As the mindset coach for a popular vegan YouTuber’s nutrition program, I ask this question all day long: “What’s your primary food?”
I first heard the term in 2005 when I was a student at New York City’s singular holistic nutrition school. It was back when Gwyneth Paltrow was popularizing the macrobiotic diet and the word “paleo” connoted archaeology, when blood type was entering the diet arena, and non-dairy was a non-option. It was when the word “organic” was a mystery—and we actually admitted that it was one.
Intent on unwrapping and dissecting the truths and myths of food, I studied tirelessly; but my greatest discovery was that what keeps us filled up, nourished, and satiated on a soul level is not on our plates.
Primary foods are those aspects of life that nourish our minds and spirits.
When we are engaged in or with them, we feel a deep sense of bliss and peace. We aren’t watching the clock, we aren’t thinking about the next meal; in fact, external cues of time and hunger are rendered irrelevant in these moments of internal contentment. Primary foods come from relationships, career, education, environment, movement, creativity, spirituality…they just don’t come from the fridge.
To my surprise, the majority of individuals to whom I pitch the aforementioned question have no idea how to answer. They understand the concept in theory but are challenged with decoding which aspects of their life provide soul satiety.
Consequently, I designed the following road map for help with unveiling our primary foods.
- Identify your values.
Make a list of all of your core values in life. Ensure that these are authentic to you, as opposed to someone else’s notion of what a good value should be. Ultimately, we will not be nourished by something that is not linked to our values.
- Review your history.
Think back to your childhood, your adolescence, the times in your life prior to the responsibilities of adulthood. How did you fill your time? Given free time, what did you love to do?
- Clear space.
Identify the activities, environments, tasks, or classes that you have not enjoyed—the ones that didn’t speak to your soul. By recognizing what does not work for us, we create the room and time in our lives to identify what does.
- Be a student.
Imagine that you are a student enrolling in courses at school: what departments attract you? What courses appeal? What would you like to learn about for the next semester of life?
- Be a professional.
Imagine that you are seeking work on job search platforms. Identify the key words that you would input. What themes speak to you? Into what realms do you want to put your professional energy?
- Ask around.
Ask your friends and your family—anyone who has seen you through a span of time in your life—when, where, and how they see you most content. When have they felt that you are truly thriving?
- Sleep on it.
Are there themes that often recur in your dreams—environments, interactions, roles, activities? Pay attention: your subconscious just may be gnawing on a primary food.
- Be okay with not knowing.
Sometimes the answer is just, “I don’t know.” And since we don’t know what we don’t know, that’s exactly where you’re supposed to be. Acceptance and peace around uncertainty will allow you to remain present and thereby fully aware when things reveal themselves naturally. That we know.
So, now what? After that mental appetizer, it’s time for your main course: implementation.
From the remaining ideas, begin free-writing ways in which your values, history, themes, and thoughts can translate into action in your life. Does valuing your sibling translate to a weekly FaceTime? Does childhood adoration of gymnastics translate to aerial yoga classes? Does your tendency to search for “animal” jobs on Indeed translate to a volunteer position at a local shelter? Has your friend’s remark that you have a prowess for making crafty jewelry translate to an Etsy page? Be creative!
- Be realistic.
Of the ideas generated, some may not realistically translate to your life at present given your current circumstances. If you adored hiking but live in flat terrain, if you have a penchant for interior design but are between dwellings, if you love running but sustained an injury, these can go into a “later” or “vacation” stockpile. While it is wonderful to have future goals, your soul is hungry now.
- The bearable lightness.
Meditate on each realistic idea individually, and assess whether it makes you feel light or heavy. Ask: does this activity, this notion, this memory feel easy, freeing, and smooth…or does it feel effortful, cumbersome, and complex? We want to select from the light.
- Show and tell.
Now, talk about it! Share your ideas with friends and family and/or crowdsource on social media for help generating specific, creative, and fun ideas for the implementation stage. Sometimes an objective party can lend the most brilliant insight.
- Be smart.
Now it’s time for action. For each primary food that resonates with you, create an action plan that meets the following criteria: it is S.M.A.R.T., or Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
Here’s an example:
You deduce that you really want to contribute to environmentalism. You will create a plan that is Specific (I will research and email local environmentalist groups and causes. I will no longer use plastic bags or plastic straws. I will volunteer for the beach cleanup conducted monthly in my town); Measurable (I will keep track of how many emails I have sent and to which I have received responses. I will count the number of plastic bags I save using each week. I will put the beach cleanup in my calendar right now.); Achievable (I am able to use the internet, groups, Meetup. I am able to reduce my use of plastic. I am able to wake up early and wear my sunscreen for the cleanup.); Realistic (Yes, I can truly do these things.); and Timely (Concern for our environment is highly relevant, so there are many efforts already in place that I can join. Reusable bags are readily available. The weather is prime for some outdoor cleanups.)
- Wash, rinse…
Keep going through your primary food ideas, and see which ones fit best into the S.M.A.R.T. criteria. The great news is that you will be nourishing yourself for the rest of your life, so there is plenty of time for exploring, revising and editing, discovering, learning, and loving.
So there you have it: the ingredients that go into my homemade recipe for the best food you can’t eat, using the ingredients you can solely (I mean, soul-y) feel. Hungry yet?
Fifteen years after nutrition school, I remain well versed in this field. Not a day goes by when I don’t investigate the science and art of diet. I work diligently to help individuals achieve optimal nourishment of their bodies, toward the salient goals of health promotion, disease prevention, longevity, and quality of life.
But what I remain most compelled by is not what’s out there—it’s what’s in here. Trends in macros, celebrity influences, and beliefs about soy may come and go…but the truth of what feeds the soul is evergreen. If, on the individual and societal levels, we can supplement the proclivity toward decoding diet with conscious time spent diving deep into what feeds our souls, we just may uncover some timeless, organic nourishment.
Food for thought.