When it comes down it, staying healthy and balanced comes down to 2 words: Self Care. You have to take care of yourself in order to be healthy. This means making reasonably healthy choices in your diet, taking time to appreciate yourself and your body, staying active in an enjoyable way, having fun, and managing your stress.
This is why nutrition is only ONE aspect I work on with my clients out of many. We think that self care means changing everything about our diet and forcing ourselves to exercise in an unrealistic way and that we’ll be healthy doing this. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
You have to look at the big picture.
Your Self Care Big Picture
Think about your core values. What are your reasons for becoming healthy or losing weight or building strength? Your kids? Your mental health? Prevention of a chronic disease? Do you want to be able to do an activity or a sport well that you really enjoy?
You can’t do any of these things without proper self care. Nutrition is a part of it, of course. But it goes way, way beyond that.
Make a list of these core values. THESE are your motivators. Not the number on the scale or how many push ups you can do or how many inches you lose or what size pants you wear. When it comes down to it- those things bother you, yes. And they influence the way you speak to yourself and how you look at yourself. But they’re only superficial influencers. And you’re not superficial. You’re more than that, so it will take more than to truly motivate you in the long term.
Where to Start
It starts with routine. Always. I never make any big changes in my client’s diet or exercise until we develop a flexible routine that works in their lifestyle.
Look at your day and ask yourself, where do you struggle the most? Is it the morning trying to get up and get ready for work? Do you feel kind of lost or sluggish after work or before bed? Is there a point in the middle of your day where your mind and body feels like screaming? Choose the part of your day where you really want to just feel better- more together and centered, more energetic, etc- and start there. If there are multiple areas of the day, start with the easiest to change OR the one that will make the most impact in your day.
It will happen through trial and error. It helps to have someone guiding you, like a dietitian or therapist. But if that’s not an option for you, try this:
Brainstorm and come up with your ideal routine. Then take one piece of that routine to work on. THEN take one piece of that one piece and start there! Seriously- do not try to change your routine all at once.
Let’s say you want go from eating take out at lunch time at your desk while you’re working, to bringing a homemade lunch and taking a half hour break while you listen to motivating podcasts. Start with just eating lunch away from your desk for 15 minutes. No matter what kind of lunch it is. Or start with bringing your lunch, even if you eat it while you work. Start with the easiest part of it, and set a small and realistic goal to accomplish it. Maybe even just a goal of bringing lunch 2 days per week. It’s a start and a step in the right direction. No step is too small.
My Favorite Self Care Apps
One of the big positives of being in the era of technology is that there is an app for everything! I am so big on using apps to help you better yourself and here are some of the things I use to help me stay on track with a well and balanced lifestyle.
This app is all about routine. I used this to create a morning routine for myself so that I could more easily get up early and get things done that would help me feel centered and accomplished for my day. This became so huge as a mom. I realized that I NEED to get up early, before the baby and Dan, in order to have a good day. If I don’t, I’m so much more stressed out. So now, I get up and I exercise or do yoga or sometimes just meditate (most mornings).
My morning routine on the app is this: Drink water, exercise, meditate, shower/get ready, make my bed, eat breakfast, check my social media accounts. You can completely customize this, which is so great. You can even hit a “launch” button and it will help you mindfully move through each step of the routine. There are also challenges and paths it will set up for you for specific goals you may have like getting better sleep, eating breakfast more often, etc.
2. Sleep Cycle
I love this app for waking me up in a less jarring way each morning. Yes, it does track your sleep, but my real reason is that it gently wakes you up when it senses you are in a lighter state of sleep, instead of your alarm forcefully waking you up from a deep sleep. You simply give it a time that you want to be up no later than, and select a length of time prior to that it can wake you up. It recommends 30 minutes, so if you set the alarm for 6am, it will wake you up at your lightest sleep anytime between 5:30am and 6am. It’s a great way to gently transition into a morning person!
3. Every Mother
This one is a great one for my fellow mamas. It’s most known for correcting diastisis recti and getting your core back after giving birth. I don’t know if I had a clinical diastisis, but I did feel that my core was still not back to where it should be a year and a half after giving birth, so I figured I’d give it a try. It’s 10 minutes of safe core work per day- they call it core compressions. It also has a full library of workouts and a calendar to follow.
I love this because I fully intend to workout every morning, but if I don’t have a plan, I sometimes end up wasting more time trying to decide which kind workout to do! The biggest thing I noticed was that the core exercises are way less intensive than what I was doing, yet I FELT the workout more than when I was doing a hardcore workout. This tells me that what I was doing was too much for my abs and so I wasn’t benefiting from it like I needed.
4. My Flo
In my opinion, every woman should be tracking her menstrual cycle. Especially if you’re not on hormones. I started tracking when I went off the pill about 9 months before Gordon was conceived, and I’ve used several different apps to do it. I like them all, but I chose to add this one because it’s the one I’m currently using, and also because I like that it gives you tips on the best foods to eat and exercises to do and more for each stage of the cycle. Also, it’s worth noting that in addition to tracking when you get your period, it’s a great idea to track symptoms, which is a feature that this and many apps offer. It’ll help you learn a lot about your body and your hormones and let you be better prepared if you have PMS or PMDD issues, painful ovulation, etc.
5. Gratitude- Happiness Journal
I have every client keep a gratitude journal. You don’t need an app for this, but this one is great because it sends you “thank you notes” from yourself as well as gratitude quotes and keeps you on track for maintaining this habit. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
6. 3 Minute Mindfulness
In addition to regular meditation, or if you’re not someone who meditates for whatever reason, I feel it’s so important to take mini breaks in your day. From just a 20 second pause and a deep breath, to 3 minute “meditation” or mental break of any kind- it’s so helpful for managing every day stress and overwhelm. This app has 3 minute guided meditations to music as well as guided breathing. It also reminds you at times you choose to stop and pause. This is super great for anyone who feels like they are nonstop all day and by the end of the day are just too exhausted to even do anything for themselves. Give it a try!
I’m actually including this one because a friend recently told me how much it helped her. This app matches you up to online therapist based on preferences and needs. I thought this was such a great idea because so many people could use a therapist to help them work through things in their lives but they can’t find the time for office appointments. My friend said it was very easy and she was able to email her therapist at any time and that it helped her through some really tough emotions. If you think you could benefit from therapy but haven’t taken the plunge because you’re concerned about adding something else to your plate, give this app a shot.
8. In the Moment- Mindful Eating
There are a few mindful eating apps that I’m including on the list. They’re all a little different, so it really depends on the person and your needs. This one is kind of an electronic therapist walking you through each meal, and is ideal for someone who feels their biggest concern is emotional eating. When you feel like eating, you click to start the sequence and make choices like “I’m in emotional distress, “I’m hungry” or “I’m not hungry”, “I’m looking for pleasure”, “I seem to have no willpower”, etc. And it walks you through exploring your emotions. It also gives you evidence-based suggestions for making changes that will help you improve your emotional eating in the future.
9. Am I Hungry? Virtual Coach
This app was created by the original Mindful Eating Queen herself, Michelle May, MD. It walks you through the hunger-fullness scale, questions about your emotional state, etc, every time you want to eat. Similar to In the Moment, it will help with emotional eating, but also encompasses the idea of learning your hunger cues.
10. Ate Food Diary: Mindful & Easy
This app is a really fun and social way of learning to eat mindfully. You take pictures of your food, and chart it as either “on your path” or “off your path”, but it encourages you to not judge yourself when making that call. You make the call, not the app. It’s not based on macros or calories. It’s simply, was this your plan or was this off your chosen path? It asks you questions about each meal so that you can journal your emotions and your hunger, and a bonus is that you can join with friends and coaches for extra encouragement.
The Ultimate Form of Self Care
So as I said, all of these forms of self care are important. But I’m a dietitian and at the heart I fully believe that the best form of self care comes from nourishing and nutrient-dense food. Dieting and restriction are just harmful. Harmful to your body and to your soul.
Navigating the world of nutrition if you’re not a professional is just downright confusing these days. The entire world is trying to pass every diet out there as a “lifestyle”. I am all about making it a lifestyle. But if it’s unsustainable, it’s not a lifestyle. And anything that is not made for just for you, is not sustainable.
It has to fit in your life, align with your core values, and reflect who you are and the life you want to lead. Or it’s a diet. Are you a pasta-lover trying to go keto? It’s a diet. Or are you a wine and chocolate -lover trying to avoid all sugar? It’s a diet. Do not give up who you are for the sake of your nutrition. You can make changes for the better that fit with you are. I just don’t buy into the idea that we have to make sacrifices to reach our goals. Maybe small sacrifices- at first. But not who you are. That’s just a sacrifice that no one should ever make!