12th March 2021

We push ourselves at the gym, pull ourselves out of bed, suck in our stomachs, press our feet into high heels, we juice, detox, juice cleanse, fast, and restrict in endless efforts and a never-ending quest to ‘improve’ our bodies. We are much harsher on ourselves than we are on others. Most of us wouldn’t talk to other people like we talk to ourselves.
 
Take home message: Diets are the anti-self-care

Each diet is like a war on your body, we are so used to trying to control how we look that we forget how we feel and what our bodies need. It is so common to dissociate ourselves from our body, with our body easily viewed as a vessel to carry our mind, where most of our living takes place.

The good news is that it is possible to get a better relationship with our bodies, if self-love seems too much then self-acceptance might seem more manageable.

We discuss why our bodies need self-care and how diets and cultural stereotypes harm our relationships with ourselves. We provide simple self-care tips to improve our relationship with our bodies.
Self-care for the body:

“Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.” Jim Rhon

What is self-care?
Self-care is what we do to look after ourselves. Many of us spend much more time ‘punishing’ ourselves than ‘nourishing’ ourselves. We say we ‘can’t’ wear certain clothes because of our body size or shape and force ourselves to do excessive exercise to burn off food from the previous day.
 
We push ourselves at the gym, pull ourselves out of bed, suck in our stomachs, press our feet into high heels, we juice, detox, juice cleanse, fast, and restrict in endless efforts and a never-ending quest to ‘improve’ our bodies. We are much harsher on ourselves than we are on others. Most of us wouldn’t talk to other people like we talk to ourselves.
 
What would self-care of our bodies look like?
A caring approach to our bodies would be doing exercise because it feels food, wanting to eat healthily to look after ourselves and live healthily, enjoy treat foods without guilt or shame, taking time to rest and spend time with family and friends, wearing what makes us feel good and spending time doing things that make us feel good.
 
What if you don't look like a Disney princess?
We grow up hearing fairy-tales and most of the heroes and heroines are stereotypically attractive. Given the storylines of these fairy-tales, we can believe that we have to look like Cinderella to be happy. What if we look or feel more like another character, who didn’t get a happy ending in the story? Does this mean that we can’t be happy? No, it doesn’t, but these stories and the constant celebrity and social media barrage of airbrushed and filtered images contribute to these cultural stereotypes of happiness and beauty which are deeply engrained in our minds.
 
What is self-care for the body?
Self-care for the body is not just about food or what we look like. A healthy and happy body can be of many sizes and shapes and requires nourishment in terms of sleep, healthy food, physical activity, rest, fresh air, sunshine, water, limiting toxins and more.
 
Why do we need self-care?
Long term stress is bad for you, it can weaken your immune system, alter your digestion and even stop reproduction, as well as speeding up aging. Self-care reduces stress and improves health. Self-care doesn’t have to cost money, and little things make a big difference.
 
Diets are the anti-self-care.
Each diet is like a war on your body, we are so used to trying to control how we look that we forget how we feel and what our bodies need. It is so common to dissociate ourselves from our body, with our body easily viewed as a vessel to carry our mind, where most of our living takes place.
 
Many of us have a complicated relationship with our bodies. Eating disorders and body dysmorphia are extreme examples of distorted body image. Outside of diagnosable conditions, there are infinite types of unhealthy relationships with bodies, food and eating which can cause substantial and even life-limiting distress. The good news is that it is possible to get a better relationship with your body, if self-love seems too much then self-acceptance might seem more manageable.
Simple self-care tips for the body:

Stop letting numbers control you.
Does your mood depend on the number on the scale, your clothes size, your calorie intake or whether you have had a ‘good’ diet day? Can you try to focus on how you feel instead of a number? Try not to weigh yourself at all, but if you must, no more than once a week and see how the number influences your mood.
 
Wear clothes that fit.
Clothes size is just a number, each brand cuts different sizes and they are arbitrary. How about focusing on how the clothes feel rather than squeezing into a particular size? Whatever your size, try to wear something that feels good, and by good, I don’t mean something loose that covers everything. I mean something that will make you feel like ‘you’.
 
Focus on the fabulous
Many of us have a habit of scrutinising ourselves in the mirror and focusing on the things we don’t like. Can you find something to be positive about, even if you start small? Look at that part of you with kindness, next time, add something else to the list. The positivity will multiply.
 
Wear what suits you.
Try to have a fresh look through your wardrobe and focus on the clothes that suit you. Think about what colours suit your complexion and what shape of clothes suit your body shape. There are loads of free resources on the internet to work out what colours and shapes suit your body and colouring.
 
Write or draw gratitude to your body.
Try journaling or writing a gratitude letter to your body about all of the things that it lets you do. You could also draw a positive tribute to your body. You might be surprised what you come up with once you get started.
 
What are you really hungry for?
Often we eat food to try and meet an emotional hunger. We can easily confuse emotional hunger for physical hunger. When we are craving something emotionally, food is not going to solve the problem. If we can tend to the emotional need, such as with rest, reflection or relaxation, we may not want to overeat. If you eat chocolate as a pick-me-up or have wine to de-stress, then there may be another way to get that need met.
 
Don’t confuse weight loss with happiness.
We often think that ‘I will be happy if I lose x pounds’. Weight loss is not the same as happiness. There are plenty of slim people who are unhappy, and vice versa. However, for many people, weight loss is synonymous with a quest for happiness. It can seem quite tempting to channel our unhappiness onto something that we can see and have some control over, like our bodies.
 
No more diets.
Dieting, and labelling foods as good or bad, are cultural constructs. No food is really good or bad, or a ‘sin’, they are all forms of nourishment and the most appropriate foods will differ for each person. Not all foods are created equal, but when you are at peace with your body, you want to eat more healthier food naturally and are more likely to eat treat foods occasionally.
 
Don’t ban foods.
When we say that we can’t have something, our minds can’t stop thinking about it. Positives are much easier for our brains to understand than negatives. When we say ‘I can’t have the chocolate’, this easily transforms to ‘have the chocolate’.
 
Add an extra glass of water a day.
Swap a cup of coffee or tea for a glass of water to help you not feel sluggish and dehydrated. This could also help with energy too.
Get outside.
Most of us feel better when we get outside. There is evidence to support this too.
 
Exercise with friends.
If you are not keen on exercise, then do something with a friend. Then you can do it for the social benefits, not just the calorie burning potential.

Listen to your body.
Tune in when you are feeling tired and have a rest. Pushing and pushing our bodies will eventually catch up with us. Sometimes we need a rest.
 
Interrupt your sitting time.
Studies have shown that breaking up sitting time is really beneficial for our health. Take a break and stand up and move around whenever you can. Try a standing desk or a walking meeting. Even if you stand up and sit back down again, this is beneficial to your health.
 
Get enough sleep.
Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. When we sleep, our minds store and organise memories and our bodies heal and repair themselves. Not getting enough sleep also leads to sugar cravings.

Move.
Physical activity is good for you. It is healthier to be overweight and active, than inactive and in the ‘recommended’ BMI range. Activity also improves mood and increases quality of life.

 

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Disclaimer

The information in this website is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr Kirsten Keighley on behalf of Dr Kirsten Keighley Ltd. We recommend you make your own health decisions based on your own research and consultation with a qualified health professional. We recommend that you consult your and your child’s doctor and/or dietician before beginning a new diet or exercise programme.