By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
A pattern that I see over and over again is women who are so hard on themselves. It’s as if we’re trying to be everything to everyone, and on top of this have strong standards about how we think we should be living our lives.
Having the perfect diet, fitting in exercise regularly and consistently, top performance at work, being fully present for our partners and children, and the list goes on and on. And then with all of these balls in the air, we’re so critical of ourselves when we fumble or one of the balls drops, or what if we can’t stop eating chocolate or watching Netflix?
When did we learn to be so critical? When did striving for excellence become an excuse to be so hard on ourselves?
I’m very aware that in my work, we’re attempting to move the bar with your health to one of greater vitality, and that requires some consistent self-care practices, but it is important to remember that these practices are for self-care, not self-punishment. This internal shift is so important. You can’t hate yourself into a perfect body. And an exercise class that feels like torture won’t make you healthier.
I want to share with you some simple ways to bring self-compassion and true self-care into your daily life. This is in fact the first step to healing, and it will free up so much energy in your life.
Self-Compassion with Food:
One of the most common areas that women are hard on themselves is with food, and the reality is that beating yourself up about your body and how you eat is what keeps you in the spiral of overeating, feeling bad and repeating it again. So how do we get out of this cycle?
The first step is to love your body exactly as it is. Not waiting until you’ve lost 10 pounds, or toned up your belly, but right now as it is. It this is challenging for you, start by appreciating all that this body does for you – it’s strength, how this body has taken you through life so far, and recognizing that even if your body doesn’t look like you think it should, it is still serving you well. I know this is so hard – we’ve been programmed to judge, and criticize how we look, but this is a really important step in self-care.
From here we look at food as nourishment. What would fuel your body best? What would feed your mind best? What really feels good inside? Start to pay attention to how you feel after eating. What give you mental clarity, sustained energy, and what shifts your mood. What allows you to perform best in your life?
And finally, it is absolutely essential to include pleasure foods in a long-term nutrition plan. Any plan without pleasure is a diet, and will ultimately fail. Enjoying what you eat, eating socially and appreciating the taste and flavour food is something to be embraced. When you build pleasure into your nutrition plan, you are much less likely to ride the rollercoaster of eating well for 2-3 weeks, falling off the wagon, bingeing for a while, getting fed up, and starting again. This rollercoaster ride steals so much mental energy for so many women.
I know this is a very short summary of a very large issue, and there are so many layers of complexities. I will save a larger discussion for another article but please know that if you’re struggling in this cycle with food, I’m happy to talk about it anytime.
Self-Compassion with Hormones:
Tracking and understanding your hormonal cycles can be an incredible act of self-care, self-knowledge and empowerment. Your physical and emotional states fluctuate through your monthly cycle, and this extends far beyond the traditional view of PMS. What most women are not aware of is that the qualities and states they love best about themselves also fluctuate through the month – peak creativity, physical performance, productivity, ability to connect and more.
By knowing your cycle, you can get a much greater understanding of who you are, and most importantly develop an attitude of self-compassion during each phase. Women are not the same every day of the month, and this inconsistency is our gift, our wiring, and our advantage. Instead of judging your changeable nature, start to pay attention to your monthly patterns – the days you’re more sensitive, the days you are more fatigued, the days you have abundant energy, days you want to connect with people, and days you need to be alone. When you start to pay attention, you’ll notice that there’s so much more going on than PMS. And through this practice, you can learn to embrace the positives, and navigate the negatives. These cycles are obviously most pronounced in women who have regular menstrual cycles, but our cyclic nature does persist post-menopause, and with irregular cycles, but with less intensity.
Bringing Self-Compassion Into Your Life
There are two points I would like to end with in this discussion of self-compassion, and two take-home messages:
1. Watch the negative self-talk.
Somehow we have taken on the critical voice of society, that if we don’t look a certain way and balance all of our responsibilities with perfection, we are failing. It is impossible to have a single-pointed career focus, and also a great marriage and be everything for your kids. It’s impossible to eat exceptionally well if you’re juggling all of the other responsibilities at home and at work. Take a close look at your negative self-talk – that critical voice in your head that tells you that you’re not enough. And with immense kindness and gentleness, start to talk back at it… Look at all that you’ve created, grown and nourished – your studies, career, friendships, creative projects, relationships, children, and more. The most powerful counterbalance to this critical voice is one of gratitude, and this means gratitude even when life doesn’t look as you think it should.
Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance.” — Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance
2. Don’t forget to fill yourself up too.
Many of the women I speak with are always giving and doing things for others, and yes this is a noble and generous trait but what we often forget is to fill ourselves up too. You can’t give from an empty cup, and eventually your cup will become empty if you don’t put your own needs, desires and self-care as an equal priority. What happens if we chronically forget about our own needs is that we get depleted, tired, anxious and eventually resentful that after all that we give, we don’t get enough back. What’s most important to know is that it’s your job to fill yourself up, to take care of your own needs, and to build that internal reserve. You have to take a stand for yourself first, and with a whole lot of self-compassion.
You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”– Louise L. Hay
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