In a previous post, we talked all about what self-care is, why it matters, and how it can lay the foundation for other even more transformational changes in your life. Here we dig into the building blocks of self-care:
Let’s start with Nutrition!
Building block #1: Nutrition
Food is the fuel of life. From birth, it was the way you interacted with the world. You cried when you were hungry and when your mother fed you, that food not only filled the emptiness in your stomach, it began to fill the need you had to be listened to, attended to and nurtured. Food and nutrition are the first ways that you experienced comfort, safety, and attachment.
I invite you to take a moment and think about how you feel about the words- food, eating, and nourishment. What is your visceral response? Does eating come easily to you? Is it connected to worries about weight? Does food serve as a comfort to you or is it an annoyance? Think about the history that food has in your life. Was eating family meals a time of joy and reunion or a time of chaos and stress? Did you grow up being nurtured with food? Is food a kind of celebration, an obligation, or a stress?
Whatever the answers to these questions, I hope I can help you make a new start in how you think about nourishing your body.
The first step in this process is to allow yourself to be mindful of your body and the messages of hunger that it sends you. Those messages may be familiar to you and easily recognized or foreign and difficult to discern.
What does your body feel like when it gets hungry? Do you know that hunger can start as a whisper, turn into yelling and then suddenly sulk away into silence? In fact, many of us have learned to ignore the early messages of hunger out of convenience or out of fear of weight gain. Sometimes, our hunger manifests itself through irritability, moodiness, fog of thinking or a general sense of apathy.
We have learned to go “without” for so long, that we often begin to lose touch with what our body needs to thrive.
Your Second Brain
Researchers have discovered that deep in the lining of your gut there is a complicated and sophisticated network of nerves and receptors that stretch from your brain to your abdomen. Two-way communication occurs between the brain in your head and this “brain” in your abdomen. The cool thing is that they work together! The same neurotransmitters that send hormonal signals from your brain exist in your gut and research shows that we can experience feelings like “butterflies” or “dread” in our guts because we have sensors there that are responding to the things we are thinking. Our appetite is controlled by our hypothalamus (click here to visit our discussion about the basics of your brain and why it matters) sending signals and receiving signals from our stomachs. When we have stress or sadness, the change in hormones and neurotransmitters is felt by both of your brains. This is why appetite disturbance is often a symptom of depression.
We will go into more detail about how thinking affects feelings and how the body responds in a Self-Talk Pillar, but knowing that there is two-way communication between the “brain” in your gut and the brain in your head allows us to access change from either one (cool, huh?).
The better we guard our thoughts and moods through strong self-care, the more we protect the health and wellness of our gut. We see this as those who suffer from Irritable Bowel Disease often find improvement and cessation of symptoms when they reduce stress and practice cognitive behavioral therapy. Both of these treatments are used in treating depression, but our second brain in our gut benefits as well.
The better we guard our gut, which we do through the food we eat, the more we protect and help our brain. When we do this, we improve our emotional wellbeing!
How food can influence your mood
Ever find yourself in the middle of the day, shaky, irritable and anxious? Chances are high that if you do, the brain in your gut is telling the brain in your head through complex chemical messages, that you are hungry. As you stop being mindful of your appetite messages, your brain starts to give you other signals of discomfort to get your attention. When the body is on empty, it will crave anything that gives it energy the fastest. That’s why you crave a chocolate chip cookie instead of a plate of steamed broccoli.
Understanding how your body works is vital to understanding why eating regularly and in a balanced way is so important. Your body craves energy to function. It will take whatever you give it and break it down as fast as it can and burn it in your body’s metabolic furnace. Eating high sugar foods and simple carbohydrates is like putting dried grass in the furnace. They burn very hot, very fast and then they’re gone. This can leave you feeling great for the few minutes you are eating but soon after, leave you feeling drained, lethargic, and downright exhausted. A cycle is formed of quick bursts followed by drops of energy, which causes us to ride a rollercoaster of insulin spikes consisting of thrilling surges and screaming plunges that leave us feeling worn out, frazzled, and yes, sometimes sick or depressed.
You need to keep your blood sugar levels stable and at a similar level throughout the day. Eating complex carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains will act as a longer burning log in your metabolic furnace. It will take longer to break these items down, which makes your body do the digestive and chemical work it is supposed to. Your body will use the calories to care for itself rather than using them to simply store fat. It will also give you a longer and more sustained amount of energy. No more rollercoaster action means you feel stable, not shaky, and able to control your moods with more ease.
Ok, Ok, maybe everyone already knows this… well… then why don’t we do it!? Sometimes the most basic things are the hardest to master, so let’s spend a few minutes talking about some very specific steps and actions you can take now (as in like right now…!) to begin building your self-care and specifically your nutrition foundation.
Here are 3 things to get you started in taking charge of your nutrition!
1. Eat Breakfast! –
Taking time to feed yourself at the start of your waking hours is important. It is breaking a fast that has lasted (hopefully) at least 7 hours. You thought you were just sleeping, but actually, during this time your body has actually been working very hard. We will soon talk in more depth about the processes that occur when you are sleeping, but suffice it to say that your body has a need to be filled up after its overnight work out. Consider ways you can start your day being kind enough to yourself to feed yourself.
2. Stock up on the good and toss the bad!
Lots of times we don’t make it easy on ourselves when the only food we have in the house is that dry grass we mentioned earlier… We need to have snacks ready on hand that we not only enjoy but will also give our body the type of energy and nutrients we need to feel good all day! That doesn’t mean we can’t have something sweet every once in a while, but it does mean we should do ourselves a favor and have more healthy things on hand that we can snack on whenever we feel like it!
The basics of healthy food are this: Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds and lean meats are the building blocks of powerful nutrition. Fresh is best, frozen is good and putting things together in recipes beats pre-packaged, convenience foods. This means that eggs, steel cut oats, and smoothies are better for you than cold cereal or pop tarts. Snacks consisting of fruits, cut veggies and trail mixes of nuts and fruit beat candy bars, energy drinks and high carb treats like cookies and muffins. Balanced dinners that are colorful on your plate meant that you have a good mix of vegetables and meat with high carb rice and pasta as condiments rather than the main meal.
Here are a few things to have stocked in your kitchen to encourage healthy eating:
- Fruit of all kinds (make it fun to try a new kind of fruit each week)
- Veggies (Try cutting up vegetables into bite-size pieces and bagging them for grab and go through the week)
- Boxed spinach and lettuces (Great for quick salads and smoothies)
- Nuts of all kinds (walnuts, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds…)
- Rotisserie chicken (Already cooked and easy to snack off of)
- Lean meats and fish (chicken, turkey, turkey bacon)
- Frozen berries (For smoothies)
- Protein powder (For smoothies)
Go to the pantry and throw out 3 things you know you shouldn’t be eating but do anyway—identify right now what you’ll replace them with from the above list. Commit to replace the worst offenders that sabotage your wellness, things like soda, candy and empty carb sweets like donuts and muffins.
Find one or two foods that you can keep in your pantry to use sparingly as a treat. Look to replace high sugar with lower sugar (below 10 grams of sugar) and unhealthy fats (saturated fat) with healthier fats (like coconut, olive and avocado oils).
Some examples of this are: Dark chocolate 70% or higher, Nada Moo coconut ice cream and homemade granolas and baked goods
3. Keep yourself fueled throughout the day!
Our goal is to keep your body’s storehouse of nutrients and energy full throughout the day. With this in mind, consider eating 4-6 smaller meals rather than 2 or 3 big meals. We want your body to feel cared for and supported all through your day, never getting shaky or frantic because it’s hungry.
- Plan the meals for your day the night before.
- Pack a snack (or two or three) and pre-pack them in individual servings to grab and go
- Put alerts on your phone reminding you to eat your snacks/meals before you get frantic
- Add your meal times into your schedule, put it on your calendar and schedule around it.
The goal is to PLAN for your nutrition each and every day. When something is important to you, you prepare for and take exceptional care of that thing. You are worth taking care of- so take the time to plan when and what you are going to eat!
Remember every little step contributes to the overall goal!