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Whole9: Our 9 Factors

Today, we’re going to dig into “our 9”—the nine factors that we believe, when properly balanced, will lead you to optimal health.

We created these 9 Factors in 2009, when we first founded Whole9, as a way to incorporate a holistic approach into our lifestyle consulting practice. We’ve talked around them, we’ve referenced them on our blog and in our seminars, we’ve written articles about them… but we’ve never actually explained them in any great detail. So today, as we revise some of our 9 factors for the new year, we figured it was time to let you all know where the “9” in “Whole9” really comes from.

What is Whole9?

We define Whole9 as “a community focused on health, fitness, balance and sanity, all built on a foundation of real food and healthy nutritional habits.” We believe nutrition is the foundation of every good health and wellness program, which is why we’ve spent so much time here on the 9 Blog talking about our Whole30® program and healthy eating, and why we’ve been focusing on nutrition in our seminars for the last three years.

But nutrition isn’t the only important factor—sleep, stress management, exercise, and recovery are all critical to your health and quality of life. And often, we’re asked the question, “I’ve changed my life with the Whole30… now what do I do?”

Today, we’re going to start to answer that question by discussing our new 9 Factors (bringing in more of the research we’ve done in the last year), and introducing some new (and highly relevant) subject material to our 9 Blog and seminars.

i want to change my life whole9

Our top four Factors (and a related fifth)

Nutrition, Sleep, and Healthy Movement remain as three of the most important building blocks for your Whole9 Life. In fact, we’ve always put them in that exact order of priority—first, build a base of health with solid nutrition. Then, ensure adequate restorative sleep. Finally, add healthy movement in a way that’s Smart—befitting your individual context. (This means you don’t get your butt up at 5 a.m. to run sprints if you only got six hours of sleep. Stay in bed. Really.)

We’re moving away from the words “exercise” or “training” because that brings to mind grinding away at the gym, sweating your way through a timed 10K run, or spinning your way through a fitness class. Those are options, but let’s not forget the importance of low-intensity movement (like walking, hiking, yoga, or an easy bike ride), natural movement (crawling, balancing, climbing, and carrying), and one of our other factors, Fun and Play (like throwing a Frisbee, playing fetch with your dog, or running around with your kids). We think the phrase “healthy movement” far better encompasses the wide array of health-promoting activity (including weightlifting, high-intensity interval training, sprinting, and the like) that can all play an important role in building a healthy lifestyle. Healthy Movement can also be the total absence of movement (also healthy!), such as taking a delightful nap in the sun or sitting quietly to watch the sunset.

Stress Management is another critical factor—the umbrella concept that encompasses all the others. Any one of our 9 Factors can become a negative stressor: not eating enough, not sleeping enough, over-exercising, being socially isolated, or having no fun and play in your life all contribute to stress. Restoration of a normal stress response via lifestyle modification and focused, expert consultations and supplement interventions (as Dallas does in his functional medicine practice) is perhaps the subject we’ll spend the most time on in the coming year, as it’s generally grossly misunderstood and mismanaged (it’s not just about doing strength work, drinking bone broth, and eating more—or less!—carbs, folks), and very much needed in our community.

Our two new Factors

We’re adding two new Factors this year, based on material contributed by Whole9 South Pacific (Jamie Scott and Dr. Anastasia Boulais), and the stress research Dallas has been doing. First, Socialization—creating a healthy support network (including in-person interaction, not just virtual engagement)—has been shown to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, and to provide people with the accountability, motivation, and inspiration critical to making big lifestyle changes. We’ve already started talking about building a healthy network on the 9 Blog and in our Whole30 Forum, but we’ve got more articles and resources on this subject coming up.

We’re also adding Natural Environment to our 9 Factors. This isn’t just about getting vitamin D3 from the sun—although getting outside in the sunshine certainly can help to boost the level of this critical hormone. What researchers are now starting to understand, however, is that being outside in our natural environment (“green spaces“) has far-reaching, powerful benefits far beyond vitamin D. We’ll dig more into what those benefits are, and how you can attain them (even if you live in a concrete jungle) coming up on the 9 Blog.

The last two factors

Finally, we’ll keep focusing on Personal Growth and Temperance as part of our 9 Factors. Personal growth can encompass everything from spirituality to expanding your knowledge of the world to charitable work and volunteerism. Having goals, hobbies, and pursuits other than those related to work or the gym keeps you growing as a person, and can have an enormous positive impact on stress levels and social relationships.

And finally, our favorite (yet often ignored) factor, temperance. Technically, temperance means “moderation or self-restraint,” but this isn’t your typical “everything in moderation” stance. No, it’s more about applying critical, introspective practices to your own life, and creating awareness about your own habits and preferences. It means taking a good, hard look in the mirror, and truly owning what you see—whether you like it or not. And if you don’t, it’s about being brave enough to take that first tough step and do something about it (hopefully, with the support and aid of your social in-person network). Temperance, to us, is knowing when it’s totally okay to do something “less healthy”—to be moderately immoderate.

Live a Whole9 Life

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about our Whole30 program, and helping more than 100,000 people walk through it with amazing results. But now, it’s time to start addressing the question, “What about life after my Whole30?” It’s time to start talking about the other factors, other issues that are important to our community, and that are perhaps impeding your pursuit of optimal health.

So when your Whole30 is done and you’re asking, “What’s next?” we encourage you to join us here on the 9 Blog, on our Facebook page, or at a Whole9 seminar to learn more about living a Whole9 Life, using our new 9 Factors as your guide.

What do you think of our 9 Factors? Is this a well-rounded approach? Have we left anything out? Add your thoughts to comments.

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  1. Wendy says

    This is great!! Focusing on the whole 9 balance is a great way to start the new year. You guys do such a wonderful job keeping people motivated, you never let us become complacent with where we are in life. Thank you!

  2. says

    When I did research on the effects of stress on the body, I was shocked at how enormous the impact was on health and wellness. It’s something that everyone mentions, but few really understand. Reversing the effects of stress is also misunderstood. We are told to relax and breathe deeply, but unfortunately these practices will never get real results. I talk about many of these topics, but I like your inclusion of socialization and temperance. There is a lot of overlap here, and many of these topics affect the other areas. It just goes to show that a global appraoch to health is neccessary. :)

  3. says

    This is a great summary of all the factors needed to live a healthy life.
    In particular, I love the concept of temperance. It adds an element of reality. This is a personal reminder that I am not a robot and perfectionism can do a lot more harm than good.
    Although my first thought was ‘keep off the booze’ when I saw the word temperance.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Alisha says

    Just when I thought the Whole9 couldn’t get any bettter! Seriously. I am so excited that you guys are addressing these other aspects of the Whole9 and I think the new ones are a wonderful addition. My day job is hellacious (I teach emotionally disturbed kids) and as the calendar rolled around to 2013, I told myself that I needed to REALLY, honestly needed to make some changes. Namely, doing more for myself to de-stress, sleeping more and socializing more. Great work, Whole9! Keep on, keeping’ on!

  5. Tasha says

    Love love love the revised version! It seems more well-rounded and all-inclusive. I’m excited to see the new posts on these topics this year.

  6. Crystal says

    I am a newcomer to Whole9. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your balanced approach to living a healthy life, and all the science you have to back it up. It’s one thing to be told to incorporate something into your life because it’s “healthy,” and something entirely different to be told “this will help you be healthy and here’s why.” My husband and I are excited to go through our first Whole30, and I am looking forward to learning more about your 9 areas in the coming months. Thank you!

  7. Jen Comas Keck says

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about Socialization! Nowadays, I feel like nobody ever gets together – it’s all online – and when they do get together, everybody is just hunkered down over their phone!

    If you have any books or reading material on this, I’d love recommendations!

  8. Anne says

    thanks so much for putting words to these important principles. It gives me hope and excitement to spring forward from my Whole30 days and live a fulfilling, healthy, spiritual life :)

  9. Mindy says

    I would like to hear you address folks, like me, who are at a place in life where they have many serious health issues and have been on prescription medication for many many years. Someone who desires to be healthy and off meds but can’t seem to get there. Please don’t tell me to consult my Dr.. Conventional doctors are a huge, HUGE part of why I am so sick and on meds. I am now 48 yrs old and they have done nothing but make me sicker…in the long run.

    Unless you’ve been there, it may be hard to really wrap your head around how extreme the difficulty is in making changes and then trying to figure out which ones are helping and which are hindering the journey towards trying to become well, never really knowing for sure what to do. Unless you’ve lived in the daily torment for many many years, it would be nice to hear from someone who once did and has actually come through to the other side.


    Thank you.