Self-care are the latest hyphenated buzz words generating cash money for many industries who try to sell us another thing we don’t need. I explore self-care in the real world, for what it really is, just being an adult and making good daily decisions and habits.
We have the option to compare more than ever before
The upswing in interest in health and eating that has resulted from social media has really made me focus on our obsession with food and comparing ourselves. There are so many people shilling “health” information online, some good and some totally unsubstantiated and some personal opinions. If a celebrity or influencer is doing it, then I can see how it would motivate others to follow the same advice in the hopes of some kind of radical change in their lives.
When I get sucked in by this atmosphere it can be easy to think that if I just follow this smoothie-only program I too can look like that person. When I see the seemingly perfect life in a stylish apartment filled with all the expensive food and beauty products it’s easy to feel jealous or that I need to go out and buy those things. Not acknowledging that maybe they were paid to post about said products or sent them for free to try.
Smoothies all day
I have to admit that seeing beautifully styled bowls of coconut or almond yoghurt, topped with grain-free granola and chia seeds makes me want to go and make that. Totally disregarding that a meal of purely nuts and seeds won’t leave me feeling good. I have to remind myself to keep my eyes on my own plate and eat for my own needs and health goals instead of what’s trending online. I have to listen to my own body, no one else can do that for me and tell me exactly what it needs. I can’t be embarrassed if I have to make an unpopular choice of what my body needs instead of a picture perfect acai bowl that will leave my blood sugar crashing in a couple of hours and my hunger through the roof. We can’t compare what we are eating to others, in real life or online.
Broccoli as a protein source?
The other side of the influx of health and wellness information online is that anyone can post anything. There are so many totally inaccurate claims circulating out there and someone whose idea of a good time isn't reading books and studies on health may find themselves confused and conflicted. Everyone is trying intermittent fasting or keto, should I do that too? Doing a week-long juice cleanse or having smoothies for two meals a day seems popular now, is that right for my goals? It’s easy to get swept up along with the rush of people wanting to try something new.
Resisting the IG vortex
I use social media because I love being inspired, interact and see new ideas and products. But I definitely am the first to notice myself scrolling mindlessly and acknowledging that I need to put the phone down. I’m also quick to unfollow someone who’s content makes me upset, makes me feel like my life isn't enough, makes me feel unhappy with my body. I don’t need those feeling in my life, I don’t want to be triggered into feeling down.
My ultimate reminder to myself is to not spiral down the social media rabbit hole too frequently. Stick to what I know my body needs. Continue educating myself on what is best for me and not via dramatized posts online. I have to walk my own journey, we all do.
Nuts, nuts, nuts
Everywhere I look there are new recipes with some sort of a combination of nuts with nut butter, chopped nuts and seeds. All combined and rolled into one. Or even meal ideas with yoghurt alternatives based on nuts, topped with paleo nut granola and then more nuts or seeds. I feel like we have woken up to the fact that fats are healthy and that nuts are good for us but when does it cross the line into nut overload? A complete meal of just different types of nuts sounds about as balanced as eating only chicken for a meal. It sounds about as extreme as when people assumed Paleo eating meant you just ate only meat for 3 meals a day.
That’s not to say that some people won’t do well on meals based on nuts - we are all bio-individual with different nutritional needs. But I’m definitely not the only one who doesn't feel great after eating more than a handful. Usually bloating and gas follow after I eat too many nuts. Nuts are also extremely easy to overeat so I tend to avoid them mostly, you go from a handful to snack on to having eaten 600 calories in about 1.5 seconds flat. I love a spoonful of almond butter on my toast but basing whole desserts or meals on nuts doesn't agree with me.
Nuts and digestion
Nut’s contain anti-nutrients like phytic acid that can bind to minerals in the GI tract and prevent absorption. Soaking or sprouting nuts reduces this but this makes the nuts very expensive or if done at home is very time-consuming. I have tried soaking and dehydrating to activate nuts and it’s not a quick process. Nuts and seeds also contain mainly Omega 6 oils which we can easily overload on. Ideally, our diet should have a ratio of 1:1 Omega 6 vs Omega 3, and this can already be tough to achieve even if we are avoiding processed vegetable oils like canola, soy, corn etc.
Nut’s can overall be very irritating and allergenic so shouldn't be eating in huge quantities. In nature nuts were never the base of meals. Think about how time consuming it is to shell each individual nut or seed and imagine doing that now just to eat a dessert using two cups of almond butter and topped with more chopped nuts. I remember being young and eating sunflower seeds from the dried head of a huge sunflower, I can’t imagine how long it would take to pick and shell enough sunflower seeds to make a batch of cookies or a raw vegan cheesecake.
I think most people do best with balanced meals based on half the plate being non-starchy vegetables, a quarter plate of protein and quarter something starchy with extra fat added to the plate, be it nuts, seeds, avocado, butter, etc. A meal based on all three macronutrients works best to keep us fueled and satiated between meals. I think the meal based on nuts is just a modern phenomenon with so many new health products on the market it’s easy to go overboard on one thing without realising it. If we had to make everything from scratch including the nut yoghurt, nut milk, nut based granola, nut butter it would be easier to visualise exactly how much nuts are involved in a meal like that and see that it’s not the most balanced option to have very regularly.
How to get a picture liked on Instagram? Show a hand holding a bottle of supplements. If you haven’t noticed, then you haven't been paying attention. Everyone seems obsessed. What’s the latest fix-all? Or what’s the latest brand with a big social media budget?
Magic potions for a quick fix.
I think our obsession with supplements stems from our quick-fix culture. Yes, I have been guilty of this too! The dream is that we don’t have to fix our lifestyle, eating habits, mindset but could just pop a pill or mix a powder into our coffee and get on with our day.
Before you spend your hard earned money and order the latest pill, drink, detox ask yourself if you actually have a problem that may get fixed by this product. Were you already actively seeking out a solution to an issue you have? Or did this product find you and very indirectly told you that you may have an issue that it can fix?
It's raining pills and powders
Before you purchase - check that there isn't an equal product that you could buy for a lot less because it doesn't have the huge marketing budget. But I do suggest steering well clear of bargain basement cheap supermarket brands that probably don't even contain what it says on the label. Before you buy it, do some reading. Does this product only promise to work if you take it daily for years? Are you willing to commit to the cost of that? Is it worth the cost? Maybe you could spend that same money on grass-fed organic pasture raised meats or local organic produce or eggs that you couldn't afford before and see bigger results in your health.
Listen to your body
So, you bought the thing? Cool, cool. Consume it, but pay attention. Is it doing what it said it would? Are you seeing or feeling marked changes? Do you have any evidence that it’s doing something? Don’t keep buying it out of habit when it maybe isn't doing anything for you. Also maybe it worked for your sister, coworker, second cousin. That doesn't mean that it’s going to work for you. We are all bio-individual with different needs. If someone else praises the product for moving mountains but you saw no changes then it’s simple, don’t buy it again.
When trying to live a more intentional life and stripping away mindless consumerism, mindless consumption of media, mindless eating. What activities will add to our lives instead of subtracting? Are we “switching off” to cope with life instead of living intentionally?
A large number of people use shopping, watching TV or eating as a day to day crutch or band-aid. Tired from a long day? We watch an entire season of a new show without moving. Stressed from work? We go all out on a pint of ice cream or a bag of tortilla chips. General doom and gloom? We hit the shops for some retail therapy. Mostly these self-soothing mechanisms are tried and true. But do they really work? In the end, are we left back where we started, or maybe worse off if we have sabotaged goals we had in place?
Long-term habits and lifestyle over perfection.
It can be hard to analyze our own coping strategies, especially if anxiety and negative thinking make an appearance in our lives. It can feel a whole lot easier to just not think about what is impacting us and space out. I watched two great documentaries, one about hoarding and the other about alcoholism. Both of these are just the extreme version of seemingly coping mechanisms, spun totally out of control. The people afflicted have lost the ability to handle stress in any other way. Some could even pinpoint what could be the root cause of their issue or that they needed therapy to work through historical issues but had no means to do so. This doesn't mean it’s like this for everyone who has extreme hoarding tendencies or alcoholism. A similar problem is those who constantly overeat, with shows like My 600-pound life showing us another stress mechanism gone extreme. When the seemingly only comfort or self-soothing is to eat in unhealthily large amounts; past the point of normal satiety. This is all done just to feel good, but it can form a vicious cycle of negative emotions.
When we have made a goal to eat more healthfully, we are doing ourselves a disservice by using junk food as a treat after a bad day. When we have made a goal to be more intentional with our purchases and reduce the things we own, we are sabotaging ourselves by using shopping as a reward. If our goal is to start a business, write more, build closer relationships with our family and friends or volunteer, we are disrupting our plans to achieve these things. As with all things in life, moderation is key. And when we moderate these activities let’s do it mindfully.
When we do want to eat something delicious, how about limiting it to a serving, say a few squares of chocolate and taking our time eating it and enjoying, don't distract yourself with emails or eat it while driving your car. Sit down and have a moment to savour and relax. If it’s shopping, then spend time researching what you intend to buy, consider if you really need it or if you need a quick hit how about buying something for charity? Groceries to donate to a food bank, or toys to a shelter. And with media lets put a limit on how much we consume, and when. If you find yourself scrolling through suggestions on Instagram and see hours swim past acknowledge what you’re doing. If you are watching something that doesn't interest you just because it’s there, set it aside. These are habits like anything else, and if we want to, we can change into whatever serves us best.
Sometimes the biggest challenge is doing less. My instructor in yoga teacher training said this to me years ago and it still resonates. We are always struggling, running out of time, doing more. The years I spent training for and running marathons and ultramarathons were exactly this. Trying to fit everything in. Running, strength training, adequate sleep, yoga, stretching, meals, all in between a full-time job and a social life.
My day was so jammed that if anything ran late the anxiety was instant. I’m sure this is nothing compared to being a single parent or caring for a sick family member or a multitude of other scenarios after all this life was of my own choosing. But I can only speak from my own experience. Some people could handle this exact same level of stress and more with no problems. But I was waking up in the middle of the night, drenched with sweat. Sheets so wet I had to lie on a towel to be comfortable enough to try and return to sleep. I would wake up having dreamed my alarm had gone off, get dressed with urgency and head to the bus stop to go to work before seeing the time was 3 am. I see now in retrospect how the stress hormone cortisol was definitely running the game.
After I decided to take a break from running I was still keeping active. This included more time for yoga but it was always the hardest class. Power yoga instead of gentle hatha. 90 minutes instead of 60. Modifying any pose to be easier was a weakness. If I wasn't sore the next day I didn't try hard enough.
Then I witnessed a completely alternate perspective in yoga teacher training. Many restorative poses where every limb and head was supported by blankets. Nothing was being pulled or worked, it was utter bliss. Setting up was time-consuming but rewarding to be on the floor with the wood fire stove burning in the corner and my body entirely supported. Coming out of the poses re-generated instead of completely spent. We discussed the increased need for this style of yoga as the pace of life was being put on fast forward for many people.
Yoga isn't necessarily the only answer. Finding something that works for us as individuals are key. It may be meditation, quiet time spent reading, tai chi, a gentle walk, cooking a un-rushed meal, a bath. Trends like Danish concept of hygge and time for self-care are undoubtedly so popular because we have realized the value in slowing down the pace of life. Instead of working hard, let’s work easy.
I look back at my times of high stress as a learning experience. I was testing out my boundaries. Now when I see similar patterns in my sleep, thoughts, demeanour I take the time to reflect and address what is going on. Remember that in an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others. If we are run completely ragged how much help can we provide others? I have some “me” time, listen to a positive uplifting podcast or music, gentle exercise where the only goal is easy movement. If we practise this kindness to ourselves we might find more focus, more perspective, more gratitude in other aspects of our lives.