When we think of gifts that we give to others, we often think of material objects or acts of service. If we expand the definition a little further, we might even think about gifts of commitment, time, or even being there when someone needs us.
But what if one of the greatest gifts we can give our significant others, our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends, and even our coworkers doesn’t involve a single word or any particular action. What if this gift doesn’t mandate doing something different from our ordinary lives, but rather involves being intentional and caring in what we all do multiple times each day―a habit so central that we can’t live without it. The gift I speak of is our nutrition, and just how we eat.
Talking with ‘The Better Brain’ author:An interview with Dr. Bonnie Kaplan about nutrition, brain health
For the past 50 years and more, science has uncovered something undeniable about God’s design of the human body and mind. Simply put, nutrition is a foundation by which we live. Although eating well carries no guarantees of a long, healthy life, and certain medical factors are beyond our control, a massive, undeniable body of research has found what we should have known (and kind of did) all along.
For starters, most of us are aware that eating a healthy diet decreases our risk for heart disease and diabetes, both of which lead to either an early death or chronic complications that affect the basic aspects of life. But did you also know that these findings exist for cancer and dementia? Put in the context of our loved ones, eating healthy decreases the likelihood that they will lose their beloved (you) earlier than they should, and/or be asked to provide various levels of care that conditions like diabetes require. It also means you have a much better chance that you will be around and engaged for the generations to come.
Yet there are many more ways that the gift of our nutrition bears fruit. As fully detailed in the groundbreaking book “The Better Brain” by Dr. Bonnie Kaplan and Dr. Julia Rucklidge, what you eat has far more impact than just on your physical health. Study upon study has found that when you cultivate and maintain a healthy diet, you are more likely to focus better, think clearly, and regulate your emotions more effectively.
Think for second. Just how much of a gift would it be for your family, friends, and even coworkers if your frustration levels decreased and your attention and acuteness of mind increased? Or what if your energy level improved, and your anxiety lessened? If you are like me, I can think of few better gifts I could give, or receive, than this gift of self.
Still, there is more. Although our bodies will change and evolve as we get older, one of the opportunities that nutrition provides us is the ability to remain active and attractive for those whom we desire. It goes without saying that couples who are active together, and remain attractive to each other, have opportunities in their relationships that others do not. But beyond what we do with our significant other, consider that as your kids grow up, eating well increases the likelihood that you can walk, run, swim, hike, and explore with them longer.
Recently, I was blessed to train with my 13-year-old son as he did his first half-marathon. For all of the events and training I have been fortunate to do, the early morning hours spent running with him will remain as some of my most meaningful experiences. But I know that this would not have been possible without the foundation of nutrition that is central to my life.
I think for all of us, to varying degrees, we may regard our choice of food as a personal decision. Of course, in some ways we are right, but by “personal” I think it is time that we come to understand this doesn’t mean it does not have an impact on others, or our community (which is a subject for another time). This position is not intended to induce guilt on those who struggle with eating healthy for various reasons; we all struggle with certain aspects of life, and guilt is only as helpful as it provides a pathway to something better.
But rather, the intention of this article is to further the conversation about how what we eat can be tremendously life-giving not just for ourselves, but for others. Imagine for a second that you are nearing the end of your life, reflecting back over your time lived. You find yourself thinking about what mattered the most to you, specifically in your relationships with others. You think about the time spent with them, and the moments that ended up defining your life. In doing so, would it be fair to say that beyond just the time spent, what meant so much to you was the presence you felt from them?
Although difficult to define, this “presence” wasn’t just a unique personality or their investment in you, but also the ways in which their energy, enthusiasm, attention and emotionality influenced your life. All along (unknowingly), what if it was what they consumed each day that had much to do with the legacy they passed on, and you onto others?
I am not suggesting that your diet is the only, or even the most important factor, in helping you be the healthy person for others that you want to be. But I do believe it is one of the most controllable ones. Even for those people who struggle to exercise due to physical challenges (including paralysis) or can’t seem to attain good sleep (even when they prioritize it), nutrition is one of the best, most malleable ways to give the gift of your health, and thus self, to others. Yes, barriers do exist (such as food deserts in the inner city) beyond the psychological ones. But for almost all human beings, what we eat is our best opportunity to be healthier.
And in being healthier, I think it is due time for all of us to catch up with the science of God’s design. Apparently, just as God intended food to be good for our own bodies and minds, so he intended it to be good for others, too
Theresa Scheller is a nutritionist and owner of Real You Wellness, www.realyouwellness.com. James Schroeder is a husband and father of eight children and a pediatric psychologist. He is the author of four books and numerous articles, which can be found on Amazon or his website, www.james-schroeder.com. Send comments to [email protected]