05/12/2014 03:55 pm ET Updated Jul 12, 2014

Nurture Yourself Inside and Out: The Food You Eat

Shutterstock / Anna Hoychuk

Every morning when you get up and look in the mirror, the person you see standing right in front of you is exactly who you are. Those new wrinkles, those new laugh lines, that sense of your mother's face developing beneath that youthful surface of your own -- that's you, but it's not the whole you. It's you on the outside.

Inside, however, there is a separate you -- cells, organs, bones, and blood, as well as the essence of what propels you forward every day. Which "you" do you see when you look in the mirror? Which "you" do you consider nurturing? Which "you" do you feel compassion and empathy for? Which "you" do you identify with? In my work with my patients, I believe it is absolutely essential to see both parts of yourself, and also to realize that the inner you makes up a much greater percentage of who you truly are. You might feel good about losing 10 pounds, or love the effects of a new wrinkle cream, but finding and relating to that inner you is what will bring you true vitality -- and more dramatic external beauty as a profound side effect.

But what am I really talking about when I talk about these two versions of you? In my book, I often talk about living from the heart, and this is what I mean. Literally and metaphorically, to become your best self, you must nurture the physical and the emotional, in order to support the full range of life that is you. And where do these two selves cross? They intersect on your dinner plate.

Food is obviously physical and nourishes or harms your physical body in many ways you are probably already familiar with, but food is also more. It strengthens your heart, your brain, your bones, and your mind. It can clog or clear your heart, your brain, your thoughts. To me, food is the perfect mind-body tool, and what you choose to put into your body determines what you become, in all aspects of yourself.

I recently attended Arianna Huffington's event, THRIVE, and listened to both Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Mark Hyman discussing the significant role of diet in overall well-being. The physical cannot be separated from the mental, and in fact without it thriving is almost impossible. Finally, people are starting to understand this truth, and that's good news for public health, but especially for your health. In other words, being your best self is about understanding all of this, seeing the bigger picture beyond that image you see in the mirror. It's about knowing what you need in order to be nurtured, feel strong, and to feel sustained. I remember a time when the mainstream attitude was that being thin was all that mattered, and the skinnier you were, the better. This was during the "fat-free" free-for-all, when starvation diets were in. Thank goodness those times have faded and people are gaining a more whole-body perspective, but I propose we take it even further: Whole body, inside and out, includes the emotions, the mind, and the physical as well as the metaphorical heart. That means knowing what you need to "thrive," as Arianna Huffington calls it. It also means putting yourself at the top of your priority list, even above children, work, family, and friends. It all starts with you.

And it all starts with food. Food is the fuel that supports you. It's not a reward. It's energy, pure and simple. Whole, nourishing food is a gift. Cheesecake might be a dalliance, but it's the quinoa and kale salad that drives the engine, nurtures the organs, and helps you feel centered and present in your life.

So how do you begin to take care of your whole self at this crossroads of the body-mind that is marked with every meal and snack? First, make a shopping list and only purchase those foods that are consistent with your mission. Don't buy what you don't want to eat, but don't buy what you want to eat when you know it will hold you back. Read the labels and look for foods with less sugar, less fat, lower calories -- or only choose those foods that are not labeled at all -- the vegetables, the grains, the legumes, the fruits.

Make the decision to cook for yourself, preparing your own food by hand. It doesn't have to be complicated. Keep it simple. Choose some greens (arugula, spinach, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts) and some colorful veggies (tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, onions) and steam or sauté them. Add some fiber-rich whole grains (barley, quinoa, lentils, beans, chickpeas, wheat berries) and boil them. It only takes a few minutes. Then choose omega-3-rich fish (good for the brain as well as the heart) and lower-fat proteins like chicken or turkey breast for grilling. Voila -- you have dinner. It is that easy.

As you nurture your body-mind in this very tangible way, I'd like you to take another look in the mirror. What you might see now is someone totally different -- someone whose wrinkles are a mirror of her fascinating life, whose reflection is vibrant and energetic and alive -- someone who is worth embracing, sustaining, and loving. You see your exterior self, lit up from the inside. And you are fabulous!