As I get older, people find more avenues into having inappropriate conversations with me, like about my body. Being a psychologist seems to only encourage people more. “Hey Jeff. I hope you are not offended by this, but what do you do to take care of your body?” At least, it is somewhat complimentary, and a far cry from, “Yikes! What do you to take care of your body?” It’s weird, but we are going to take advantage of the good parts by looking at Health Compassion. If it is helpful, I will share some of my secrets to staying in shape.
Health Compassion is what I am calling self-compassion for your health. It involves acknowledging that your body and brain work hard. They need the best fuel to help them manage life’s challenges. We need to be aware of what our bodies are asking of us, when we find ourselves under great stress, enveloped in sadness, or even excited. Any strong mood shift normally comes with biological changes that we try to adapt to by adding food. Rarely, do we think, “There is a crazy mood shift. Maybe I won’t eat anything.” Our thought process tends to be more like, “Good grief that stinks. Maybe there is something I could eat.”
Health Compassion is important because it allows us to focus on what our body is actually telling us that it needs, instead of our normal concerns about how others view our bodies. Making decisions about your body based on others’ expectations is always going to feel like a violation because your body has real needs that it is communicating to you at all times, and you are ignoring them. Take it from a psychologist, your body will not fulfill all of other people’s needs. They should be focused on their own bodies. So, forget about what other people have to say about your body, it is clear that they have no idea what they are talking about.
That is more than enough time spent on other people’s issues, let’s get back to your needs. To keep your body prepared to engage the world in a way that brings you the most well being, you need to have four things: self-compassion, diet, fitness, and willingness.
For self-compassion, you need to monitor how you feel, especially when your body is telling you that a lot of food is the cure. That is normally the sign that a lot of food is not the cure. When you are feeling driven to eat, notice your body. Identify any points of tension. Soften around those points of tension. Follow your breath, and notice your thoughts as they come up. What emotions are connected to those thoughts? Do you feel, angry, sad, stressed, happy, mad? Can you just allow yourself to be with this feeling, and let it pass? What action can you take that will allow you to accept this feeling (so you don’t feel like you have to apologize for it), and also bring kindness to your experience?
Maybe you have not eaten all day, and you are actually hungry. In that case, think about what you might eat that will give you lasting energy. Because our species lived so many years where starvation was a real risk for anyone, our genetic coding has not changed enough for us to not have the same worries, even if only on an unconscious level. This is why we load up on carbohydrates. They give us energy that lasts, and decreases our risk of starvation. Unfortunately, if we are not at risk for starvation, and load up on them anyway, they have a tendency to bloat us, and provide the kind of energy dips that put us on an emotional roller coaster.
In most cases, we are not hungry, but rather unhappy, and we eat to chase away the unhappiness. This little trick might be helpful in an immediate way, but its lasting effects normally create more unhappiness and burden, the aforementioned energy crash, mood swings, and undesired weight gain. If this sounds like you, fear not you are in good company. We all go through this. Sometimes, we make helpful choices. Sometimes, we make unhelpful choices. People like to label these decisions by good and bad because there is great drama in morality, and we love drama, but people who make better decisions about what to put in their body are not morally superior, they simply make healthy choices in one part of their life. We are not our bodies. We are much more than that. We simply want to support them because they work so hard for us.
This brings us to diet. Friends and patients a like ask me, “What should I put in my body?” My answer is a pretty standard, “Whatever it needs to be in balance.” When you are dehydrated, you need more water. We almost never have enough water, so water tends to be a good response to most things. Prior to 6pm, caffeine can help with drowsiness, when consumed in moderate amounts. When we consume too much caffeine, it actually places stress on the body, leaving us more tired than before and susceptible to stress related issues, such as panic, headaches, and sickness. I say 6pm because most people go to bed by 11pm or 12pm, and caffeine does not last in most people longer than 5 or 6 hours. We do not want the caffeine to keep you up, when it is time to sleep!
Our protein and vegetable consumption is important because these are two direct ways that we are able to get our body access to energy quickly, and in a way that supports rather than harms it. Too many vegetables probably will not hurt you, but at some point, they will not help. Too much protein is simply exhausting for your body, which still has to convert it into energy. Plus, if you consume 5 billion calories, you are definitely going to face issues with weight gain. Of course, this explains why small meals throughout the day are so helpful to our bodies.
Word to the wise, make sure you have healthy foods available, and do not keep them in your desk. If you do not have healthy foods available, your body will take what it can get. If you keep large amounts of food in your desk, you may be prone to consuming large quantities while you work. This is why most people suggest that you do not eat, while working. Work tends to be about taking in more, which promotes more eating. A split attention means that you will have less awareness about when your body has all that it needs, and you will also be prone to eating more if work has you feeling stressed.
Again, we all do this. When you find yourself doing this, just acknowledge it. Remind yourself that like all people you make decisions, at times, that are not helpful to you. Be kind to yourself, and then relocate your food. This may be as simple as keeping a lunch bag. I have a friend, who brought a beanbag into work, so that she can step away from her desk and have lunch or a healthy snack on the beanbag.
Finally, some people associate healthy food with food that does not taste good. If you are one of these people, then you need to sign on to the exciting adventure of finding delicious foods that are good for you. You can only be lazy if you naturally like everything. If you have discerning tastes and you want to be successful in finding food that works for you, you have to be as discerning in what you eat as your taste buds. Do not be fooled. All unhealthy food is not delicious, and all healthy food is not gross. That is just our way of not wanting to adjust to eating different foods, and society’s way of trying to sell you easy to make food that lasts a long time. It is much harder to sell things that are healthy for you, and perish quicker, but that does not mean that you should not do what your body needs.
The kindness I do for my body every day is that I plan a workout into my daily routine. Normally, I go in the morning because I work for the rest of the day. Also, that which you put off is always made more difficult by the time that has passed. Like calling a friend or making an important phone call, if you do it right away it is done. If you give yourself time to think about it, you will have less motivation and more reasons why you simply do not have the time.
Your body needs the fitness. All bodies do. The more fit a body is the more it is able to respond to all types of stressors, the better you will sleep, the better your brain will run, and the more energy you will have available. I not only need all of these positives to do my job and to be there for my friends and family, but I had a debilitating stomach illness that it keeps at bay. All I need to do to not go back to the hospital for intestinal pain is to go to the gym every day. Sign me up!
You have to make exercise fun. I like to pick a skill to work on because I love to see that skill grow, and it peaks my interest. It would be a lot harder to do something I hated. I also pick out clothes that I really like that have vibrant colors. The colors give me energy, and the clothes make me excited about going to the gym. I do not wear the clothes for other people. I am a guy. The truth is that most guys could care less about fashion, but I dig it, and I use it as motivation to go the gym.
Find a place to work out that feels supportive. Where you workout affects how you feel about working out. If you go to a place where people are uninspired or judgmental, you will have less energy, and you will feel punished for going. It would not be very self-compassionate of you to keep going there! I train at a boxing gym that is focused on uplifting people, and supporting them on working towards their goals. Gyms that are based on skill development and accept a wide range of skill levels can sometimes be more helpful than basic gyms open to everyone in which different fitness levels can sometimes promote judgment.
Most importantly, be yourself. I love to dance and I love music. Since I began training in gyms, I have always picked music I loved, and danced to it in between sets or rounds. The truth is the only people that have judged me either cannot dance or are not having fun. I just ignore them. What have I got to lose, less happiness and poorer dancing? No thanks! Being myself has kept me happy, and coming back to the gym for a long time.
This is the step that you cannot skip. You have to be willing to go. You do not always have to like it or even be excited by it, but you always have to be wiling to go. Fake it in the beginning if you do not love it. It is a lot easier to keep doing something that you have started then to stop doing it. While you are faking it, look for your reason to want to go.
Do as little work as possible to get to the gym. I always get my gym stuff ready the night before, and put the stuff I do not need in the morning in my car. Sometimes, we wake up exhausted and stressed. Who wants to think about what to where then? Not me. I drink my coffee, have my morning shake, and get out of there as soon as possible. I want to go to the gym before my body changes its mind. I often hear people say that they are too tired or do not have time. It is understandable, and would be even more so, if it was not a necessity. Make time, and go, even when you are tired. That strategy has helped me be successful for a long time. I almost always feel better after I have gone to the gym even when I have been really sleep deprived.
That is it. What? You wanted more? Not today. Pay attention to your body. Notice what it needs, experiment with compassion techniques, diet, and fitness to address its requirements better every day. Change your daily strategy to fit this newly found wisdom, and whatever you do never give up on finding ways to make it fun and supportive of who you are and what you like. You deserve to be happy, and it is your body. Why not take care of it like your life depended on it? No pressure, but it does.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 97. In The Books.