when i was a kid i thought growing up would mean never having to eat vegetables. like many of us, i spent my elementary school years–the early 90s–in a love affair with junk food. we didn’t keep it in the house, so any visit to a friend’s was an exciting opportunity for a pre-diabetic feast; the average suburban pantry felt like willy wonka’s factory.
but by the time i was 11, i had eschewed pizza & gushers for what we now call “clean” eating. i had gone through puberty early & carried weight that most of my female classmates didn’t yet carry, in places we hadn’t yet been taught that we would all eventually carry it. pair that with the fact that we were living in the throes of “fat free” culture, and before i had even technically hit adolescence my eating behaviors were orthorexic.
while my diet looked pretty healthy on its face, in reality my behaviors lacked flexibility, and my motivation was fear, discipline, & black-and-white thinking, not wellness & nurturing. i was at the beginning of what would turn into a 20-year battle with anorexia and bulimia.
it took me getting very sick to get better. for 16 years i delved deeper into this dysfunctional framework, and for another 4 i struggled with false starts trying to build and assimilate to a new, better one. when i came out the other side with a completely different view of health, food and my body, the amount of work that remained to be done was substantial; this played a big role in my becoming a holistic nutritionist rather than a dietician.
if you have struggled or are struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating, i see you. if you’re scared that things will never get better, or even more scared of what it would look like if they did, i see you. if you are healing your body, or your soul, but have trouble recognizing or feeling proud of your resilience, i see you. and if you bear the emotional weight of loving someone with an eating disorder, i see you, too.
GRATITUDE has become a mainstream wellness buzzword in the past decade. and for good reason–research supports the long-touted alternative wellness assertion about the benefits of a gratitude practice to mental AND physical health. whether you’re new to gratitude as a wellness concept or working on your positivity ratio, read on for a (very brief) primer on gratitude.
first, it’s important to emphasize that gratitude is NOT the same as toxic positivity. having gratitude does not mean you need to dismiss feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, worry or despair; it does not mean pretending everything feels ok when it doesn’t. rather, think of gratitude as a mindfulness practice, bringing your awareness to things for which you can feel awe, joy or appreciation. (i even count a shift from an observation of negativity to one of neutral curiosity as a stepping stone in the gratitude department!)
practicing gratitude is a powerful tool for supporting mental health. it can be grounding, which is especially important for those of us who struggle to get out of our minds and into our bodies. this grounding can help us feel competent, worthy, and connected, and improves resilience by reducing feelings of overwhelm and chipping away at hopelessness.
the physical benefits are also many, including improvements to sleep quality and immune strength. importantly, practicing gratitude can activate your parasympathetic nervous system (you might have heard it referred to as the “rest and digest” system), which can lower blood pressure, inflammation, and stress activation responses.
gratitude is frequently referred to as a practice because its effects are cumulative. remember that gratitude is a skill that takes time to master, and that it’s ok to start small! have compassion for yourself as you develop this new skill in your wellness toolkit, and gratitude for the fact that you’re trying!
this picture is one of the things for which i had gratitude yesterday: a lemon tree right outside my back door.
i frequently see depictions of self care as indulgent and enjoyable–full stop. and while it certainly can be that, self care can also be hard. work.
one of the major self care challenges that comes up a lot is around having to make executive decisions when things already feel hard. for example, when you don’t have an appetite but know you need to eat in order to feel better, or if you’re having a crying jag and want to decompress with some netflix but don’t know what would calm your system.
sometimes the easiest way to make sure your self care is accessible to you in crisis is to make these kinds of decisions ahead of time. for example, i keep notes about what foods i know i can make (depending on my level of energy) or order when my appetite is not cooperating but my body and brain need fuel. because i’ve historically struggled with perfectionism and black-and-white thinking, this also gives me permission to get takeout even if i have food at home or to eat a handful of nuts or piece of fruit instead of a full nutritious meal.
this photo is of honey hi, which serves fresh, seasonal, satisfying and fully gluten-free fare in los angeles and is one of my favorite self care “shortcuts.”
what are some areas of self care that can be challenging and shortcuts that you have developed to show up for yourself?
so glad that western medicine is starting to catch up to what holistic wellness has known for a long time! this is what i and my colleagues in nutrition, acupuncture, naturopathic medicine and other modalities have been doing for years.
if you’ve been curious about ways to improve your mental health and have questions about how a holistic approach can help, reach out for a complimentary 30-minute consultation!