When we think of hunger and self-care, we don’t often draw the connection together. We tend to keep self-care in one bucket and the reasons we are hungry in another. But self-care plays a very big part in how well you can hear hunger and fullness cues, as well as how you treat your body. When you have good self-care, you are more attuned, responsive and connected to your body.
What comes to mind when you think of self-care? Some people think of massages and pedicures, but when you look at the definition of self-care, that isn’t what you’ll find. In her article, “What Self-Care Is-and What It Isn’t,” Raphailia Michael defines self-care as any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health.
The boxes to check for physical self- care might seem obvious. Do you get enough sleep? Do you go to regular dental and medical check-ups? Do you take time off from work or school when you’re sick? Do you engage in physical activity that you enjoy, several days a week?
When we look at physical self-care with food, it isn’t necessarily the what with food, but the when and how. Certainly, eating nutrient rich foods that fuel and energize your body is an act of self-care. But what is equally important to look at, is the frequency of your eating. Do you skip meals when you are pressed for time? Do you go long periods of time without eating? Do you multitask when you are eating? All of these are important when we look at how you’re taking care of yourself.
Skipping meals or going too long in between meals, is one of the biggest set-ups with overeating. This may be because you have a crazy work day, you’re running late, or you just didn’t have time. But often there is a rebound effect that will happen. Let’s say you have a busy work day and don’t eat anything for 6-8 hours, maybe even longer, you “just work through it.” While this may feel beneficial to your work, it is not beneficial to you. You are often met with ravenous, primal hunger and likely engage in a lot of eating or binging into the night, as your body is playing catch up. What often happens, is that you stay stuck in the shame of this eating versus looking at how you’re not taking care of your body during the day. It’s easy to stay in this mindset of “I keep messing up or I can’t control myself at night,” rather than looking at the whole picture. Making time for meals, eating every 3-4 hours is the ideal of honoring and caring for your body. The consistency with this allows you to recognize your hunger more clearly and trust your body more.
Multi-tasking while eating is probably one of the most common disrupters that many engage in. Whether this is reading, checking emails, watching tv or being on your phone. For some, it’s a matter of needing to be productive and not wanting “take the time” to eat. The issue in that, is pretty clear. You’re not prioritizing you. For others, it’s something to do while you are eating.
Your brain will always register visually over listening to your body. Especially when you aren’t quite attuned to your body and hunger and fullness cues are difficult to recognize. When you are not mindful when you are eating, you have more of a disconnect with your body. You’ll likely finish eating when the food is gone versus being aware of when your body has said it had enough. There will be times when your body does want all the food. But the difference is, being mindful that is what your body is asking for versus being on your phone and going for another bite of food and realizing that there is none left. The key is being connected and prioritizing the meal time.
Physical self-care plays an important part in how well you take care of yourself emotionally. Often if you are an emotional eater, you blame everything on emotion and can overlook the physical set ups that you may be engaging in. When you lack both physical and emotional self-care, you have a vicious storm that creates this tumultuous relationship with food and disconnect with your body.
Emotional self-care is something that we all need to work on. It is essentially, the relationship with you. You have emotional care disruptors when you feel guilty if you’re not productive, have difficulty managing stress or don’t know how to relax. You engage in harsh or critical self-talk. You judge, criticize and self-silence your feelings. All this build-up will come out one way or another, and often it will come out “sideways,” in unhealthy behaviors. This can be the set up and framework for emotional eating. Food becomes the soother and distractor, regardless of hunger.
When you look at taking care of yourself emotionally, it requires you to find compassion for yourself. It’s replacing the judgement you have for yourself, your body, your feelings and emotions, with awareness, respect, kindness and hopefully one day, love. It’s making time to reflect, to laugh, to relax and play. We forget as an adult how important play is. It’s engaging in things that are just fun, whether it’s productive or not.
Emotional self-care also includes looking at your relationships and the boundaries you keep. Do you have relationships that feel nourishing and supportive? Do you feel like you have people that you can rely on? Or do you tend to not want to burden others with your problems? Do you not say what you feel because you fear judgement or know that you will not be met with support? When this happens, there is such a hunger and craving for connection. There is an emptiness that needs to be filled. And while food may feel like that companion, there is always be the void until those relationships are changed or fostered.
This may mean putting yourself out there to meet new people. It may mean changing the dynamic of your current relationships and asking for a different side of you to show up. One that can ask for what you need or set boundaries in a way that honors you. This requires you to take up space and make your feelings known. It’s learning the beauty of the word ‘no.’ If you are a people pleaser, you are not overly familiar with this word. You tend to say yes to things, even when you are overscheduled or stressed, all for fear of what someone may think, or letting someone down. But that is where you must look at who you are really disappointing.
This is when food or even the lack of food comes in, depending on your pattern. Not setting a boundary or dealing with someone that you have an unhealthy relationship with, can create emotions that you do not know what do with. This discomfort that you feel, makes you want to stuff those feelings down or numb the feelings with not eating all day. Both of these patterns create an emotional reliance with the behavior with food. But when you really look at it, you can see that the only person that is hurting is you. You leave yourself and abandon self-care when food becomes the only outlet.
Hunger can seem so simple. You eat when your body tells you it’s time. But when you have been taught to ignore these cues and to applaud yourself when you do, you create more separation with yourself than you realize. When you are healing this relationship and trying to relearn how to listen to your body, you start to find that self-care- physically, mentally and emotionally create a connection to your body. It is this connection that allows you to hear your needs and to listen to all that she/he has to say. When you do that, the hunger you longed for is filled with love, compassion and kindness for yourself. A satisfaction that will leaving you feeling full, all day.