Eating Well: Why It Is Important for Holistic Success

Last updated on 9/4/2020


Most of us have a list of various goals and aspirations. For example:

  • Compete for a job promotion
  • Lose weight
  • Go back to school for a higher degree
  • Start a new business
  • Improve my personal relationships
  • Diminish the stress in my life

However, when it comes to personal transformation, many people find it difficult to establish new habits and remain committed long enough to make them stick. In fact, studies of New Year’s resolutions (the most popular time of year for personal transformation) show that less than 10% of people who make resolutions will stick to them.

Reasons for failure can vary, but the most prominent reason is that people set unrealistic goals. Additionally, many people have unrealistic expectations, often believing they can immediately overcome a habit that they’ve spent years establishing. The combination of unrealistic goals and expectations provides a perfect framework for inevitable failure.

A second reason people find it hard to achieve the changes they desire is because they do not understand themselves as an interconnected system. Wellness models present eight personal dimensions, but we should consider that the boundaries between each dimension overlap.

As you can see on the wellness wheel below, each dimension overlaps the others. When conceptualized as an interconnected, multi-dimensional system, it becomes clear how difficult it is to change one dimension of our lives without affecting or needing support from the other dimensions.

Dimensions of Wellness 2

Nutrition and Performance

Each of the goals listed above requires increased performance (output) in at least one wellness dimension. For example, to lose weight, it will be necessary to increase your physical output (i.e., exercise) to burn more calories. Some goals, such as going back to school to earn a higher degree, require increased intellectual output. Other goals may require combinations of increased output. For example, working harder for a promotion or starting a new business can require increased occupational, intellectual, and physical outputs to support higher levels of productivity and longer work hours. Improving personal relationships may require a combination of social, emotional, intellectual, and possibly physical outputs (e.g., more family outings, increased sexual activity) .

How does this relate to nutrition?

Increased output requires increased input. For a car, extra mileage requires increased fuel in the form of gasoline. For humans, our fuel comes from the food we eat. Therefore, it is important to consider the relationship between nutrition and how your mind and body performs.

Research shows that nutrition affects several important areas of functioning, including:

  • Cognition (Brain Functioning)
  • Immunity
  • Energy Levels
  • Susceptibility to Stress

Again, considering the goals above, can you identify one that would not be affected by brain functioning, immunity, energy levels, or stress? Most people would agree that the answer is no.

From “Good Health” to Optimal Performance

Most people recognize that better nutrition leads to better health. But for many of us, that’s where our thinking stops. This is unfortunate because if we want to commit to change successfully, our thinking needs to go deeper.

Focusing on nutrition as a path to “good health” can be an ineffective method of motivation. Why? Because good health is a sweeping concept that really doesn’t have a concrete meaning. For some people, good health may mean ‘free from illness.’ In that case, it’s plausible for a person to live off of junk food, be without illness and, therefore, consider themselves healthy.

An alternative, and more effective, approach is to focus on optimal functioning instead of good health. Regarding personal transformation and success, thinking about how good nutrition relates to optimal functioning in each dimension of our lives allows us to think more concretely and create personal meaning. Personal meaning is a key motivator for sustained change.

To begin your transformational process, start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is my goal?
  • Which personal dimensions will be affected by this goal?
  • How would an inadequate diet affect the dimensions associated with my goal?
  • How would a sound diet help me reach my full potential?
  • How would my life look and feel if I achieved a state of optimal functioning?

Becoming Your Holistic Best

Including nutrition as a part of an overall success strategy is a holistic approach that promotes optimal functioning. Optimal functioning allows us to become the best person we can be, which ultimately helps us to achieve our goals.

Marcos, A., Nova, E., & Montero, A. (2003). Changes in the immune system are conditioned by nutrition. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 57(S1), S66–S69. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601819

Wärnberg, J., Gomez-Martinez, S., Romeo, J., Díaz, L.-E. & Marcos, A. (2009). Nutrition, inflammation, and cognitive function. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1153, 164–175. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2008.03985.x

*Image: Gunnar Pippel

Published by A. Irvin

Dr. Angela Irvin is a clinical psychologist and mental health educator. Her clinical specialties include forensics, trauma, and personality-related issues. She is also an expert on cultural facets of mental health relating to race, gender, and class. As a mental health educator and writer, she emphasizes research-based information that promotes holistic wellness.