A Wholistic Approach to Nutrition

(originally published by The Gaeta Institute, December 8, 2022)

Naturopathy, chiropractic, Chinese medicine, Native American healing, Ayurvedic medicine – nearly all ancient or traditional medical systems are based on the principle of wholism. But what is wholism as it applies to nutrition? This is an important question for your practice.

Many years ago, I was practicing nutrition and bodywork therapy and acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine and at the same time using nutraceutical-type supplements. But the herbs that had worked so well when I was in school weren’t helping in practice. I increased the dosages, re-evaluated, chose new formulas, and did all these things to try to recreate the herbal results that I saw in the school clinic, and nothing worked. It was really frustrating. I eventually discovered a difference between these synthetic, isolated, high-dose chemical supplements and what was available in terms of using whole food supplements. That was an awakening. I knew that giving patients chemicals at the same time as I was recommending a good diet and using plant medicines somehow wasn’t congruent. It didn’t line up. But at the time, I didn’t know there was any other option. As I began using food supplements in my practice, together with the Chinese herbal medicine, there was a dramatic improvement in the results I saw with patients. And another interesting thing: the complaints stopped. Those calls of “I have headaches, my stomach hurts and I have indigestion after I take them and I’m constipated, and..” All the side effects from taking chemical supplements mostly evaporated. Using whole food supplements was the consistent approach to nutrition I was looking for, which actually gave the results I expected.

There must be a shift in our understanding of health. The real questions of health are not questions of reductionism, which is how most clinical nutrition is practiced. The body is seen as a machine with replaceable parts that can be manipulated in various ways. It is essentially a container full of chemicals similar to a beaker in the chemistry lab. You have a particular chemical which is changed by the addition of another chemical. If you add one thing it fizzes, add something else and it turns blue. Add a different chemical and something else will happen. That’s the basic approach to nutrition today. The goal is to identify the disease and combat it. Undesired symptoms are suppressed with chemicals.

But healing is not a matter of chemistry, because a human being is not a lab beaker. Reductionism isolates what’s wrong, and then attacks that wrong thing. The opposite of this reductionist approach is wholism. Wholism supports what’s right. The wholistic approach to nutrition, the wholistic approach to health care in general, is not to diagnose and treat but to promote health, vitality and resiliency in the person. So we’re increasing what brings life. Wholism sees the body as a garden. The garden needs sunlight and fresh air and good nutrition to grow and to thrive. Wholistic nutrition augments that power that is already designed into the body because life is what heals.

The truly wholistic approach recognizes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Just as the human body is not mechanistic, a food is more than its individual chemicals or components. We cannot improve on what life, or nature, creates. Nutritional integrity is applying the whole food or plant to the whole body, nature first and drugs last. As we approach nutrition and the body in this wholistic, integrated manner, the life and healing inherent in the body will manifest.