Beyond smoothies and squats. The healthy habits that make the real difference

”True health goes far beyond food and fitness.”

As a health coach, I spend most of my time helping clients make space for self-care in their lives. Many people assume this translates to more time in the kitchen or trips to the gym, but true health goes far beyond food and fitness. The self-care that really transforms people’s lives is often the “simple” stuff: reflection, gratitude, mindfulness. I know this doesn’t sound as sexy as the latest celebrity diet secret, but I promise it’s the real gold.

As an ex-runway model, I have lived the reality of empty “health”. Yes, I was running every day and eating my kale, but I was also lonely and deeply unhappy while modeling. And this stress actually caused my body to work against me in a lot of ways, like developing anxiety and auto-immune issues. I struggled with blood sugar problems, poor circulation, and extreme mental fatigue. It wasn’t until I changed my lifestyle to support my own inner peace that I was able to overcome these issues, many of which were ultimately traced to digestive dysfunction. Healing my gut was a long journey, involving elimination diets, probiotics, reducing my sugar intake, and more. But what fundamentally supported these lifestyle shifts was a deeper sense of peace within myself. 

”If stress can influence our biochemistry, this means stress relief may do the same.”

Our digestion–as with many other systems in our body–is heavily influenced by our mental health. When we are physically or mentally stressed, our body’s biochemistry changes. This means the pressure we feel at work or school can directly link to all sorts of physiological issues, from irritated skin to irritable bowel syndrome. There is good news though: if stress can influence our biochemistry, this means stress relief may do the same! 

A classic example of how happy minds make happy bodies is the case-study of Roseto, Pennsylvania. The residents of this close-knit community experienced remarkably low rates of cardiovascular disease, despite indulging heavily in red wine, red meat, smoking, and other habits associated with poor heart health. Researchers believe their low disease risk was a result of their social connectedness and low-stress lifestyle. I love this example because it beautifully illustrates how a life of mental and social fulfillment can make our bodies more resilient. This is not to say that food and exercise don’t matter; of course they do. I’d just like to make the point that when we’re mentally and socially taken care of, the rest falls into place. 

Personally, I’ve found my health and happiness in little daily practices. I meditate each evening, journal every morning, go on nature walks with my partner, and follow inspiring thought-leaders. All of these little things add up. Today I would argue that I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been, despite putting less effort into my exercise routine and ignoring calories altogether. Health has not been something I’ve attained through sheer willpower; it has become my second-nature, driven by my own love for my body and life. 

”Decide to invest time in your mental self-care.”

When approached in this way, healthy living is attainable for everyone. There is no special equipment, supplement, or certification required. All it takes is deciding to invest time in your mental self-care. Here are some of my favorite ways to do so:

  • Check in with yourself

Make time each day to step out of life’s bustle for a short moment of self-reflection. Because this is a pillar of my health coaching practice, I’ve co-created the mobile app Health Curious that allows you to check in with yourself every day. It only takes two minutes to use and can help you identify what is and isn’t contributing to your long-term health and happiness. You can think of it like a health coach in your pocket. The point here is to carve out small, dedicated moments to reflect on your health.

Tip: develop a daily check-in habit by “piggy-backing” onto something you already do. For example, I check in to Health Curious over breakfast, and meditate before dinner. 

  • Trust yourself 

Learn to listen to what your instincts are telling you, because you may know more than you think!  Instincts are often our subconscious mind noticing patterns before our conscious mind does. If you’re left feeling strange every time you meet with a certain friend, you can trust that your instincts are telling you something. What might that be?

Tip: Every time you sense a gut feeling about a situation or person, ask why you might be feeling this way. This is a powerful practice for identifying triggers that make you feel both good and bad. 

  • Inform yourself 

Take action and educate yourself on topics and skills that will help you achieve your dreams. It is so gratifying to invest in your own knowledge. Find some books on the things you’re curious about or biographies from people who inspire you. 

Tip: Try incorporating audiobook or podcast walks into your week. Not only are you exercising while learning, but I find it also helps me remember information better. 

  • Connect yourself

Reach out to a beloved friend or family member instead of turning to social media. If you’re quick to grab your phone when boredom or stress strikes, redirect this habit towards calling someone who will leave you feeling better than a newsfeed. 

Tip: Sharing activities can make bonding even more fun. If you’re connecting with someone virtually, decide to simultaneously go for a walk, dance in your PJs, or enjoy a cup of tea on the couch.

  • Just be yourself

Be the best you you can be, and no one else. This is such a simple one in theory, but difficult to truly master. Of course we are all “being ourselves” constantly, but how many of us spend time in envy, comparison, inferiority, or judgement? This such a shame, because we are each incredibly special in our mix of talents, passions, and experiences. There is and never will be anyone else like you, so it’s pointless trying to measure up to an illusory standard of “normal”; there’s really no such thing! 

Tip: Collect people in your life who treasure you for you. If someone continually puts you down, recognize this and move on. Follow inspiring people who make you feel proud to be you, not those who make you feel ashamed. 

In conclusion, health is just as much about caring for your mind as it is for your body. So please continue to fuel yourself with spinach salads and smoothies, but just make sure they’re served with a healthy dose of gratitude, reflection, and self-acceptance. 

When our minds are taken care of, the rest falls into place. I promise. 

This article was written by Robin Laird. Robin Laird is a fashion model turned biochemistry master and health coach. She enables people to perform at their best through strategic lifestyle tweaks that encourage long term balance. Robin received her coaching certification through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in “Biochemistry and Biotechnology” at the University of Amsterdam. She is also an alumna of the University of Southern California and Amsterdam University College, where she obtained her undergraduate degrees in Public Relations and Biomedical Sciences.” If you would like to get in touch with Robin, feel free to visit her website or find her on Instagram at science.of.selfcare

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