Self-care or self-love looks different for everyone. But one thing that we can all agree on is that self-care is about nourishment- mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Nutrition is the foundation of good health. Sadly, our diet culture has programmed us to think of food as the enemy, but in reality it’s the ultimate form of nourishment for the mind and body.
Proper nutrition plays a vital role in your ability to thrive, and prioritizing it is means making an investment in yourself. If you’re looking for a place to start with self-care, consider starting by changing the way you think about food and nutrition.
When we talk about good nutrition, we’re not talking about dieting or depriving ourself of the foods we love. In fact, sticking to a strict diet tends to be the exact opposite of good nutrition and self-care.
Self-care through good nutrition is about nurturing your body by providing it with the raw materials it needs to stay healthy every day, both mentally and physically.
For example, when you don’t eat, your body becomes deprived of glucose, resulting in fatigue, headaches, low energy, and an inability to focus. Nutrition also plays a vital role in the body’s ability to create hormones that control our moods. When your cells aren’t getting the fuel they need, you might feel irritated, depressed, anxious, or stressed. And, just as important to self-care, food brings you pleasure. It’s meant to be enjoyed and it can provide satisfaction and even comfort.
If you find yourself eating something unhealthy when you’re feeling down, don’t be too hard on yourself. Self-compassion is also a form of self-care and that may be what you really need in that moment.
How to Practice Good Nutrition and Self-Care
Many of us equate self-care with exercise, reading a good book, or practicing a good skincare routine. But those aren’t the only ways to practice self-care. Here’s how you can practice self-care with good nutrition.
Take a Multivitamin Every Day
Taking multivitamins every day is an easy way to practice self-care. Nutrient deficiencies are more common than you might think, and they can have a major impact on how you feel mentally, physically, and emotionally every day.
For example, B-12 deficiency is quite common, especially in those who eat a plant based diet. Every cell in your body needs B-12 to function optimally and it’s essential for brain and nerve function. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and more. And vitamin D deficiency may lead to bone loss, muscle weakness, and a weakened immune system.
Although you could technically get all of your nutrients from your diet, many of us don’t eat as well as we should every single day. Taking a multivitamin is an easy way to ensure that all of your bases are covered.
Practice Mindful Eating
Most of us make a habit of eating in front of the computer, the television, or with a smartphone in hand. When was the last time you really paid attention to what you were eating, or who you were eating it with?
Eating mindfully in an environment that’s free of distractions and focusing on the food and people you’re enjoying your meal with promotes a more nurturing experience. You’re more likely to take your time with your food and recognize when you’re full so you don’t overeat.
Eating more slowly and mindfully also improves your digestion, which means you’ll absorb the nutrients in your food more efficiently.
Sometimes treat yourself as part of your self-care routine and light a candle, listen to some soft music, and enjoy the peaceful solitude or some good company. Slow down, take a breath, and nurture your mind and body.
Prioritize a Balanced Diet
Self-care is about balance, and good nutrition is part of that equation. Instead of depriving yourself of certain foods, prioritize balance in your meals.
It’s important to include a wide variety of foods in your diet because some have nutrients that boost the mood, others provide energy, some help to balance your hormones, and others promote healthy sleep.
There is no one specific super food that’s going to give you everything you need. So, eat those healthy fats, complex carbs, lean protein, and colorful fruits and veggies to nurture your mind and body.
Go ahead and have a scoop or two of ice cream but be sure to balance it later with some healthy fruit, nuts, or leafy green vegetables. You’ll notice fewer cravings and you’ll feel more fulfilled after your meals.
Honor your cravings
Some foods are more nutritious than others, but trying to avoid foods you think are “bad” and only eat “good” foods isn’t likely to make you healthier overall. When you tell yourself something is off limits, you're likely to think about it more often. When you do eventually eat it, there's a good chance you'll overeat or binge on that food, which is a natural reaction to deprivation. This creates shame about overeating and can make a person charge back into restriction mode, and the cycle continues.
On the other hand, giving yourself permission to eat what you crave often leads to a balanced diet without food fixation. Our bodies like a wide variety of foods. I like to think about having a healthy relationship with food, as opposed to trying to eat only ‘healthy’ foods.
Eat When You’re Hungry
Eating when you’re hungry is an essential part of good nutrition and self-care. It keeps your blood sugar stable, which means you’ll have more energy, better mental focus, and you’ll feel more emotionally stable throughout the day.
In fact, even the simple act of preparing your food can be meditative and relaxing. Eating a nourishing and nutritious meal is the ultimate form of self-care. Recognize your hunger and honor yourself by respecting it. Listen to your body when it tells you it’s time to eat.
Limit Sugar and Refined Carbs
While balance is important and you should never deprive yourself of the foods you love, there are negative health effects associated with sugar and refined carbs.
Not only do they contribute to unhealthy weight gain, but they may also be a key factor in depression, heart disease, and possibly even cancer.
That means limiting sugar and refined carbs are important for self-care, so enjoy them only in moderation. Better yet, instead of automatically reaching for that cookie, consider whether there’s a healthy alternative that would satisfy your craving for something sweet, such as fruit or dark chocolate.
And when you’re craving carbs, focus on healthy, complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables. That way you’ll be satisfying your carb craving and nourishing your body at the same time.
Nurture Your Gut
Your gut is full of tiny microorganisms that play a major role in your mental and physical health, particularly your moods and immune function. And, when your gut is healthy, you can absorb nutrients from your food more efficiently, which affects every system in the body.
Nurture your gut health by eating more probiotic foods, like garlic and onions, which feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. And be sure to include plenty of probiotic foods daily, such as kimchi, yogurt, and sauerkraut, to introduce new healthy bacteria into your system.
Avoid restrictive diets
The word “diet” originates from the Greek word “diaita”, literally meaning “manner of living”. In the contemporary language, dieting is synonymous with a quick fix solution for an overwhelming obesity epidemic. Dieting implies restriction, limitation of pleasurable foods and drinks, and despite of having no benefits, the omnipresent dieting mentality remains to be the norm.
Most diets fail most of the time. Repeated diet failure is a negative predictor for successful long term weight loss. Chronic dieters consistently report guilt and self-blame, irritability, anxiety and depression, difficulty concentrating and fatigue. Their self-esteem is decreased by continuous feelings of failure related to “messing my diet up again”, leading to feelings of lack of control over one’s food choices and further … life in general. Dieting can be particularly problematic in adolescents, and it remains a major precursor to disordered eating, with moderate dieters being five times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who do not diet at all.
Diets imply restriction. Psychologically, dietary restraint can lead to greater reactivity to food cues, increased cravings and dis inhibition, overeating and binge eating. Biologically, dieting can lead to unhealthy changes in body composition, hormonal changes, reduced bone density, menstrual disturbances, and lower resting energy expenditure.
It’s time to start thinking of food and nutrition as nourishment and fuel for your body. Remembering, it’s all about finding balance. Don’t beat yourself up for having a slice of cake now and then, just be sure you’re eating a variety of healthy foods to balance it out.
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