Hannah, one of the Real Life interns is guest posting today…I hope you guys enjoy!
Here’s a thought and a question for you (and for my former self)….what does wellness look like to you? What does actually taking care of yourself feel like without focusing exclusively on food and exercise?
In my past, I believed that practicing self-care and pursuing wellness meant that I needed to go to the gym X days a week and eat only foods that were classified as “clean” in today’s society. I thought that, through eating in a certain way and exercising a certain number of times each week, I was doing great. I thought I was taking care of myself, maintaining a high level of wellness, and being wholesome.
The truth was that eating only certain foods (and later counting calories/macros) stressed me out and caused me to feel deprived. It also caused me socialize less and to never go out — whether that meant to a party at night, or to brunch in the morning. It left me tired, isolated and more unhappy. Going to the gym and feeling like I had to do specific exercises and a specific number of minutes on a cardio machine wasn’t helping me care for myself — it was helping me become obsessive about “consistency” in working out, the gym locker room scale, how my body looked, and how it compared to others.
Eating in a way that I thought was clean and exercising in a way that I thought was best didn’t contribute to my wellbeing at all. Instead, it negatively impacted my self esteem, mental health, and emotional stability. My perception of wellness was distorted. And didn’t leave me feeling “well” at all.
In no way has it been an an overnight process, but as I’ve pursued recovery and freedom from those disordered food and exercise habits, I’ve realized an approach to wellness that rings much truer for me — and it has a whole lot less to do with food, nutrition, and exercise than before.
Now, when I think of wellness, I think of it as doing something that makes me happy, relaxed, and less stressed. We all already have so, so much going on in our lives — we’re busy, we might be tired, and we may very well experience stress. So when we do take time for self-care and our wellbeing, shouldn’t it be through doing things that alleviate and not add to our already stressful lives?
Shouldn’t taking care of our wellbeing decrease (or at least not maximize) our anxieties and stressors? When I finally wrapped my head around this, I began to slowly let go of the idea that my pursuit of wellness had to be based upon my food and exercise habits. Releasing this idea, this judgement, this pressure that I had on myself, out into the world, was such a key part of recovery me. It felt so….relieving.
These days, thinking about food and nutrients is just…not interesting to me anymore. There are so many other interesting parts of my life. I’ve come to embrace my body for the way that it wants to exist in the world, and because of that, the need to control my food and exercise intake and constantly, obsessively be thinking about what I’m going to eat next or cook next week has slowly, yet naturally, ceased to exist.
There is a place and a time for food to be relaxing, wonderful, and enjoyable. In fact, there are many places and times for this to happen. But I don’t believe that we need to be pursuing cauliflower as pizza crust and cleanses and Whole30 as if these are the answers to our problems, and as if these are the golden gates to find well being and health. Because I know in my heart that they are not. These tendencies, ones that I very much used to partake in, cause more stress than anything else. And I know that anything that piles on more stress is not, actually, contributing to my wellness as a human being.
Of course, I should say that food and movement do still play a part in how I care for myself. I still love heading outside for walks, doing a Barre3 video at home, setting aside time to do PT exercises for my knee, and picking up a yoga class. I still like to cook tasty foods, make baked goods, and feed myself satisfying meals in order to feel satiated and well-nourished. As a busy college student, the simple act of feeding myself with filling, satisfying, and happy meals every day that don’t take too much time to cook (or let’s be honest…eating out when life’s just too much for cooking, which is all good too and part of my self-care) is also key. It’s fantastic. It’s a way that I can support, respect, and take care of myself. And that feels sooooo good.
Food and moving my body definitely still have their place in my version of wellness and self care, but I no longer feel the need to strictly control when I’m going to exercise, what I’m going to eat, meticulously plan meal-by-meal for the sake of calories and paleo, take pictures of every single thing I consume, or pursue restrictive cleanses/keto/real food only styles of eating. I’ve discovered there is so much more to health!
Calorie restrictions, strict workout regimens, cleanses, and obsessing about only eating “real” food add nothing to my overall health. With that being said, aside from food and nutrition, there are many other routes to wellness that, through recovering from disordered eating, I’ve learned that I LOVE. Maybe they will resonate with you like they have with me! Wellness does not only need to be about what we’re eating and how we’re exercising. In fact, I think that some of the things that have had the most positive influence on my health had nothing to do with food or exercise.
So what are those things?
Painting with watercolors. I turn on a podcast or music and just paint on a blank sheet of paper — I never have a plan or a “vision” for what I’m going to paint, and nothing I’m not making paintings I’d sell on Easy. I just do it because it’s super relaxing for me and because I think watercolors are pretty.
Journaling. It’s so needed for me. And my soul. Putting words to paper is like ahhhhhh. I am really into these Moleskine journals
SLEEEEPPINNNG a good amount every night.
Talking on the phone with my mom, dad, or sister.
Keeping flowers in my room. The simplicity of a fresh flower…love it.
Lighting candles while I get ready for bed or getting ready for school in the morning. I’m loving these Magnolia candles from Target right now. They smell awesome!
Painting my nails with the Sally Hansen gel stuff — it stays for a few days longer than regular nail polish does. Win!
Getting my eyebrows threaded. Maybe this is weird. But I love it.
Listening to books on Audible. Right now, I’m alternating between Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness and You Do You by Sarah Knight.
Having casual wine nights (in PJ’s or leggings because what is better?) with my best friends or roommates. Even better if it’s with my best friends and roommates.
Listening to podcasts that have absolutely nothing to do with food or health. Some of my favorites include: The Daily, Up First, Pod Save the World, This American Life, TED Radio Hour, and Reply All (this one has such interesting tech talk!)
Taking morning or afternoon walks with my friends — my favorite thing is when we find a coffee shop and grab some while on our walk. Iced lattes are my JAM.
Laughing at funny memes, TV clips, or YouTube videos. Laughing in general, too. It feels so good to laugh…like really, deeply laugh.
Making a list of reasons why I am proud of myself that week. Does that already make you feel uncomfortable? It did for me too in the beginning.
And finally, talking to friends — and not having just surface-level, froo-froo conversations. Actually talking to my best friends about what I am going through at that point in time – the good, the bad, the difficult, the happy. Let’s get vulnerable. I’m learning to be better about asking for advice and taking that advice, as opposed to exclusively feeling the need to give, give, give to others all of the time (without ever asking for help for myself). It’s okay to be needy. We’re all human.
Maybe this list sparks some ideas for your own journey to wellness (without food being the primary, obsessive focus), or maybe not! Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you do to pursue wellness without engaging with diet culture. It’s something that is still relatively new to me, and in no way am I perfect at it, but I’ve found so much peace, freedom, and happiness through working towards this way of life and this way of simple, impactful self-care.