Nutrition Is Self Care

When you hear the term self care what comes to mind? Massages, spas and pampering? Perhaps, but it is so much more than that. While all of the those activities are an act of self care, those are merely surface activities. I define self care as actions and ways of being and habits that support your physical, emotional, and spiritual self. According to google, it’s “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health” and “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own wellbeing and happiness, in particular during times of stress”.

In a nutshell it’s learning what you need to live a happy, healthy life and sustainable career or business, then prioritizing those activities by acting on them regularly. I like to think of self care like a wheel and it is divided up into various aspects. Today I want to focus specifically on nutrition.

Understanding more about the foods you eat, why you choose them and how they make you feel are worth exploring. I asked a question on Facebook last week, “what is most important when choosing food, is it for nutrition/energy, emotions, cravings or cost”? Nutrition and energy were the least popular choices. Fascinating! While food is something we need to survive, like the gas to a car, it isn’t that simple.

Why what you eat matters.

There are so many different types of dietary choices from vegetarian, pescatarian, raw, keto, whole 30, 80/20 and that’s just a start. Here’s the deal, they are not all good for YOU! What makes one person feel amazing, may make another person feel awful. 

For example, I recently participated in a three day cleanse with a program I am doing with my yoga studio. The intention was to eat raw for three days as it is thought to be cleansing and give the digestive tract a much needed break. However, that was not the case in my body. My body had to work twice as hard to digest raw foods, leaving me cold, hungry and and we’ll just say not feeling so great. My digestive fire, or agni in Ayurveda, was very low as a result. There were others in the group that were energized, felt lighter and had more energy.

In Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, there are three different constitutions that make up a person’s constitution, vata, kappa or pitta. You can read more and take a quiz here, but in the meantime, the idea is that once you understand your constitution you can begin to make lifestyle changes that enhance your wellness rather than fighting against your nature. If you know you are someone that doesn’t feel good when you eat dairy or gluten, then it probably makes sense to avoid those things. While it may sound so simple it’s not always.

How does food make you feel?

People eat all kinds of foods and at different times to fill a craving or help sooth them during times of stress or sadness. How many times do you reach for a bag of chips or cookies because they are there or because you are feeling down? There is science behind this. Your brain produces many different chemicals and hormones that increase pleasure and decrease pain. Therefore, sometimes you may crave something because your body is actually deficient in it while other times it knows that if you eat a handful or cookies or a bowl of pasta it will leave you feeling satisfied due to endorphins that are released in your body leading you to feel satisfied, similar to that of an addict.

The next time you find yourself reaching for a food, stop and ask yourself these questions.

Why am I eating this?

Will it give me energy?

Will this make me feel better? Or worse?

Am I actually hungry? Could I be thirsty, bored or sad instead?

When you can begin to understand a bit more about why you are eating certain foods, you can become more empowered to make better choices. I am all for indulging, however if that is your way of sabotaging yourself and then you are going to beat yourself up for the rest of the day or week then that’s not healthy.

Are you one of those people that eat one “bad thing” and then decide that the entire day or week is blown and you’ll start again next Monday? What if you allowed yourself either one day to eat whatever you want or to eat one item per day and not feel guilty about it? Would that bring more joy and less stress to eating? While an all or nothing mentality may be all you know, it usually feels very heavy and rigid.

The reason diets don’t usually work longterm is because they are not sustainable. When you can’t have something because it is not on the approved list, now you are coming from a place of scarcity. Then the more you can’t have something, the more you want it. You end up eating not just a bowl of ice cream, but the whole damn container because you lost all control. You felt so deprived you couldn’t help it. Then you feel awful and like such a loser because you couldn’t hang with your diet, which you chose in the first place.

It’s all about balance

This is why I’m personally a fan of 80/20 (or 70/30 or 90/10- make it work for you!). That means that 80 percent of the time you eat healthy, fresh fruits, veggies, meat (if you eat meat), fish, beans, nuts, seeds, healthy fats like avocados and olive oil. The other 20 percent of the time you can eat dessert, chips, red meat or whatever it is you desire. The idea is that when you are eat healthy the majority of the time, it helps your body feel energized and vibrant, while also knowing if you go out to eat with friends or a birthday party you can have a few drinks and dessert and that is totally cool. There is so much less pressure with this way of eating and you’ll feel more abundant and less scarce.

We use food as a reward. “I worked hard today so I deserve this drink or this treat”. What are we dogs? Yet, even I am guilty of this too. The funny thing is usually the treat is actually something that isn’t healthy for us like sugar or salt, but we know our pleasure center in the brain is going to be lit up and we are going to be happy as a clam. If you can follow the 80/20 ish rule, then we can allow ourselves the pleasure of the hormone rush in our body and not feel guilty, yet also become more mindful when we are eating.

Mindful eating

When you eat do you actually chew your food and taste it or do you eat standing up or in front of the tv and inhale your food? What if you actually sat down, turned everything off and actually enjoyed a meal with your family, friends or even yourself? If you actually took a moment of gratitude for the food, smelled it, tasted it and enjoyed every bite, what might be different?

Did you know that digestion starts in your mouth? When you eat, the saliva has enzymes in it that starts breaking down the food immediately. That is why when you slow down and chew, you’ll have less gas and bloating and your body doesn't have to work as hard to digest the food. That’s why for many eating cooked foods may make you feel better than raw. 

So, here’s the deal, there is no one right way to eat. It’s about learning to know what makes you feel best at that time. The foods you chose may shift with the seasons of life. You may feel great eating soups and warm meals in the winter, but love salads and raw veggies in the summer when the digestive fire is high. You may eat more dessert during the winter or during times when you are feeling down. When you can be more mindful, by asking yourself what you need in this moment and understanding the intention behind your choice, you can begin to take back control over the food you eat and let go of any emotions that may be associated with it.

I’d love to hear what way of eating makes you feel the best and if any of this landed with you.