by Blakely Page
As a nutrition professional, health educator, leader, mom, discipler, friend, wife, sister, daughter and more…there are a barrage of ideas, opinions, ideals and expectations that I encounter on a daily basis. Actually, make that an hourly basis. There are times in life and among those different roles where I am more reflective, more in-tune and connected with my inner world than others.
There are times I’m more responsive to the Holy Spirit’s voice and times I feel numb to it. There are times I am on autopilot and times I’m leaning in to learn, invest, grow and dig deep. There are times I am so overwhelmed I become paralyzed and times I am so ready to implement ideas or processes.
Now, lay that movement just described on top of the 10 or more hats or roles most women wear. Sheesh. It’s constant movement, constant evaluation of where am I and what’s next. Most of this is subconsciously happening in our inner world without us realizing it.
Thus emerges the phrase…be kind to yourself.
You are dealing with a lot simply by existing.
Most women are overextended, if not by schedule, then by the mental and emotional need their different roles require. I’m the first to ask those I lead what in their schedule do they need to get rid of, and where can their investment in people be more strategic and perhaps narrow, in order to invest in what God is asking, rather than being all things to all people.
However, I also realize that being an American woman is just plain chaotic.
It becomes a tandem conversation of what do I need to stop or let go of and also how do I invest in what I have in healthy ways. It’s not clean cut. It’s not easy. It’s not simple, but it is the life we have - given by a kind Father who is near, and without the pressure of the external world. Being kind to yourself is a personal journey. Kindness to myself is not the same as kindness to yourself. However, there may be a bit of a home base for determining what will serve you well and what will simply indulge, in order to soothe the weary, tired mind, body and souls we carry.
I will be the first to say, I am not doing this as well as I can write about it. I have borrowed most of this wisdom and language from friends and leaders in my life and still struggle to implement it to the degree I wish I could. But nevertheless, I offer some thoughts to you, as a fellow woman traveler on the journey with you.
This concept of being kind to yourself can take on many different faces, but I will address it here from the angle that being kind to yourself isn’t always giving yourself what you want but, rather, honestly determining what it is you need.
As a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, I have conversations about food all the time. It’s what I do. I’ve learned, in my 10 years in this profession, that it is irresponsible of me to talk about food without talking about the emotions tied to it. And when we begin down that road I often find shame, guilt and misguided notions of how we treat our bodies or how we relate to food.
Much of that is another blog for another day, or even a whole series. But along those lines, I’ve found it helpful to take off some of the pressure around what we should and shouldn't be eating by focusing on helping people eat enough real fuel for their body. When we focus on getting enough of the foods that fuel us, there just so happens to be less space and energy available for the foods that fill us but don’t fuel us.
The real fuel I’m talking about are fruits, vegetables, high quality meats, good fats (butter, olive oil, coconut oil), water, bioavailable vitamin/mineral supplements, and unprocessed grains (gluten free when needed).
When I really dig in with a client we inevitably end up, at some level, depending on our goals and type of relationship, in a conversation about how we use food to comfort and numb instead of energize and nourish.
Sometimes kindness is giving our body what it truly needs instead of what it thinks it wants.
An example of this might be a balanced meal with friends and family after a difficult day, instead of sugar, alcohol and TV alone. By no means am I saying that sugar, alcohol and TV are bad. They are not. No food is bad. But we have to be willing to ask the honest question, "Am I using this for comfort and escape?" Perhaps the answer is absolutely yes. The key is being honest and aware that’s what is happening. It’s not that we never indulge, or never just eat and watch and do what we want, but a steady diet (pun intended) of that will not pan out well in the end.
Indulging every discomfort or disappointment with a sense of entitlement or self-soothing or comforting (food, TV, alcohol, etc), doesn’t help us develop the resiliency and strength to deal with pain and disappointment in healthy ways. I’ve now ventured into the territory of my seriously talented sister Sarah Miller, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), but the more I work with food, the more I see how intertwined it is with our emotions. Because of this I’m learning, in my personal life, and with those I influence, to ask the question of, "What do I need vs what do I want?" More times than not, what I need is not what I want.
What I want is easy to find and verbalize, but what I need might require a bit more honesty, and digging a notch deeper in to my mental/emotional world.
I have been a living example of this the past few months after the unexpected delivery of our baby girl eight weeks early, which included ten days in the hospital for me and six weeks for her. I have found, as the dust settled from that experience, that I am needing to give my mind, spirit and body what it needs and give up the license of operating in wants and comforts through a crisis. I knew, through that crisis, that much of my eating was emotionally based and for comfort. There were very few comforts in what we went through and the loneliness of being in the hospital, while my husband took care of our three year old at home, took its toll then continued in my six weeks of trips back and forth to the NICU 2-3 times a day.
In keeping with my natural tendencies, I comforted with food.
However, I had no shame or guilt about it at all. I knew what was happening. I called it out and actually embraced it. I did this knowing that it was temporary and I can trust my body, my mind and my emotions and my God to prompt me differently when it was time. This trust has developed over time and I have worked for it by recognizing and responding to my body. I knew from the work I’ve done personally, professionally and from experience with my body, that I will ask different questions soon.
This isn’t to say I only ate nutrient poor food. I actually craved vegetables immensely after delivery and, thanks to my gracious mom cooking at my house, had plenty each day. However, there was something quite comforting about grabbing three cookies on my way to the baby’s room at our house where there was no baby but, rather, a full fledge pumping station where I sat for 20-30 minutes every three hours around the clock for six weeks when I wasn’t at the hospital with her.
Now, flash forward to the present where I’ve got a healthy baby at home and an active, inquisitive, loving 3-year-old with big feelings and endless, legitimate, questions. If I am honest with myself, what I need is not more cookies or even the brownies I made from scratch at 10 pm last night because I wanted sugar and chocolate.
I need connection with my Good Father. I need food that gives my body lasting energy (protein). I need to remember to take my supplements because I feel so much better when I do. I need to make plans with women who inspire me and understand me. I need to keep processing the past three months with my husband and friends. I need to drink at least as much water as I do coffee, and I need to listen to things that renew and inspire my mind and look into the eyes of my healthy baby while she breastfeeds, instead of scrolling on my phone.
Now, it is important for me to explicitly say a couple things here because some people will make assumptions about who I am and who they are not when reading some of this.
I will still watch TV and scroll through Facebook/IG and my toddler will watch too much TV while I breastfeed, take a shower or try to cook dinner.
I will still make brownies at 10 pm sometimes. I might even eat them for breakfast.
I will work towards being honest and aware of what is indulging what I want at the expense of what I need.
That last one is where I want to land.
Having things we want is never bad, but it is when we indulge our wants at the expense of our needs. It’s not much different than a toddler who wants TV and candy all the time, but we know that’s not what they need. As an adult, I’d venture to say that the toddler is still in there, we just have the ability to parent our inner toddler ourselves...with honest relationships and intentional behaviors.
Investing in what we need to truly be nourished, in the end, is a better kind of kindness.
Each of our lives are filled with justifiable reasons to comfort and indulge, but as an American woman, those reasons are not likely going to diminish or lessen, so we must dig deeper to get our strength from truly life-giving things, like a God who has everything all the time and will never leave us alone. Like nourishing food that God filled the earth with to sustain our bodies and minds and emotions - yes, food is a major player in our mental and emotional health.
We have to engage in behaviors that strengthen our resilience and make us able to weather storms one after another, after another, after another. We all feel the groans of a broken world, but strong trees have deep roots. Trees, like us, develop deep roots by being nourished.
What is truly nourishing to you? What gives you life? What heals your weary soul? What is one step towards nourishment you can take today?