Making Healthy Choices from a Place of Self-Nurturing

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If we approach healthy living from a place of guilt, shame and self-criticism, we may find ourselves trapped in cycles of yo-yo dieting or unrealistic exercise plans that inevitably always fail.

Rather than exercising and eating well because we want to or because it feels good, we might be making choices based on emotive should’s and shouldn’t’s; because we feel that we are doing things wrong. Trying to stay healthy from this place of feeling bad about ourselves often doesn’t work. However, if we cultivate a sense of self-nurturing awareness, it becomes much easier to take care of our bodies.

Are We Punishing Ourselves?

If we notice that we’ve been putting on weight or that our physical fitness is not as good as it used to be, it’s common to feel that we’ve let ourselves down, or that we’re lazy or bad in some way. We recognise that our bodies don’t feel good, yet rather than listening to what it needs and nurturing it with care, we may start punishing it because we feel ashamed of ourselves.

For example, say we’ve been busy with work, so we’ve been eating unhealthy convenience food and we haven’t exercised in a long time. Our shame might drive us to become very restrictive about what we can and can’t eat, or we might put ourselves through gruelling exercise routines to make up for all the time we’ve spent not being active.

When we do this, however, we step out of the present moment, away from listening to our bodies and what they need. Rather than acknowledging that we want to change our habits with a sense of self-compassion and patience, we become stuck in self-criticism and rigid rules.

Although we may find that we’re able to stick to our new regime for a short while, it sure feels like hard work, like we’re constantly fighting ourselves. Just one slip up can make us feel like everything is ruined, and soon enough we’re back to our old unhealthy habits.

This is because our foundation for health is built upon unstable, negative emotions. In the same way that a romantic relationship can’t flower from resentment or bitterness, our relationship with our own body can’t be healthy and complete if we’re always telling ourselves that we’re bad and wrong.

Shifting Our Focus

Instead of focussing on what we’re doing wrong, and trying to enforce change, we can shift our focus onto cultivating self-compassion and self-nurturing. This way, healthy habits can flourish organically. When we become more attuned to our physical needs, we’ll naturally want to take action to meet them.

So if we find ourselves in a situation like the one above, where we’ve not been eating well and not been exercising, rather than jumping into self-criticism, we can instead pause and try to notice how our bodies feel in a kind, non-judgemental way.

Do we feel tired? Drained? Are we having trouble sleeping? Do our muscles feel weak? Do we feel lethargic or bloated after eating unhealthy foods? If a loved one felt this way, would we dump guilt on them? Probably not! We’d more likely want to help nurture them back to health. And we can do this for ourselves too.

Making Choices in the Moment

Tuning into our bodies on a regular basis can help us make healthier choices, not from guilt, but from a place of honouring our body’s current needs. Approaching health this way makes everything more manageable, because we are taking each moment as it comes, and adjusting slowly to a new way of being.

So, for example, we are feeling lethargic and weak because we haven’t been giving our bodies the right nutrients or amount of exercise. What do we do? We can pause to assess how we feel in this moment. In this quiet space of reflection, we have the opportunity to step out of our regular, auto-pilot pattern, and so instead of buying junk food for dinner like we usually do, we notice that our body would prefer something healthier, like some vegetables and fish, for example.

If we notice that our mind is jumping ahead, thinking about how we’ll eat vegetables and fish every day, we can patiently and compassionately re-focus our attention to right now, and instead think, “Today I will eat healthily. Tomorrow I will tune into my body again and see what it needs then.” The same approach can work for exercise. If we go out for a run today, we can notice how it makes our body feel. If it feels good, then we might think, “I will try and do this again, because I like how it makes my body feel. I’ll tune into my body tomorrow, and see what feels right.”

Once we start listening to ourselves, with compassion, we’ll start to build a different relationship with our bodies. Rather than fighting against it, or trying to restrict and limit it with rigid rules, we become more present with ourselves, more grounded in the moment. We’ll start to notice which foods make us feel bad, and which give us energy. We’ll notice the difference in our bodies when we exercise.

By becoming more mindful, we’re likely to find that our bodies naturally start to guide us towards what it needs, rather than having to make a forced effort with our minds.

 

Would you like to learn more about to replace self-criticism with self-compassion? Join the 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course. 

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