by Jen Casey, cnp, nncp
Think of your body as your home, being supported by four pillars. The pillars should be solid, all working together to hold you up on a strong foundation. You can survive if one pillar is compromised, but you will not function as optimally as you could. With one or more weak spots in one pillar, the others tend to take on more of the load and, eventually, your house will become unstable.
Each of these pillars represents sleep, diet, movement, and stress management—all aspects of daily life that require balance to keep your house stable and a safe place to call home. When you are well-supported, you have energy, are nourished, and you feel good emotionally, physically, and spiritually. When out of alignment, you might experience sore joints, digestive issues, sugar cravings, fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, weight gain, or frequent illness.
This happens because our immune system is our complex defence system, inspecting, sorting, and protecting against infection, invaders, inflammation, and toxins every minute of the day. Since each of the pillars of health directly affects our immune function, this might explain why you might be suffering with symptoms and are constantly fighting to feel good.
Let’s have a closer look at ways we might inadvertently be sabotaging our most precious investment.
- Lack of Sleep
Sleep is important for each of our body systems. As a Holistic Nutritionist, I always remind my clients that you can eat all the colourful salads, do all the HIIT workouts or yoga classes, and meditate daily, but if you do not get quality sleep every night, your house will come crumbling down. We simply cannot function on little sleep, optimally. Over time, the body sees lack of sleep as a stressor and produces excess cortisol to help us get through the day. Unfortunately, chronically high cortisol suppresses other body systems, including your immune system. Health professionals suggest getting 7–8 quality hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. A sleep hygiene practice of a routine bedtime, herbal tea, Epsom salt bath, a dark bedroom, sleep mask, white noise, and a comfortable bedroom temperature are helpful tools.
A Nutritionist’s tip to improve your sleep
Avoid eating dinner just before bed to allow your body time to digest. This gives your body and mind a chance to rest and repair during sleep, instead of trying to break down your last meal.
- Poor Diet
We know that fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and quality lean fish and meats are nourishing and support our immune health. What we do not always consider is which foods sabotage our well-being. The worst culprit, sugar, leads to inflammation in the body and suppresses our immune system for up to a few hours after consuming large amounts. Once in a while, a little sugar is not a problem, but a diet high in processed, refined carbohydrates can wreak havoc on your immune cells by slowing down your body’s ability to fight bacteria and illness. Sugar doesn’t only come labelled as such and often hides under the guise of many other names. Best practices are to read product labels and get to know the hidden aliases for this immunosuppressant.
A Nutritionist’s tip to improve your diet
4 grams of sugar listed on a product label is equal to one teaspoon. First check the grams of sugar in a serving size on a package, then scroll through the ingredients list to find the source of the sugar. If it is coming from real fruit with fibre, it is a better choice than many of the alternatives.
- Lack of Movement
A sedentary lifestyle is a recipe for a poorly functioning immune system. Lymphatic fluid runs through our body to collect toxins and send them to our lymph nodes and liver for processing, but, unlike blood, it does not have a built-in pump. In order to keep this fluid cleaning up our body, we need to move muscles and joints, and that is where daily exercise plays a role. Deep breathing during exercise also helps to tone and flush toxins from another one of our detoxification organs, the lungs, and helps to decrease stress—which, remember, is a form of inflammation that affects our immune health.
A Nutritionist’s tip to improve your movement
Stay hydrated during exercise with a refined sugar-free homemade electrolyte drink of water, a splash of pure cherry juice, a pinch of sea salt, and a drizzle of pure maple syrup.
- Poor Stress Management
Let’s face it—despite our efforts, we cannot wave a magic wand and make stress disappear. The stress will exist, but it is our response to stress that really matters. When we are emotionally stressed—similarly to when we do not get enough sleep, we eat a diet high in sugar, or we live a sedentary lifestyle—our body produces a hormone called cortisol to get us through. This is a wonderful, efficient mechanism that our body relies on, but if we do not manage stress and our cortisol remains high regularly, we suppress our other systems to make room for survival first. You might relate to working overtime before your vacation, with sleepless nights and skipped meals, just to get in those last few tasks. You arrive at your beach destination, put your feet up, exhale, and realize you might be coming down with something. The elevated cortisol got you through your last week of work like a champ, but your digestion was impaired, your sleep cycle was off, you didn’t make time for exercise or proper refuelling. As soon as you found time for yourself, you got sick. This was your body responding to stress and your immune system paid the price.
A Nutritionist’s tip to improve your stress management
If you are experiencing stress, despite feeling the need for sugar or caffeine to help get you through, avoid them at all costs. The best thing you can do for yourself during stress is to eat three balanced meals which include healthy fats, protein, and complex carbohydrates. Stay hydrated with plain water, and avoid stimulants like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar that will only contribute to your inflammation and lead to a suppressed immune system.
The bottom line: Build your home up with strong pillars. If you spot a crack, fill it with nourishing food, quality sleep, gentle movement, and daily self-care. You only get one body to live in so make it the best, and healthiest, you can.
Jen Casey is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP), Fitness Instructor and Holistic Health Coach. She has been working in the field of holistic and alternative health for years, and has her own practice, Bite Club Nutrition. Her passion for clean beauty products and green living has brought her to several TV segments, a skin care business, and published articles on the subject. Jen’s approach to health is gentle, yet targeted. She aims to get to the root of the concern, while using stress management, quality sleep, balanced nutrition, mindset, non-toxic living and movement as part of her tools. She believes that each individual has specific needs when it comes to whole body wellness, and she builds her recommendations around these. When Jen is not in the office, she is being a mom to her 2 children and dog. You will likely run into her at the beach or in the woods with a smoothie in hand, or find her in the kitchen whipping up natural beauty products from food.
This article was published in The Good Life magazine.