It’s 5:57am and I’m awake. Jack is not. What luck.
The bed is warm and I’m buried in it. The sunlight is also warm and beaming through the slits in the blinds, uninvited.
It’s been a long week, hair in that stage between a little shiny and an oil slick. There are no coffee K-Cups, no way to fall back asleep. I’m desperately trying to will myself to but I’m already going through my minds to do list. There’s no stopping her.
Finish folding the laundry.
Start painting the office.
Groceries. Can we survive a little longer on packaged oatmeal and raspberries?
Shower? Maybe, if Jack naps long enough.
It’s a hard knock life.
The idea is sometimes a complicated one.
The automatic response to the idea of self care is usually a picture of those mom’s who practice Clean Eating. Whose “cheat days” are a bowl of gluten-free chicken noodle soup and a 5 day a week gym routine.
I tend to think of self care as more than choking down a handful of baby carrots and a jog around the block.
Of course physical health is part of self care but I’m not sure that most of us are in a place where diet and exercise are as much a part of health as they are a part of getting a tight butt and a thigh gap.
So maybe self care needs to start with the way we treat our minds first, then maybe it can migrate into the way we treat our bodies.
Last week I met up with a couple of girlfriends at a cafe and we talked about everything from our health, to our families, to our dogs, to the purpose behind anything we do. Things got real over that london fog and those lemon tarts.
It felt like taking care of my soul.
Over the weekend, Matt, Jack and I went out for lunch, shared a pizza and a Tiramisu and took a long walk through one of our favourite neighbourhoods. I didn’t have to make dinner, there were no dishes and after a long week of stressing over what to make for dinner, forgetting to thaw the chicken, and the large pile of dishes we were both avoiding. It felt like we were giving ourselves the kind of rest from work that we needed.
I used to count every calorie, gram of fat and gram of sugar I was putting into my body. It felt like torture. Then, after indulging, it felt like failure. It felt like shame.
I had a strict gym routine. I wanted that thigh gap. It felt good until I had to choose between spending an evening at the gym or going out for dinner with friends. Then it felt like temptation. It felt like quality time was trying to lure me away from my dream body. If I chose quality time, I spent every second questioning what I was consuming, guilt tripping myself with the thought of where I really should have been at that moment.
Now, I enjoy every last bite of that Tiramisu and after that last bite I never think about it again.
I don’t have a gym membership. It doesn’t bother me.
I have a soft belly.
I have stretch marks on my thighs.
I have bags under my eyes.
Sometimes When I’m wearing shorts, I try to sit with my thighs over the edge of the chair so that my cellulite doesn’t show.
But I shouldn’t.
Self care isn’t about the way you look. Your size. You can’t weigh it or measure it.
Self care is why you take care of yourself. It’s how you feel about yourself. It’s fulfilling needs beyond what beauty standards are demanding of you.
Last week, I was feeling tired, kind of ill and slow. I thought about what I could do to make myself feel better. I paid no attention to the way I looked. I haven’t stepped on a scale in months but I thought, perhaps I should try to add a little more nutrition into my diet. Perhaps I should drink more water.
It was an easy decision to make. There was no guilt involved. Just common sense. There was no unattainable goal for my body. It had nothing to do with smaller thighs, it was just a matter of paying attention to the way my body felt. I was finally able to do it because there wasn’t the stress or guilt of weight loss riding on this choice.
Later, drinking a Slurpee, I didn’t feel any guilt. I didn’t feel any failure. I didn’t think about it. It was hot, we were driving past 7-11, it just made sense to embrace my 14 year old self and get a Big Gulp.
When you start to respect yourself, your body, you realize there are things you can and cannot control. You start to understand how to be fair to yourself.
I can’t control the way my body is going to look. What I can control is my obsession with food and exercise. I can avoid media that makes me feel guilty for the way my body looks.
I can identify the times in my life when I was the most unhappy with my body, it was the times I spent counting macros and restricting myself, it was the times I spent pushing myself too hard at the gym. It was the pressure to change my body. It was the times I struggled the most with bingeing. It was the times I felt completely out of control with my body and my choices. I couldn’t control my appetite. The focus on what I couldn’t eat only made the desire to eat those things greater.
My body has changed and will change. I’m going to get wrinkles. Those bags under my eyes can only get baggier.
I don’t want to spend my 20’s worrying about being my most outwardly beautiful self. I want to spend my life learning how to prioritize things of importance. I continually realize how unimportant it is for me to live up to standards that have only caused me pain and shame my whole life and continue to cause the intelligent, love worthy, praise worthy women in my life, pain and shame.
Now, I of course am not condemning exercise or choosing to eat nutritious foods over indulgences but I am questioning the intention behind those choices.
What are you sacrificing in the name of health? Are you giving up your mental health in the pursuit of a “healthy lifestyle”.
Yes, choosing healthy foods and exercise are important parts of health but so is stress reduction and if focusing so much on our bodies is causing us stress, those ‘healthy’ choices we’re making are counterproductive.
What if self care was our goal?
What if we learned to take care of ourselves by recognizing when we need a break, or when we need company, or when we need to order pizza after a long, stressful day, or when we need to take a bath instead of meal planning for the week? What if we were able to choose nutritious foods based on how we were feeling instead of choosing nutritious foods out of a guilty conscience and a desire for thinness?
Your body is a part of you. It’s not you.
…and Slurpees are just better than thigh gaps.