self-care, food relationships, & the privilege of both

Hi Friday! We made it! Say hello to scenes from my neighborhood trail. I have plans to walk it this weekend in our absurdly warm January weather. 

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This is me officially saying that my 1-week goal is MET, because I have posted when I said I would. I am typically not a "goals" person (timeliness is also not my forte), but since I work with people all the time to set goals, I'm trying goal-setting out. Mostly for kicks, and to see how I emotionally respond to a mini-deadline. Self-motivation gets rather sticky if it is coming from a place of fear, comparison, or a sense of inadequacy. The presence of continuous, negative reinforcements that for me resulted in physical manifestations of stress, were in the past great for getting things accomplished. Increasingly, however, the cost of these motivators just doesn't feel worth it anymore. If that means I don't always do what I had set on TMT, for instance, then so be it. All this being said, I'd like to create consistency for any reader friends :).

Today is a true thoughts-on-a-Friday type post (with no references, because it is my opinion and experience only :D). I have been thinking a lot about how removing stress and anxiety as life-motivators has turned into a bit of a self-care shtick. Yay for working towards self-awareness! 

I will first and foremost say that the process sucks. Becoming attuned to our needs is to acknowledge that we have needs, right? And who wants to admit that they have emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual needs? Not me. At all. I have issues with wanting to believe that I am self-sufficient (seriously, I don't even like asking for help finding something in the grocery store). But to encourage others to go through an at-times sucky process means I should probably try my hand at it, too. 

While I have a hard time admitting my problems, I love love love to listen to people talk about theirs. When something is expressed to me and there is shame attached, I have so much compassion for that person, and always the first thing I want to say is that it is part of being human to have a zillion problems. IT IS NORMAL. I also want them to keep going, if they are willing and able, so that we can help the wound heal. As a dietitian, this is usually brought up in the context of food, yes, but food is weird. It is nothing and everything at the same time, and most of the time isn't the issue at all. 

Because I was hurting myself with an unhealthy relationship to food that in turn was causing gobs of stress and anxiety, in my view it makes sense to draw connections between self-care and a healthy food relationship. Several awesome blogging dietitians already embrace this acknowledgement of self-care through an intuitive relationship to food (ps if you haven't ever seen Kylie Mitchell's watercolors, they will make you smile). Things like these have been tremendously helpful for me in my food relationship. This is why describing how we view food as a "relationship" is important. We don't just get energy; we get pleasure, satisfaction, memory, and community through food. There are lots of opportunities for us to approach food from a self-care perspective. There are also equal opportunities for us to approach it from a perspective that causes harm. I wholeheartedly believe that working towards approaching food relationships from a self-care perspective is essential to improving people's lives and should lead, or at the very least be part of, the food relationship discussion.

But this willingness is only part of the the issue. It is hard to cultivate a healthy food relationship rooted in self-care in our Western culture. We are constantly bombarded with external cues of shoulds and shouldn'ts, and told not to trust our internal cues, because every single action could make or break our health. Which just isn't true. Much like you can't train for a marathon in one day, you also can't "undo" your health in one day. In human nutrition research, which has really only been going on for a bit more than one hundred years now, we still don't know the quote "optimal diet" and blah, blah, blah. Because we know lots of things yes, but there are a lot more things we don't know. My takeaway from grad school? Let us chill the eff out and set this aside.  

Before I get too tangental, I want to say that just talking about these things, self care/food/food relationships, is kind of a blessing and a privilege. So, something that is already hard is made that much harder, for a heck of a lot of people. I am here, talking about my struggles with it, yes. But I am an educated white chick, living in a safe neighborhood, with plenty of access to avenues of food and movement. I have a home. I have money to buy groceries. I have relationships. I have the space to 1)spend time exploring self-care and 2)to implement it, practice it, and refine it. To look at food through the lens of self-care. To reflect on all of these things long enough to where I feel I can churn it out into writing on TMT. Via my laptop and website. With a mug of organic tea. 

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Intuitive eating is beautiful. Intuitive movement is healing. Embodying health at every size is incredibly freeing. These things are all part of self-care. And while these things are absolutely for everyone, they are, for lack of a better word, a privilege. Self-care requires free time, communication, and exposure. It requires needs being met. How do you explain self-care to someone, like adequate sleep, who has to work 3 jobs and sleeps 3-4 hours a night?

I hate that I see several people, several times a week, for whom self-care doesn't even make sense. Needs are physical, immediate, and are consistently not met far more than met. Or that it is a monthly scraping to keep life together for their families. 

It is hard to not ascribe guilt to having social privileges, and feels disgustingly hypocritical to say "I feel guilty" because I have privilege, and yet continue to live in it anyway. I don't want people to think I am saying to abandon self-care, or to feel bad for engaging in acts of self-care. It is important for our health and well-being, and better enables you to help and be present for others. I know that if I sleep terribly, I am far less able to be fully present in my appointments and cognizant of how to help support participants in their situation. It makes sense, therefore, that I prioritize good sleep. But I hate that I have that choice and so many people I see don't. 

Overall, I feel very torn in knowing that my need to rest and restore is valid, and that seeing myself as someone to take care of is aligned with supporting my physical, mental, and spiritual health. But I struggle with how messed up and frustrating it is to see others struggle with their relationship to their food and their bodies, and the self-care things that they would like to do are far removed from their current situation. Or incredibly difficult to implement. Often in my job, the person on the other side of the conversation doesn't even have the chance to acknowledge a poor sleep pattern. Or they are well aware that their food choices are limited. Or that allowing their children to leave food untouched is unthinkable because it isn't always available.

I know I am emotionally grappling with my window into different lives, with dramatically different circumstances than mine. I also know being paralyzed with discomfort, frustration, or sadness at the unfairness of it all doesn't do any good. So. 

Working on self-care improves your food relationship, but your food relationship doesn't necessarily improve your self-care. And to be in a place to tackle this is a huge blessing and yes, a privilege. If you feel guilty, which I usually do, don't. It makes you less able to help others. But it is helpful to recognize that cultivating self-care and having the space to extend that into your food relationship takes a tremendous amount of work. Work that not everyone, even if willing, has the time or capacity for. I want everyone to have time for themselves. I know I can't force people to be open to these concepts, just as I know that society isn't equal and that there are layers upon layers of marginalization, prejudice, and disparity at work. That self-care, in a broad context, is part of a larger social issue. 

This is why I am grateful for my current job. I am learning so, so much and it is impacting my worldview. Maybe it's because I'm in my twenties and still naively baby-adulting, but I am working on churning the guilt into hope and the hope into action. And recognizing that my struggles are valid, but they are relative. And I deeply hope that I am helping the people I work with to find pockets where self-care can happen and build them up.

TMT is what I have committed to the process of practicing self-care in the context of food relationships. It is the first thing I've really stepped into that I don't think has been motivated by bettering myself on paper, trying to please someone, or trying to at last feel adequate (according to who, I don't know). It is definitely a self-care learning experience. Paying attention to the *why* behind doing things, and assessing if it is harmful or helpful to my well being, is still kind of new. In a way, TMT is putting a face to me acknowledging my own shame. Even if it doesn't seem worth it to me, because it is such a relative struggle and seems so small. But to call mine small is to call yours small, so here I am, talking here about my past food issues. 

Because I don't think other peoples' issues with food or self-care are small. They are NOT. My hope with TMT content is that it resonates with others, so that they aren't walking around this world with past or present shames with these things. More than anything, I hope that this validates the struggles of others, and brings a bit of joy to any of your lives, reader friends. 

So yep, today was truly a thoughts post (and I always like hearing your thoughts, too). Thank you for reading, and PLEASE go engage in some self-care this weekend :)

xox

Alyssa  

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