Self Care: Healthy Eating and Exercise

I’m taking a bit of turn from writing about emotional health and venturing into physical health. They are intertwined. Our emotional health is tied to our physical health and our physical health is tied to our emotional health. Given this, it makes sense to address a bit about physical health. I might tick a few readers off with this post. Opinions have a way of doing that sometimes.
I believe, and I know I’m not alone nor proposing something new, that processed foods are not good for us. I’m of the camp that believes in eating real food. I eat real butter, drink whole milk and enjoy red meat. I love vegetables and fruit, grains, poultry, eggs, cheese and even homemade cookies (sorry, no seafood…I just can’t get that stuff past my tastebuds!). I like to know the origins of my food. A Twinkie may have origins but most of a Twinkie or Velveeta cheese slices for example, are not actually food. Like the food you would see on a farm. I like the taste of Twinkies and Velveeta cheese but that doesn’t mean I should eat them.
Our bodies need good, healthy, unprocessed food to grow, to regenerate cells, to thrive. I learned about a year ago of the importance of good fat for our brains. Now, at 48, I am more interested in doing anything I can to help my brain. So I made the switch from 2% to whole milk and started using 1/2 and 1/2 in my tea. I have not gained a single pound and am just as healthy since I made that switch.
My daughter, Grace loves to bake. When she’s home from college she usually whips up some sort of decadent delight. They often involve ingredients like real butter, cream and chocolate. Rarely do we actually consume all of these delicious treats. We have some, but we don’t devour them. The yumminess is not obsessed upon but rather enjoyed in moderation.
Food or beverages claiming they are fat free or sugar free are more than likely not good for you. Unless we’re talking about water, an apple, fruit or vegetables that are naturally fat free. Sugar free products are usually filled with some sort of sweetening chemical that really shouldn’t be inside your body. I recently discovered fat free half and half. Now if half and half is technically half cream and half whole milk what exactly is fat free half and half? Is that an oxymoron? What was done to make it fat free and why would I ever want fat free half and half? Like, what exactly would that accomplish? So, if you’re eating or drinking something that, in its natural state has fat and/or sugar, choose the real deal over it’s fat and sugar free artificial cousin.
Our country has become so obsessed with fat free and sugar free. Is it a way to cheat the system? Doesn’t cheating usually come back to bite us? And are people really losing weight or getting healthier by eating fat and sugar free products? Most people I know who choose the fat and sugar free items are not healthy. It’s a challenge these days to find full fat products. Take yogurt for example. Go to the grocery store and count how many brands are fat free and then try to find a whole milk version. They exist, I have found them, but not in abundance. In fact, at the grocery store closest to my house I found one, just one yogurt that is not fat free or low fat.
I became increasingly aware of the dilemma of finding whole fat products years ago because my daughter, Anna, the one with cystic fibrosis who just got a double lung transplant, has to eat high fat high calorie food. At times I thought, I’m going to have to hand her a stick of butter because that’s the only product I can find that is whole fat.
I have never had a weight problem and enjoy good health. You can say it’s because I have favorable genes or because my parents set a balanced, healthy example for me. And both of those are true. But I also believe it’s because I have spent most of my 48 years taking care of myself. I generally eat in moderation (for the most part…there’s always that occasional binge on something really bad for me like sour cream and onion potato chips). I exercise regularly though not obsessively. I usually walk or get on an elliptical machine a few times a week. I started lifting weights while I was in NC a few months ago because I’ve heard weight resistant exercise is good for strengthening bones. I also attend a yoga class about once a week. Nothing intense but I try to be consistent.
Exercise can be anything that gets your muscles moving and your heart rate up. Dancing is free. You can dance anywhere to songs in your head. You can walk laps in your apartment or home. If you have stairs, go up and down for awhile. You can join an exercise facility or find drop-in classes in your area. You can get an exercise DVD or find programs on your television. You can go outside for a walk. If it’s not so cold you’ll get frostbite, you can bundle up; the fresh air will do you good. When the weather’s hot, get outside early in the morning before the temperature soars.
My point, take care of yourself by eating real food and exercising. If you have issues with food or body image that create a strangling weed in your mind or emotions, find a good therapist or coach to help you work through those issues and gain freedom. Or join a group like Weight Watchers. Sometimes, we are simply stubborn. We’ll dig our heels in and say we refuse to succumb to the weight obsession in our culture. We continue in our unhealthy lifestyle in defiance. That is not a good reason to avoid taking care of your body. That, and I’ll be blunt, is a really unintelligent choice. Is it defiance or is there underlying hurt and the defiance is your cover-up?
The best action you can take is address head on why you are neither eating well nor taking care of your body. This is a beautiful act of self care. It can’t be for anyone else. It can’t be to look like a person in a magazine or to make someone take notice of you or to prove you’re better than others. It has to be from a pure place within that says you are worth taking care of yourself!
Here’s to moderation! Here’s to healthy eating and exercise! Here’s to you!
A Note: Some people take really good care of themselves and still end up sick from diseases or cancer. Please don’t hear this post as condemning. Rest in knowing you have done what you could; you just didn’t get fair cards.

Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Care

I’m starting out with a bit of an apology for my infrequent posts.  I mentioned last summer that I am taking classes until the end of this month (the end is near!!!).  The classes are an addition to an already full life.  I realized after starting my blog that it was going to have to go on the back burner. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to post at all during this time.  I have gotten a few in.  I am one of those people who like to be busy but not THAT busy.  As a therapist, I frequently remind my clients to do something good for themselves each week.  I’m a self-care pusher.  If I mean what I say, than I better be doing it.  I have to take time to fill up on a nearly daily basis in order to be effective with the time I have.  I didn’t intend for this particular blog to be about self care, but here we go again.
Maybe during the holidays it’s helpful to be reminded of our deep need to care for ourselves.  No one else is going to do it for us, nor can they.  Back to square one, the definition.  Self care is anything that you do that feeds your soul, your body, or your mind.  It has to be something you connect with, not something someone else connects with.  I love getting a massage.  You might not like being touched.  A massage is simply not going to be self care for you.  I like walking, especially outside.  You might find that boring or too slow.  Walking is not your thing.  I like reading the Bible and understanding who God is.  You might not care at all about who God is.  Reading the Bible isn’t self care for you.  Have I made my point?  If it’s not something that you enjoy or is meaningful to you, it is not self care.
There are some actions you may have overlooked that count as self care.  Things like eating (healthy food that your body needs to function), bathing, sleeping, and exercise.  If you read that and realized that you aren’t even doing the basic self-care, we need to talk!   If you are just trying to get a handle on self-care, start with the basics.  Make sure each day that you set aside time or create a system that allows you to eat healthy food.  I believe fast food is better than the chocolate bar you count as lunch.  Fast food is not ideal, but we have to be real.  A salad with grilled chicken is going to nourish your body better than that chocolate bar.  It’s possible that a chocolate bar is part of your self-care because you savor the treat, not because it is a regular part of your diet.
When you shower or take a bath to get clean, comment to yourself that this is a way that you care for your body.  As you go to sleep or upon waking, congratulate yourself for making sleep a priority.  The benefits are far reaching.  Our brain desperately needs REM sleep to process the happenings of the previous day.  Studies have shown (and we can all attest) that under-rested people tend to misinterpret the emotions of ourselves and others.  We have a harder time dealing with emotion and we tend to be grouchy.  I know that first-hand.  Under-rested people tend to make more mistakes than those who are well rested.  Exercise is well-known to enhance our mood.  Those awesome endorphins that our bodies produce when we exercise help us feel better.  Exercised bodies are generally healthier bodies.  Although it might feel grueling at times, we are helping ourselves to have more energy.
If you have mastered the basics, start adding something extra to your daily or weekly routine.  Think about the things you really enjoy.  Is it sitting at Starbucks with a friend, relaxing and catching up?  Is it curled up under a blanket watching your favorite holiday movie?  Do you savor soaking in knowledge? Do you get pumped up watching a sporting event?  Maybe for you it’s creating something: in the kitchen, the garage, a studio?  If it’s something that takes a bit of time, it might have to be a once a week or twice a month event.  Make sure you get at least an hour of self-care, above the basics, each week.
It’s especially important to get self care in our schedule when life gets busy, like right now.  It helps us be more balanced.  It increases healthy perspective and clarity.  We are more effective in the way we live life when we are caring for ourselves versus when we are not.  I know this is true.  I have experienced times in my life when I have been horrible at self-care.  “There just isn’t time!”  “This is a ridiculous expectation!”  I experience internal chaos when I am low on self-care.  I cannot think as clearly, I am more likely to get defensive; I throw my skills out the wind and say, “Screw it!”  All hell seems to break loose eventually.  The times when I have been the unhealthiest emotionally are the times when I have not taken very good care of me.  When a few days go by and I haven’t done much to care for myself, I stop and tell myself I’m headed for a train wreck.  Do I want that? No!  I find inspiration to take care of myself when I realize the consequences of ignoring my needs are tragic.  Self-care is a need…not a luxury.

Exercise Reminder

I don’t have a lot of time right now for posting…but I do want to put out a reminder for you.  I chose to go for a much needed walk yesterday instead of writing a blog post.  I started one…it’s on boundaries and I’ll post it in a week or so but my mind wouldn’t stay with writing.  I was feeling sore…my back, the backs of my thighs…and I remembered that I have not been on a walk for two weeks.  TWO WEEKS!  I had not been sitting around doing nothing…I always have something I need to do.  I just let all my busyness take priority.  It happens.  One day slips into two and eventually 14 or 28 or more days pass before I realize I need to take care of myself.  So, in lieu of a detailed post, I am sending out a reminder to take care of yourself today by getting out for a walk, a run, a bike ride, swimming, yoga, exercise video, dancing to your favorite music…whatever you can do to get your heart rate up and give your body some activity.  It’s really good for us: body, mind, and spirit.  Have fun!

Taking Care of Myself

A few weeks ago I posted “Giving Myself Grace.” Realizing that my schedule is overwhelming, I decided to let up on my once-a-week posting goal. The decision was freeing. I had been feeling the weight of not posting as often as I had hoped. You may be wondering then how is it that I am posting twice in one week? Me, too! The Olympics have not helped my busy schedule. I have lost many hours sucked into the swimming, beach volleyball, and gymnastics venues. I have stood at my computer (I simply cannot sit all day!) and unsuccessfully attempted to watch only the most interesting events and work on a paper at the same time. My papers aren’t due until Monday; I think I’m going to be alright.
This morning it dawned on me, I’m getting better at taking care of myself. My first few weeks of being back in school were grueling. I chucked my almost daily walks, sitting on the deck with a cup of tea while reading, praying and contemplating life. I missed out on beautiful summer afternoons while in Aspen for a week around July 4, trading that for research and writing. I found myself in a bit of a swirl, the downward kind. I was bitter that I had to miss out on the exhilarating elements of summer so I could take stupid classes to prepare myself for the possible change in Colorado Law increasing the credit hour degree requirements of Licensed Professional Counselors to 60. And I was starting to crumble.
I know myself fairly well. One of the elements of my life that I cannot afford to dispose of is self care. For me, basic self care includes getting outside – I have to feel the sun on my skin and I am not content with the bit I get walking to my car in the parking lot at work. I need to exercise regularly. I’m not an Olympian in the making; I walk for about a half an hour a day with my tiny Maltese. It is not a power walk! But I’m out there, getting fresh air, sunshine and feeling really alive. I need to drink my morning cup of chai tea with whole milk and sit on the deck, if even for just 10 minutes. I need to read my Bible and contemplate what God is saying in there (I’ve got another post brewing about my take on “hearing” God), and I need to pray. I pray for my family, friends, clients, whoever happens to pop into my mind; I pray about the things I want to accomplish, and I pray about the things in me that need some work. Today, it hit me how good it felt this week to get back to taking care of myself.
I am feeling more balanced and more at peace. My thinking is clearer and I am less likely to get defensive. I am more aware of what I am about to say, and am getting better at thinking things through before hurtful words fly out of my mouth. I am experiencing more love for my husband and children. I created time to jot down this quick blog…twice in one week! By the way, I love blogging! Really I love putting my thoughts down on paper, blogging is a powerful outlet. I think blogging is part of my self care ritual as well.
So, my advice, be good to yourself today. You’re the only one who can make it happen.