I see everyone with their New Year Resolutions and plans to get fit or start a new diet, and I have many questions.
- Why did you need to wait for the New Year to start? Any day can be Day One.
- Do these plans really account for your current weather conditions and lifestyle? Or are they pie-in-the-sky ideals that will be impossible to meet?
- Wouldn’t it just be easier to focus on truly loving yourself more? Oh, wait – that’s harder. I know: years of experience (experience, that by the way, comes from failure).
I’m lucky: here we are, just starting summer. So the start of the year coincides with “summer body”.
What if you loved yourself and your body now?
Loving yourself back to health
If you’ve read my blog over recent years, you will have seen the occasional mention of Celiac Disease, Ulcerative colitis and other minor health complications. My journey with my body has been learning to love myself exactly as I am NOW.
All of me, including my small intestine and my colon.
Loving my immune system even when it goes into overdrive “Here, let me protect you.”
My body is doing the best it can with what I give it to work with:
- habits I foster or overlook;
- food I eat or avoid;
- supplements I take or forget to buy;
- exercise and movement that I habitually do throughout the day or week;
- my sleep patterns,
- stress levels and my ability to turn situations around and become proactive rather than worrying incessantly over things I can’t control,
- and many other things.
“really? – now you’re going to suggest that our self-care could actually impact how well we might face illness?”
And this goes for all illnesses, not just this century’s plague.
Our problem is not one of knowledge. We all know the comorbidities:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- chronic respiratory disease
All of these have multiple causes that cannot be ignored: genetics, environmental, economic, education, and the one that I want to focus on – lifestyle choices.
Perhaps you are stuck with your genes or an economic situation. That’s harder to change, but not impossible. In the age of the internet, education is something that you can make time for online (and there are so many great free resources). Most of us know what we could be doing to have healthier lifestyles. Information is not what we lack access to!
But what are we doing with what we already know?
I’ve lived for the past 20 or so years with my dad having type-2 diabetes. I watched my mum’s constant battle with him over what he ate and how his meals were prepared. But take your eyes off dad for a day, and his blood sugar levels would be back through the roof again. It’s not just about dad’s medications – he didn’t want to accept that changes were necessary and he was happy “to have a sweet tooth”. Mum exhausted herself in this battle, trying to keep him healthy when he wasn’t on board with the goal.
Living with duality & conflict:
I struggle with my personal ideals and dad’s health challenges.
On the one hand, I don’t believe in labelling foods as “good” or “bad” or saying that certain foods are off-limits. I don’t think that serves us. Nonetheless, I believe in avoiding foods that impact my personal well-being.
There’s a similar duality and conflict between:
- loving myself exactly as I am today (living with Celiac Disease) – right here and now – and
- wanting to improve my health and fitness levels because I’m not done with my active lifestyle (living with health and vitality)!
Each day is a new opportunity to show myself love through my choices: loving myself exactly as I am today and yet wanting to improve and be more robust.
The ways I choose to love my body
My energy levels and well-being fluctuate throughout the day, week and month. One challenge to living with a chronic illness is uncertainty: never knowing when it will flare up and what might trigger. So my lifestyle choices aim to create a sense of normality that I can schedule around.
Eating food that maximises feeling good
If you saw what I ate, you would swear I’m on a diet.
But I only choose to eat food that I know does not cause me:
- discomfort and bloating
- loose bowels
- irritability or insomnia
- lethargy or feeling tired 2 hours later
I stick to a gluten-free diet because of Celiac Disease and my immune system’s protective responses. I also avoid corn-based replacements, sticking to replacements made from rice (in small amounts, as it still causes a little bloating). Any time I can, I choose potatoes (and other root vegetables in all their various shapes, colours & sizes), quinoa and some legumes.
One of the most challenging choices was to accept that coffee (at least for now) impacts my bowels and nervous system in ways that I don’t enjoy. I love the smell and taste of coffee! I love the pick-me-up I get from it! But I don’t like the after-effects – especially sleeping much too light at night. I gave up wine for the same reasons.
I love a good night’s sleep, and I no longer tolerate foods or lifestyle choices that will interfere with resting deeply. I show myself love by prioritising deep sleep!
I have similar challenges with cheeses (most, not all) and whipped cream. And yet, I feel no different when I drink my hot cocoa with whole milk than when I choose coconut milk or lactose-free milk. So, I haven’t given up on milk. I simply have learned to listen and notice what my body responds to adversely.
I love food!
Despite this, I choose food with the following in mind:
- aroma & presentation – does it look and smell good?
- taste & texture – I want crunchy and creamy and everything in between!
It’s taken me a couple of years to become an expert in my body! It also means that I often prepare extra dishes for a meal – as little miss 8 doesn’t always eat precisely the same I do. But I honour her choices as much as possible while honouring my own needs.
Accepting I need supplements, not just a good diet
A few years ago, I would have sworn that eating natural foods (fresh fruits & vegetables) would give me all I need to be healthy and whole. Unfortunately, my digestive system disagrees and refuses to cooperate with absorbing all the nutrients & minerals that I need.
So, at different times, I take various supplements, vitamins & minerals that help me regulate my energy levels and eliminate the brain fog:
- GABA (brain food)
- L-Tryptophan (helps produce serotonin – something that’s really been affected over the years with my small intestine challenges)
- Boswellia (a form of frankincense, that helps fight inflammation)
- Ashwagandha (I’m careful with this one, since it sometimes gives me a kick in the stomach – so I don’t take it on a day when I don’t have time for self-care in case I don’t do well with it) – this helps fight inflammation
- Turmeric (a curcumin extract with ginger & black pepper) – great for women as it also is a natural source of estrogen as well as helping fight inflammation
- Iron & B-complex – because I have been anemic off and on since I was about 12, and I really notice the drop in energy levels
- Magnesium oil (my new favourite, because it works wonders on tired muscles after a bike ride or run).
I’m not recommending that you take these – but rather than you consider (with the help of a professional) what your body might need more of and how you will support your well-being.
I spent years chronically tired and with brain fog – I never want to go back there again.
I prioritise resting
Working from home with my own business allows me the flexibility to put a two-hour window in my afternoon (every day) for resting. I don’t always use it – but it’s there! From two to four pm each day, I allow for the possibility of needing to crash. It no longer happens daily. In fact, it might happen now once a week.
But there was a time when I crashed every day for anywhere from thirty to ninety minutes. And that was in addition to getting a whole night’s sleep (which wasn’t overly restful, mind you).
Whenever I realise that I’ve read the same line three times or that I’ve been staring at the blank computer screen – or I want to mindlessly scroll social media – I give myself permission to have an afternoon nap!
I made space for standing
Last year, I noticed a lot of lower back pain, noticeably from my office chair. I have a good chair. But I was spending too many hours sitting in it.
So, I tried several different options and places to work standing up around the house. I finally created a space where it’s the perfect size and height for me to stand and write, or work on my iPad with the keyboard (it’s a shelf that I can lower), and big enough for me to have books and other things on all at the same time.
Things I might do standing:
- journalling, brainstorming and brain-dumping
- planning & scheduling
- art & doodling
Since I made this change – no lower back pain!
What is your body asking you for?
Pain = Please. Acknowledge. Information. Now.
Sometimes, it’s that simple.
Movement & activity, not exercise
You will not find me in a gym. The last time I remember going was probably about 2009 or somewhere around there. I’m not quite sure. It’s the only time in my life I ever paid for a gym membership, and it involved a spa, massages, facial treatments, and access to the swimming pool. Even that wasn’t enough to keep me!
You will find me cycling at dawn with little miss 8 to go for a picnic breakfast and watch the sunrise over the ocean. On the other hand, you will find me taking my dogs out for a short walk and sometimes a much longer walk. Little miss has experienced kayaking, paddleboarding and camping with me. There are so many more adventures that I want to have with her.
I focus on keeping fit and strong enough to do the activities I want to do – not to have a specific body size and shape! So – yes – I do squats with some regularity (but I don’t beat myself up when I don’t do them). I also do crunches and exercises to keep my core strong (particularly since I really can’t stand lower back pain).
Regardless of what fitness buffs might say about bone mass and BMI – I ignore all of that and focus on the lifestyle that I want to have with little miss.
I would encourage you to find a movement that you love! Stay active – but it can take so many different forms. Some examples:
- I would love to make time to get back into karate, but it’s not a priority because I can’t be bothered travelling across town in rush-hour traffic.
- If I could find salsa dancing classes close by, I would probably make an effort to go. But I’m not interested in doing them at the dance academy just with the instructor! I’ve been to classes in a bar and a casino – where there are drinks and great conversations as well as dancing! While I might not drink – I want that fun environment!
My point is this: find movement in an activity that works for you. If you love the gym and bodybuilding, by all means, pour yourself into the joy of sculpting and toning your body! But perhaps you are better suited to a walking group, hiking in nature, tours through old parts of town, or volunteering with a rescue centre every weekend.
Facing my feelings & healing my patterns
This is – by far – the hardest lesson. Food is one crutch that I used to avoid discomfort (often pain in my gut), taking many forms. But there are many other ways that I avoid being present with my feelings, which I have used over the years:
- staying constantly busy
- bingeing on Netflix or TV
- games on the phone or computer
- social media
I’ve even used meditation and other practices for spiritual bypassing!
The reality is that when I genuinely love myself, I stay present with my experience of discomfort. I make time, daily, for morning pages and just sitting. Nonetheless, I allow myself to be comforted, which might even include asking for help.
I could not do this journey alone and without support. This comes in many different shapes and sizes.
The most important lesson I’ve learned about my support network is that you have to proactively build it with intention. Your circle of support may not include your immediate family and friends that you’ve made along the way.
We get disappointed when our family and friends don’t support us the way we want them to: I’ve learned that often my expectations are unrealistic. These unrealistic expectations hurt my relationships. I do much better when I build my support network looking for the qualities of people and the type of support that I need, rather than hoping that those around me will show up the way I need them.
As you go on this journey of loving yourself, be willing to look beyond your immediate family and friends to find the support network that you need.
I choose to love myself in 2022
It has some straightforward lifestyle choices:
- Choosing foods that boost my energy and mental clarity
- Accepting that I need supplements, and not just fresh fruits and vegetables
- Prioritising sleep and resting
- Making space to stand and support my core
- Staying active outdoors, with activities that fill me with joy
- Facing my feelings and noticing my patterns
- Building supportive relationships
Well-being is an inside job: how will you choose to show yourself love in 2022?