“Self-Care” is often thought of as a luxury engagement, when in reality, it is anything but. Self-care is probably the single-most important thing we can do for ourselves, yet it is so often overlooked. It’s more than treating yourself to a massage (though it can certainly include that!). Self-care is the action of making a conscious effort to create your own emotional, spiritual, mental, social, and physical health. In all of these things, how and what we eat is the cornerstone to overall wellness.
Eating in a healthful way, including a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, provides the fuel for better exercise, reduces chronic inflammation, and may reduce the risk for a multitude of chronic diseases. Click here to check out 10 ideas for a healthy snack that are dietitian-approved!
Eating with friends and family provides the necessary socialization to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. Whether it be meeting your first date at a restaurant, setting a designated time for family dinner each night, or just catching up with an old friend over coffee and breakfast, food is a great way to improve your social health!
The foods we eat have been shown to have a direct effect on our mental health, as about 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced by gut bacteria. Serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter that affects mood, cognition, and memory. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depressive feelings, sadness, and fatigue. Feeding your gut with prebiotics (fruit, vegetables, whole grains) and probiotics (fermented foods, such as yogurt, keifer, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kombucha, gouda cheese, pickled vegetables, and cottage cheese) may help boost serotonin levels in your body.
Many religions feature dietary components; however, spiritual health does not have to mean religion. The concept of mindful eating taps into spiritual well-being by consuming food in a way that is thoughtful and intentional. Eating without media distractions (aka not scrolling through your phone or watching TV while eating), taking the time to thoroughly chew/taste your food, and being thankful for the food you are eating and how it is nourishing your body are all a part of mindful eating and spiritual health.
We often use food as a coping mechanism to deal with emotions, whether they be either good or bad. We get a new job and celebrate with a nice meal, we receive bad news and reach for the ice cream. Food can be a comfort. But, when we turn food into a reward system, it becomes a replacement for having to actually deal or cope with that emotional trigger. There is also oftentimes guilt that follows when you use food to cope with emotions, which can perpetuate negative feelings of self-worth. If you are one of many people who struggle with emotional and stress eating, click here to read our blog for tips on how to curb the habit.
Make self-care a constant in your life. Create a list of ways you can apply self-care on a daily basis. Start with one or two items and continue to build your list. You might find that the more attentive you are to your own self-care, the greater capacity you will have to care for others.
Blog written by Marie Gorski MFN,RD,LD
Marie Gorski is a Registered Dietitian with the Gateway Region YMCA. Click here to learn more about working one-on-one with Marie!