A New Shape for a New Year: The Lifestyle Rectangle

This month Dr. Bowen introduces the “Lifestyle Rectangle”, a new Holistic approach to wellness.

I keep hoping that someone else will rise up to crush the suggestions proffered by the food pyramid that the US Department of Agriculture Publishes every few years. I consider the some of the suggestions to be sound while other bits I consider incorrect or even downright irresponsible. Rather than waiting for a contender to the pyramid to step forward, I’ve decided to answer the call. I am really unhappy with how some of our most fragile populations, namely seniors and our children, are fed. I’m hoping that by putting forth some new guidelines, we can get the term “proper nutrition” into better focus.

Here is the sweet simplicity of my “Lifestyle Rectangle”

The Lifestyle Rectangle

Proper Nutrition: Focus on high fiber and food being your medicine. Mostly veggies and fruit (fresh and organic whenever possible), lean protein (turkey, beans, nuts, seeds, good quality fish) with every meal, good fats (olive oil, fish/fish oil, avocados, flax seeds, nuts, seeds), low to no processed foods (if you have processed foods, make sure you recognize all of the ingredients on the package). Some grains like quinoa and millet. Not all “healthy foods” are good for everyone. It is important to figure out whether you are allergic or sensitive to any food items and remove them from your diet. If you have inflammatory, gastrointestinal or auto-immune conditions this last step could really help to improve your health.

Exercise: 30 minutes per day preferably combined aerobic and weight training. Creativity is required for those with physical limitations. Swim, dance, seated exercise, etc..anything as long as you move for at least 1/2 hour per day. Optimum intensity is getting your heart rate up but still being able to have a relaxed conversation. If you have a serious medical condition or if you have been sedentary for some time, get a full physical and consult your physician on how to best start an exercise program that will meet your individual needs. If you are already exercising 1/2 hour or more per day, increase intensity by exercising a little more or adding variety to your routine. Make sure you have proper equipment (good shoes, etc..) and that you stretch before and after exercise to avoid injury.

Sleep: 8-10 hours per night with no to very little napping during the day. No TV or computer for at least an hour before bed. No TV or computer in your room. Comfy bed, proper body position. If you have trouble falling asleep, there are many easy and helpful tips we can explore. No sugar before bed! No snoring. If you or your bed partner snore, please seek help. Snoring or Sleep Apnea can often be caused by environmental or food sensitivities. Sleep difficulties diminish your quality of sleep and disrupt your normal hormone secretions interfering with your body’s ability to repair itself. Sleep should be a time for your body to rest and recover.

Water: Filtered and lots of it. Our bodies are comprised of 50-80% water and that all of our cells need water to function properly. Please drink more water. When you pee, it should be very light yellow or clear (unless you take a B vitamin). If you have unquenchable thirst, your body is trying to get you to catch up on your water consumption. If you drink coffee, black tea, green tea, or alcohol, you need to drink even more water to make up for their diuretic (water loss via urinating more) qualities. Soda pop contains lots of sugar, the sugar that isn’t used with exercise is stored as fat. Diet pops contain alternative sweeteners, additives, colorings etc..Water should be your staple drink. If you are tired and “need” the caffeine, please consult with a healthcare practitioner because constant fatigue is not normal.

The Traditional Food Pyramid

Orange: Grains. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products. Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, whole grains and refined grains.

Green: Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the vegetable group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated; and may be whole, cut-up, or mashed.

Red: Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed.

Yellow: Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, like the vegetable oils used in cooking. Oils come from many different plants and from fish. Some common oils are: canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, olive oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil.

Blue: Milk and Milk products.

Purple: Protein. All foods made from meat, poultry, fish, dry beans or peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds are considered part of this group. Dry beans and peas are part of this group as well as the vegetable group.


Incorporates exercise.
 Represented by the person on the stairs.Positives of the Current Food Pyramid

  • Differentiation between whole grains and refined grains.Unfortunately refined grain products now say “Made with Whole Grains” when they should really say “Refined from Whole Grains”. The whole grains I’d like my patients to eat are not in the form of breads, pasta, etc.. (refined grains) but rather the kind of grains that needs water to be cooked and still have the shape that they had at harvest. See rants below for more grain info.
  • Beans, lentils and peas in the protein group is a good step. We do not need to get all of our protein from meat sources. It is nice to acknowledge that there are other significant sources of healthy protein.
  • Limit Oils. However, please note that butter is not included in the oils category where it belongs with other foods high in damaging saturated fats. (It conveniently falls into the highly recommended Milk category!)

Negatives of the Current Food Pyramid

  • Why is milk still a food group and why is its wedge the same size as fruits or vegetables? We don’t bottle and sell breast milk, why are we so reliant on dairy? We can get calcium from other foods such as lamb, turnip greens, collard greens, rhubarb, spinach, rice milk, broccoli and swiss chard. Milk is not the only or the best source of calcium. Challenge this idea!! I believe water should replace this milk wedge.
  • Canned veggies have much less nutritional content and also are sodium laden in many cases. Same goes for most vegetable juice, the nutrients hardly make up for the lack of fiber and the high sodium content. Choose fresh or frozen veggies over canned whenever possible.
  • Corn is a grain not a veggie. Why do we need so many grains anyway? I don’t see refined grains as being a necessary part of a meal let alone the diet as a whole. Refined grain products are suggested with every meal (by the US Dept. of Agriculture) but I think this is an unwise approach. To me, refined grains = sugar. I’d like to argue that we can get the nutrients found in whole or refined grains from other foods (like beans, seeds, broccoli, brewer’s yeast, fish, brown rice, sweet potatoes, seaweed, watermelon and bananas) that aren’t so high in starch/carbohydrates/sugar.
  • Fruit juice: all the sugar and none of the fiber. Eat an apple instead. Canned fruit often contains more sugar than the naturally occurring sugar in fruit and again doesn’t have the high fiber that fresh fruit offers because the fruit is peeled before canning. I would prefer unsweetened dried fruit or unsweetened frozen fruit over canned fruit if fresh fruit options are not available. If you have to have canned fruit, find it packed I water.

My opinion, overall, is that we need to undo some of the health-related damage that processed, refined, chemically altered or genetically modified foods have done. I propose that in this new year we try to get back to basics and make food at home from simple and healthful ingredients. Combine the balanced diet with the sleep, water and exercise advice above and see how you feel. Taking 1 day a week to take time off will probably help to keep you on track with your path to health. This day off will remind you how bad you feel when your foundations of health are disrupted. I feel that if the rectangle is followed more often than not, optimum health is within reach. Complicated fad diets, food programs and weight loss aids are no competition for common sense and investing time and energy in your health!

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