It was only 3:30 in the afternoon, and I was slumped on my couch. One hand was scrolling aimlessly through social media, the other was shoveling potato chips into my mouth. My daughter’s current favorite show was running for what felt like the millionth time. I’d been sitting there, wasting away and shoving my face for nearly half an hour.
Fun fact: I don’t even eat potato chips. Well, except for when experiencing those awkward first few minutes before someone has broken the ice at an occasional social gathering. Or perhaps when these potato chips are surrounded by multiple creamy dips, spicy salsas, and other treats and snacks at a Superbowl party.
I had in fact bought the potato chips as a treat for my husband. They’re his favorite. Yet here I was, mindlessly consuming hundreds of empty calories without so much as a twinkle of enjoyment.
It’s easy to make excuses for things like this. In fact, it’s way more socially acceptable right now to “Treat yourself!” because, as a hard-working mama, “I deserve it!” After all, a few chips won’t do that much damage, and “there’s no such thing as bad food” anyway.
Although some of that may be true, while sitting on my couch eating those chips out of boredom (and maybe a little self-loathing), I wasn’t feeling “treated.” I wasn’t enjoying myself or the food.
Later, when I guiltily shoved the empty bag into the bottom of the trash can, I certainly wasn’t feeling like I’d done something special for myself that I deserved, either. In fact, now I just wanted a large glass of wine to wash down all that excess salt, along with my self-pity and shame.
Obviously, the deed was done. However, when I look back on my behavior and wish to change it for a better future self, how can I? What’s my answer here?
Should I never eat chips or other delicious salty snacks? Never indulge in my sweet tooth or guilty pleasures for fear of how they may make me look, and more importantly feel after? Not only does that sound overly restrictive and mildly crazy, but also like a very boring life.
The hard truth is that far too often when we think we should “treat” ourselves, we should instead focus on what our body and mind actually need. We should look beyond the momentary craving and think about what will not only satisfy us in the moment, but beyond the now and into a longer period of time.
What is our body asking for? Why are we suddenly craving these things? How is our mental health right now? What are our emotions telling us?
Anxiety and boredom can have us reaching for all sorts of bags and boxes hidden within our pantry walls. However, will this self-medication and excuse for self-care in the form of food or beverages make us feel happy, satisfied, or even peaceful once it has been consumed? Or will it keep us shoving our hands in for more of the same emptiness?
Maybe, when we are stressed, pouring ourselves a cup of peppermint or herbal tea and picking up the phone to call a friend or family member is a far better option than a third glass of cabernet. Through this healthier alternative, we are taking the time to enjoy a hot, soothing beverage that works to calm our nerves, relax our bodies, and quiet our minds.
Plus, it doesn’t have all that extra sugar and calories, along with the inflammation to only make us feel guilty and sad the next morning. That, in turn, will only continue to enhance the desire for more fake “self-care.”
Choosing a cup of tea over alcohol seems pretty straightforward, right? But what about the other less obvious areas of our lives? What about the daily monotonous chores? What about when the dishes have piled up, the countertops are a mess, and the floor desperately needs a good vacuum?
Sometimes work has been insane, your boyfriend is mad at you (or vice versa), and you haven’t gone to the gym in a month, let alone taken some time for any “self-care” this week. A long bubble bath followed by delivery food, a pint of ice cream, and a Netflix and chill session seems to be the obvious cure.
Yet the next morning your alarm will jerk you awake just six hours later (because that series was so good you couldn’t stop at one episode). You’ll stumble into the kitchen for your first of many cups of coffee, and see the state of your kitchen is enough to send you desperately crawling back under the covers again.
Whether it involves food or not, lasting self-care is usually not the popular, easy option. It’s usually not sitting back and ignoring your chores, troubles, or decisions in hopes that they take care of themselves.
True self-care generally doesn’t come in the form of alcohol, sugar, or over-indulging in snacks and treats that will only leave you feeling guilty later. Instead, it comes in the not-so-pretty form of doing the hard and stressful work. It comes in making healthier food decisions and oftentimes, even saying “no” to random cravings, social invites, and that third glass of wine.
There is a better way! If you had buckled down and cleaned that kitchen, you would not have had that added stress (and mess!) to deal with first thing in the morning. When you choose tea, sparkling water, or other healthier options over alcohol, you save yourself from a hangover, which almost always comes with feelings of shame and regret. A short walk in the sunshine will always bring more joy, added heart health benefits, and refreshment than 30 minutes of scrolling through social media with a bag of chips.
When we consistently choose true self-care, when we “treat” our body and mind with the things they really need on a regular basis, then we can occasionally indulge and take a break without all the negative effects. In that case, we have done the work, over and over again. We’ve imperfectly stumbled through each day, yet mindfully cared for ourselves and our bodies on a fairly regular basis.
Now, we are able to truly enjoy that hot bubble bath and the occasional second glass of wine. That’s because this time when we get out, the house is tidy and the dishes are already done. We have hydrated and fed our body with the nutrients it needs beforehand, so the full-bodied red wine relaxes us instead of setting our emotions off the rail.
These “better” choices are nearly never easy. They may even make you a tad frustrated at first. However, the benefits will certainly outweigh the negatives and help keep you constantly moving toward your goals for real happiness and health. This, my friends, is true self-care.