take yourself into a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state by taking some slow, belly breaths before sitting down to eat, leave your device in another room, eat without distractions, and ENJOY all of the flavours with every bite.
One thing to address that a lot of people find challenging: how do we enjoy sweets and treats without going overboard? How do we find “balance” within those moments of pleasure? It can be helpful to understand why we inherently want to eat a whole bag of chips but just a handful of carrots. It comes down to a) chemical additives and salt that are designed to make you want more, and b) our body scans our food for nutrients as a signal of fullness; if a food is not very nutrient dense, our body releases hormones to keep us hungry and consuming food to get more nutrients. Which is why 1 slice of cake can easily turn into 4…the body is looking for protein, healthy fats, antioxidants etc. which are our building blocks of health. Knowing this, it can be helpful to pair fun foods with nutrient dense foods to satisfy your body’s craving for vitamins and minerals. For example, pair your favourite pizza or pasta with a salad, enjoy your favourite brownie with some nuts, or have some olives with your favourite cheese and crackers.
When it comes to movement, balance and consistency, this too looks different for everyone. We’re conditioned to think that movement and being “fit” means taking a class once a day, hitting the gym hard or going for a run or bike ride – however in reality, being active and mobile is more about how often you move your body throughout the day. Starting your day with a 45 min class is amazing, however if you’re sitting and stagnant for the following 8 hours, then shift to the dining room table then couch, your organs and joints aren’t getting the movement they require. A great way to move more is to get up every hour and do a little bit of movement – some cat cows, some squats, take the stairs, walk around the block, put on a 10 minute yoga or core video, take a little walk after your meal, etc. Look at your movement practice across your entire day, not just on your mat or when you’re suited up for your workout.
There are some days where high intensity movement feels amazing, and some days where it’s a total grind. Being able to listen to your body and honour your energy levels can be really challenging, but it can be helpful to remember that the goal is to be consistent, not regimented. If we’re go-go-go all of the time, this can put our body’s into fight or flight and actually cause our metabolism to slow and our body to hold onto excess fat. Sometimes taking it slow, mindful and resting is the best thing you can do for your metabolism and ability to really show up when you are craving those higher intensity practices. If you menstruate, you may also want to adjust your movement routine to your cycle – ramping it up through your follicular and ovulatory phases, and easing up for your luteal and menstrual phases.
You’ll notice in TurF classes that each class is intentionally designed to balance the yang (fiery energy) with the yin (cool and calm energy). Our warm ups and cool downs are slow, stretchy, soothing, we take time to find our breath before and after we move, and we focus on keeping the nervous system regulated. In other words…the warm up, stretch and meditation are just as important as the glute bridges, bicycles and jumping jacks! These grounding moments are inputs that put the nervous system into rest and digest to balance out the stress response that naturally occurs with lifting weights, activating your muscles, elevating your heart rate etc.
Remember, your body innately knows how to heal itself – our cells are designed to do that. When sickness occurs, it’s a signal that things are not in balance, and our body is unable to maintain the dance that is homeostasis. This usually means we need to change our circumstances – internal and/or external. Nothing is wrong with our digestive, immune or reproductive system, it just requires a different environment. For example, if we plant lettuce and it doesn't grow, we don't blame the lettuce. We know it just needs a different environment. People are the same. Fuel your body with healing foods 80% of the time, and celebrate foods that evoke pleasure and joy for the other 20% (and even this is just a guide). Honour when your body is craving rest. Move the body regularly, every hour to clear out the cobwebs and pump your lymph (more about that here). We are forever healing – we often just need to get out of our own way.