Self-care. A term we often hear, yet we may be unsure of how to incorporate self-care into our lives.
As part of my dietetic internship, I spent time speaking with patients and clients who had nutrition-related health issues. I noticed a common theme in many patients, and in myself: People often turn to food for comfort in stressful situations.
While it is normal to occasionally use food to help calm down during a stressful situation or as a reward for working hard on a project, it is healthy to find other ways for relaxing or rewarding yourself besides food. Other self-care strategies are essential, as food often does not solve the root of the problem.
Using food to cope with stressful situations or emotions may result in two issues instead of one. The challenging situation or emotion will still be present, and feeling unwell or guilty for overeating also may occur. This guilt may result in further overeating to cope with this additional discomfort. As Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, co-author of the book “Intuitive Eating” often says, never feel guilty about eating — unless the food was stolen! Breaking the habit of using only food for self-care may seem challenging at first, but realize that even small changes are beneficial.
Helping patients incorporate self-care into their lives can help address nutrition-related symptoms, conditions and medications. For example, I talked to a patient with diabetes about caring for herself by finding a hobby instead of always turning to drinking soda when feeling stressed. While this patient might still occasionally drink soda when she is coping with painful emotions, reading a book as an alternative helps prevent dramatic rises in blood glucose.
I know for myself that spending one year abroad in a small school and living in a dorm was stressful at times. I remember going to my room for a couple of minutes during the day and spacing out on my bed to help me relax. The key is to find what works for YOU!
Here are some self-care tips to get started.
Spend time with friends. Talking to people you enjoy being around can help reduce stress. Bonus: Talk about your difficult situations and emotions with friends — they may have good advice for handling them.
Spend a few moments every day doing nothing. You read that right, do nothing. In our busy, fast-paced world, we are constantly working and moving. Spend time reconnecting to your breathing and listening to calming music. If difficult thoughts or emotions arise, notice them without judging yourself for them.
Find physical activity or exercise you enjoy — you don’t necessarily even need a gym membership! Walk outside with a friend or pet when the weather is nice or find an indoor track or mall for rainy or cold days. Do an online exercise video — many are quick and free! — take up a new sport or try different classes at your local gym or fitness studio. You might be surprised that you look forward to physical activity when you find what you enjoy.
Treat yourself to non-food pampering, such as a new scented candle, warm bath, mani-pedi, massage or other “spa-like” activity you enjoy.
Take up reading a relaxing book, poetry or magazine. Your local library can be a great place to start with some free loans.
Find a new hobby. Maybe you’ve had a hankering to play an instrument, take an art or writing class, or learn to sew or knit. Carve out some time to find what you love and practice getting good at it.
Whatever you or your patients implement for self-care, know it will provide many physical and emotional health benefits!