back to basics | bio-individuality

Quarter 1’s Back to Basics theme continues with an exploration of the principles of Integrative Nutrition®, starting with the concept of bio-individuality.

To be clear, I don’t think anyone at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition® ever set down the principles à la Moses and the Ten Commandments. And still, most of my work in this style of health and wellness coaching comes down to a few basic tenets. (Again, no, it’s not “tenants.”)

Here are the principles as I see them:

  • Bio-individuality
  • Primary + secondary foods
  • The importance of mindset and our inner dialogue
  • Taking small, simple, sustainable steps daily over time

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to explore these a bit more.


I’ve written a fair amount about bio-individuality, and you can certainly search the blog for both “bio-individuality” and “bioindividuality.” (Because even I am not THAT consistent?)

And to summarize for those of you who are new here, it’s the concept that we are all unique individuals—”unique-orns!”

What nourishes you might be my poison; my kale might be your Kryptonite. Why does one person have no issues with gluten, while another cannot tolerate it? Why does one thrive on extreme sports while another is better off doing yoga? Why does one person love the rituals of organized religion while the other is more fulfilled by silent meditation?

And because of this, health coaching is an endlessly fascinating exercise—both for the client and for me!

there’s no magic pill

Let’s face it: many of us are not as healthy as we could be. And most of us did not get this way overnight.

It takes years of making poor choices to gain weight, lose mobility, weaken or destroy relationships, start to feel spiritually unfulfilled, and/or slow down mentally.

And yet, we are constantly turning to the outside world—conventional and alternative practitioners, books/articles, friends/family, and of course Drs. Google and Bing for advice on how we can reclaim what we’ve lost.

(It tickles me to think of Dr. Google as the conventional Western medicine practitioner and Dr. Bing as the more alternative, Eastern one. I know Bing is a Microsoft product and firmly rooted in the US. And the name still brings back my previous life as a student and teacher of Chinese, in which there are many syllables that are transliterated this way.)

Anyway, we tend to first of all look outside ourselves and secondly believe that there is THE. ONE. SOLUTION. The one diet, detox, smoothie, supplement, workout, or woo practice that is going to work for everyone. Because it worked for our [pick one: boss, colleague, sister-in-law, cousin, BFF, guru du jour, celebrity of the moment…].

AND we want it to work overnight.

The bad news: there is no magic pill.

oh, but there is!

No, it’s not Wegovy.

In January, I wrote and spoke a lot about the best way to eat. So it might seem that I’m prescribing a certain diet—and if you read the blog posts or listen to the podcast episodes, you know that I provide some basic principles for healthy eating and leave the details up to you.

Similarly, I don’t prescribe specific lifestyle choices, whether we’re talking career, relationship, physical activity, spiritual practice. Instead, I provide some basic principles and then help you figure out what’s right for you, right now and how you can create a support system for yourself in taking the next step on your health journey.

And the first step is to recognize that we are bio-individual. Think about it as finding that magic pill that is created just for you.

supplement or painkiller?

The next step is to think of this magic pill as a supplement–not a painkiller!

What’s the difference?

Think of a painkiller as a one-time, swift intervention for an acute condition. (BTW, I was shocked when I was so casually prescribed Percocet after my gum surgery. Not only was it offered without a request from me, it was dirt cheap. Haha—yes, I filled the prescription, partly out of curiosity—and I didn’t use it after the first night.)

Yeah, I’m the one who reads the fine print and list of side effects on every medication. And I’ve seen people who take a pill for a side effect, which causes another side effect that requires another pill, and….

A supplement is different: we take it regularly for extended periods of time, and the positive effect accrues gradually. Sometimes, we can stop taking the supplement after we reach a certain level of improvement. And if taken properly—under the guidance of someone licensed in its use—supplements generally seem to have fewer (if any) and far less severe side effects.

In the world of traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines, even supplements are created for each individual!

the paradoxes of health coaching

Health coaching is a strange field with not just one paradox baked into its genetic makeup.

The biggest paradox is that if I do my job as a coach, I make myself obsolete–at least in the life of one client at a time. Certainly, there are plenty of people who could benefit from coaching—that market feels endless just now.

Sort of like the paradox of a non-profit: if non-profits are truly making changes in the world, when their vision becomes a reality, the non-profit should close its door. Mission accomplished.

My point is that once you work with a good coach, you should come away with a set of skills that will help you keep going on your health journey for the rest of your life. You should not need to keep working with a coach, keep purchasing another program, etc.

Occasionally, a “tune-up” may necessary, but if you find yourself overly dependent on a coach after six months to a year, you may want to reexamine the value you’re getting from them.

The second paradox is that a coach should not be giving you the answers; instead, they should be asking you the questions that elicit the answers from inside your bio-individual experience on this planet.

Whew—if you know me, you know how much I dislike the word “should.” And yet, there are a whole lotta shoulds in this section. The word has its place when used appropriately!

(For more about what a health coach does and how to find one that’s a fit for you, read my interview with Jen Mueller of SparkPeople, now known as SparkAmerica.)

make the connection

We’re going to spend the month of February looking at the principles of Integrative Nutrition® health coaching. For this week, I suggest you sit back and observe how often you turn to the outside world for answers on how to take the next step of your health journey. Don’t judge: simply observe. We’ll take another step next week!

And if you are health coaching-curious, reach out!