What is Radical Self Care?
Most of us have an idea of what "Self Care" means. It might bring up images of getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, going to the gym or maybe even going for a massage. All of these things are important but sometimes even the most basic self-care needs can fall to the bottom of our priorities which may call for a Radical shift in the way we approach self-care. To give you an example from my own life, I'm a working mother of 3 beautiful children and wife to a hard-working husband. As a Dietitian, I pride myself on my healthy eating habits but some days I would find myself rushing from taking care of my family to taking care of my business and working right through lunch. I adore my work and when I get into flow, i can become disconnected from my body's needs. Often when this would happen I would slip into self-criticism: How could you do that... you know better... pull yourself together! However the self-criticism would only get me back on track for a short time and after many years of seeing this pattern fade away and re-emerge I decided to take a radically different approach. This radical approach included softening that critical voice and allowing myself to simply witness, without judgement each time I would bypass my needs in the service of others. It was fascinating to watch myself... book clients through my lunch, pack snacks for my children and not pack for myself, serve everyone else dinner before sitting down for my own meal. This of course had nothing to do with knowledge of nutrition. I was simply witnessing one of my signature strengths in action: Kindness. I take great pleasure in caring for others. However, the shadow side of this strength is burnout. For me, one aspect of Radical Self Care was to put my own needs first. This was a huge obstacle. It felt selfish and even downright mean to say 'no' when someone needed something. Radical Self Care meant sometimes disappointing people I care about in order to take care of myself. "An empty lantern provides no light. Self-Care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly". Its the old analogy of putting your own oxygen mask on first so you can have the strength to help others. We all know this is true, but it's painful to watch others in need as you fulfill your needs first. This radical approach required developing a new skill of self-compassion as I accepted the reality that I can't do it all. This was (and is) a work in progress that requires education, skill building, practice, patience, support, self-compassion and most of all - daily awareness as I get drawn like a moth toward the feel-good flame of Kindness. What draws you out of connection with your body? Your 'flame' might be a propensity toward Perseverance or a drive toward Excellence or simply being in the habit of striving toward your ToDo list. You may have also lost faith in your body signals. Perhaps you ignore hunger and distract yourself to avoid overeating. Or for many others, eating and drinking have become a distraction itself. Eating can become an act of self-soothing after a hard day... in the absence of self-compassion skills. Whatever your situation, the first step is to begin witnessing how you feel during your day. Are your needs being met on a physical, emotional and even spiritual level? Are you exhausted at the end of each day? What sort of inner dialogue are using to motivate yourself? Are you self-critical? What habits are serving you? What habits are not? What signals are being sent by your body for hunger, fullness, stress, fatigue... are you listening? With many of my clients I ask them to journal everything they eat and drink for 3 days and make note of hunger, fullness, fatigue and even emotions. Before jumping into any new habit change, I encourage people to spend some time to truly understand where they are starting and what their body is asking for. This requires a level of trust that your body is doing everything it can to provide you with the energy you need, to maintain a healthy weight and to help you heal from any situation. All we have to do is listen, trust and let ourselves be drawn to what our body needs. There's no diet plan, no gold star workout reward system and nobody to tell you what to do. Radical Self Care is tuning inward to connect with your inner wisdom of what you need every day.
Now you may say... "What if I listen and my body 'needs' a double chocolate donut every day". Well, here is where the education component comes into play. If you are craving a donut every day you may need to look at your balance of food choices and timing of meals. Cravings can arise from a pattern of unconscious eating. However, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the taste of a donut from time to time. Here's the Radically different approach in action. What if you trusted your body and you try a bite. What do you notice? Do you enjoy the taste? What thoughts and feelings arise? Do you notice judgement, guilt or even fear? Instead of eating the entire donut quickly, take note of how your body feels. This is mindfulness in action. Do you need to eat the whole thing to feel satisfied? This approach is called Intuitive eating where you use your body signals as your guide rather than a prescribed set of rules (that you probably want to break any chance you can!). Often the result of mindful eating is to discover you don't feel very good after eating highly processed foods. In fact sometimes we only eat them because they are forbidden! With a Radical new approach, there are no forbidden foods, you simply challenge yourself to truly respond to your body's internal signals. This can apply to eating, sleeping, exercising, working and even relationships. As you begin to honour your inner experience, you move from surviving to thriving. Instead of waiting for your body to scream for what it needs right now to survive... you become sensitive to the small moment to moment adjustments that lead to life that is thriving.
Sound like an interesting approach? You can read more about individual consultations in Intuitive Eating or Join us for our next live online 6 week exploration of Radical Self Care: Moving from Surviving to Thriving.