Posted by: Kennedy | January 28, 2011

How full is your barrel?

Yesterday in my Environment class, we learned about pollutants in the household and the office. We had a very stimulating discussion on the ‘barrel effect,’ and I thought to myself: I feel a blog post coming on…

The barrel effect relates to the “genetic, dietary, psychological and environmental factors that accumulate over a period of time and impact your overall health.” This includes all physical, chemical and biological contaminants in the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.

The fuller your barrel, the more your health may be comprised. Your body works constantly to ensure your barrel doesn’t ‘overflow’ by eliminating waste and toxins. But if too much is added to your barrel too quickly, your body can’t handle it.

We would all benefit from peering inside our own barrels from time to time to make sure they aren’t getting too full.

Things that fill your barrel:

–       Where you live (city vs. town vs. country)

–       Where you work (toxins, pollutants, exhaust)

–       What you eat (processed foods, sugar)

–       Ignoring food allergies or intolerances

–       Indoor pollution (dust, mold)

–       Outdoor pollution (smog, exhaust)

–       Habits (smoking, drinking, drugs)

–       Physical factors (age, stress level)

–       Health factors (infection, disease)

–       Chemical exposure (in household cleaners, cosmetics, personal hygiene products)

We all completed this exercise in class, identifying items in our barrels that we consider easy to change vs. more difficult to change.

Here’s what’s filling my barrel right now:

–       I live in a big city

–       I sometimes eat sugar and foods that are processed

–       I breathe in dust particles in my apartment

–       I breathe in car exhaust when I’m walking or running outside (and smog in the summer – thinking about my half-marathon training makes me cringe!)

–       I drink alcohol and caffeine

–       I use household cleaners and other products with loads of unpronounceable chemicals in them (as I’m learning through a class project I’m currently working on)

Some of these things I have little control over, like living in Toronto and breathing in car fumes. Others I have a lot of control over but would be tough for me to change, like giving up wine and coffee.

As we discussed things we could change to reduce the ‘fullness’ of our barrels, I was reminded of my post on simple switches vs. New Year’s resolutions. We talked about small changes we could make to reduce the impact of our lifestyle choices, such as:

–       Starting healthy rituals like skin brushing or drinking water before breakfast

–       Having one ‘detox day’ per week, where you eat only whole foods, no sugar, etc.

–       Replacing household products with essential oils (i.e. coconut oil as a moisturizer, hair conditioner)

These little behaviour shifts may seem insignificant, but they add up – after all, it’s about effects accumulated over time.

Plus, as we also discussed, it’s really hard to break habits that have been developed over the years. People brought up addictions to certain foods and caffeine (I can relate to both).

Then we got talking about judgement – a topic so crucial that it deserves its own post.

I think a lot of us are struggling with it as we learn more about nutrition. How do we use our knowledge to help our friends, family, and eventually our clients, without coming off as judgemental of their choices? Is it even possible for anyone to truly be nonjudgemental?

And perhaps even more challenging, how do we as nutrition professionals avoid judging ourselves when we don’t live a 100 per cent holistic lifestyle? Will we be viewed as hypocrites?

It’s a tricky subject, and one I’m sure I’ll spend much time on as the year progresses. But to me, the answer is balance. Aim for balance in your barrel and your body will thank you.



  1. I do my best not to judge, and go by the 80/20 rule. 80% healthful and 20% not so much. 🙂

    No person can be perfect, and we are no exception. I think as long as we put out that energy and are down to earth and apprachable with our clients and we have only their best interests at heart that that will show in our recomendations.

    • Well said Miranda! I like the 80/20 rule too 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: