Stop Focusing on Diet & Exercise

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash
Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

When you hear the word Nourishment, what’s your first thought?

Well, if you’re like most people, you think of food.

Today, I’m actually not going to talk about food, or at least not the kind of food that comes on your plate.

Instead, I’m going to talk to you about a different kind of food, one that nourishes us way more than our breakfast, lunch, or dinner ever will.

My “Great Inflation”

You may or may not know about my health scare back when I was a Fortune 500 executive. The super-brief version is that I gained 20 pounds practically overnight in October 2012, starting just days after my 35th birthday.

This sudden weight gain was triggered by my body finally saying “Enough!” to my chronic-stress-lack-of-sleep-workaholic lifestyle; presumably in response to some not-so-great habits that had been building up for years. And my body didn’t say “Enough” so much as YELL it!

Over the course of only 30 days, I was inflating like I was a balloon attached to an air machine, gaining 20 pounds in my just face, gut, and legs. I had no idea what was happening, nor why it was happening so suddenly. I no longer recognized my body or face. It was an incredibly scary time for me, to say the least.

Many years later – and now that I’m on the other side of this health scare – I refer back to this time in my life as my “Great Inflation.”

While this time in my life was emotionally draining and incredibly time-consuming as I worked on reclaiming my health, I’m now able to look back at it in jest because this same “Great Inflation” became the catalyst for me to create an entirely new chapter in my life, but I’m getting ahead of myself. 

“Modify your diet & exercise”

I’m sharing this with you because when I went to my doctor, weeks into my inflating, he basically shrugged at my condition. All my labwork came back as “normal” – showing no presence of disease or illness. His directive was cookie-cutter, saying, “Modify your diet and exercise.”

My doctor’s vague suggestion was frustrating and hardly helpful. As I walked out of his office that day, I quickly realized that it was going to be up to me to figure out what was going on and how to fix it.

As I started my efforts to reverse my condition and “deflate” (to get healthy again), I enrolled in an integrative nutrition program so I could learn the real truths about health and wellness.

I’m sharing this story with you today because what I learned during my studies was so incredibly jaw-dropping that it became the catalyst for me to leave corporate and start One Degree Health.

And I’m sharing this same information with you now:

Stop Focusing on Diet & Exercise

Like most people, I had thought that “food and exercise” would be the solution getting healthy again, and that I just needed to find the right combination for me.

However, it was during my studies of holistic health where I learned that this was the wrong approach. Despite what we’ve been conditioned to believe, we should not be focusing on our food and diet as the primary fix to health issues.  

In fact, the actual food we eat should be considered secondarily.

Our true and “primary” focus needs to be on ALL other things that nourish us in this wonderful life of ours, such as our relationships, our job satisfaction, our happiness and joy. Experts call this our “Primary Foods.”

Think of “primary foods” as everything that feeds us that doesn’t come on a plate.

It was this concept of being “fed” by ALL of the dimensions of health, beyond just what we eat and if/when we exercise, that really blew my mind. It was a huge Ah-Ha Moment for me.

This concept of “Primary Foods” shifted my focus from my diet & exercise and what I “should” be doing; it allowed me to step back to take a good look at my life, and see that there were many areas that were out of balance.

And when I took a good look beyond my current diet & exercise, I saw someone who had been a relatively healthy person up to this point but was consumed with work – logging crazy hours, getting very little sleep, sacrificing personal relationships, and never taking a break. 

So my “Primary Foods” were indeed out of balance and lacking.

The “Primary Foods” that Feed Us

The creator of the term “Primary Food,” Joshua Rosenthal, creator and director of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition school I attended, says that when our primary foods are in balance, [physical] food becomes secondary.

Joshua says that “Healthy relationships, regular physical activity, a fulfilling career, and a spiritual practice can fill your soul and satisfy your hunger for life.”

Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, and current President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, has said that, “Primary Food is the stuff that feeds directly into the quality of our lives every day. [Physical] food is an important component, but it’s just a component.”

Until I discovered the concept of “Primary foods,” I had never looked at “sleep” or “job satisfaction” as an input into my quality of life, as “foods” that are feeding me every day.  Instead, like most people, I had been regarding them as the “output,” the inevitable result of my intense work schedule.

Let’s put this concept of Primary Foods into practice:

Let’s say you schedule a session with me because you want to lose some weight. Maybe you’re struggling with some pesky pounds that just won’t go away, and you’re frustrated because you feel like you’ve literally tried everything, but nothing seems to work.

But before we get into what you’re eating and the diets you’ve tried, I’m going to ask you a few questions that you probably aren’t expecting.

I’m going to ask your questions like, “What worries keep you up at night? How’s your job? How’s your relationship? Do you have money concerns, or feel a lack of joy, purpose, or community in your life?”

If these areas of your life are out of balance, then you could eat every kale salad in the world and NEVER lose any of that weight.

And why is that?

Because the underlying issue for your weight is not with what you’re putting in your mouth, it’s with your “primary foods” – as they affect how you feel and how your body functions.

But the good news is that once you recognize these imbalances with your “Primary Foods” and start addressing them, your diet and nutrition and those pesky pounds will almost take care of themselves.

Our “Primary Foods” are arguably more important for our ability to live and thrive than the physical food we eat or don’t eat.

Danielle Atcheson, CHN, NBC-HWC

Take the FREE Wheel of Life Assessment

If you’re ready to see where you’re at with your “primary foods”, then I encourage you to take our Wheel of Life Assessment. It takes less than a minute to complete but gives you tremendous insight into how you’re doing in all of the areas of your life that “feed” you – such as your sleep, daily activity, your relationships, your home and work environment, and more.

Click here to take this free assessment to see how you’re doing with your “Primary Foods”

Here’s what you’ll get when you take our Wheel of Life Assessment: You’re going to get a Wellness Wheel (like the one pictured below) that will map where you currently are in each area and where you want to be. You’ll also get an email with your personalized assessment and a Gap Score giving you tips on how to improve in each area.

One Degree Health's Wheel of Life Assessment with the 12 dimensions of health.

So go complete your wellness wheel here and see how you’re doing across your Primary Foods.

It takes less than a minute to complete the Wheel of Life assessment and the output of seeing how balanced (or out of whack) you are is invaluable.

I’m a big believer that you can’t start to your wellness journey without first knowing where you’re starting from. And you’ll get that insight from this assessment.

NEXT STEPS: Where to Focus your Efforts

Next, evaluate your wheel and ask yourself, “If I were to make a change in any of these 12 areas, which one would have the greatest impact on my overall health?”

For me, back when I was on my healing journey to reverse my Great Inflation, the number one area that needed my focus was My Sleep Quality.

The Result: By prioritizing my sleep and creating a routine in this area, I soon started to “deflate” – the inflammation in my face and my gut started to reduce, my energy levels bounced back, and I was truly starting to heal again – all from simply focusing on my sleep.

I then started making tweaks to other areas of my life – relationships, stress management, my home environment, and more. Check out the image below to see the impact these incremental changes allowed me to reclaim my health & vitality. Even my eyes got brighter.

My Great Inflation, Before & After. I lost 20 pounds by focusing on my “Primary Foods”

Ok, so now it’s your turn.

  1. Pick an area or two from your Wellness Wheel and think of how improving that area would impact your quality of life.
  2. What could you change or add that would increase this Primary Food?

Share it below!

Did you know that when we publicly declare a goal that we are exponentially more likely to meet it?

So declare to us below: Which one area on your Wellness Wheel are you going to work on improving? I look forward to reading your responses!

Track this new habit:

Check off this habit in your Healthy Habits Tracker (download yours for free here).


Danielle Atcheson, NBC-HWC, CHN, LMC, CGP

Danielle Atcheson, NBC-HWC, CHN, LMC, CGP

Danielle Atcheson is on a mission to inspire healthier living using the power of micro-habits.

She’s a popular speaker, a board-certified health & wellness coach, and founder of One Degree Health.

As a former Fortune 500 executive, she knows firsthand how a busy schedule can interfere with prioritizing our health.

Danielle started One Degree Health to share her Micro-Habit Mindset and wellness formula with other busy professionals through engaging workshops, online coaching & nutrition programs, and private coaching.

Founder & Chief Wellness Officer, One Degree Health; Functional Nutritionist, Lifestyle Medicine Specialist, Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Certified Gluten-Free Practitioner, Plant-Based Nutrition certified from Cornell University.

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DISCLAIMER: The contents of this blog and website are informational only, and should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, nor as a substitute for professional medical care. As with all health & wellness information, always consult your professional healthcare providers before taking any medical action.


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