Monday, February 21, 2011

Self Care & the Mother

I read a lot online.  I spend some time on Facebook, some time on online parenting forums, other times just browsing random places.  My online community is much like my "in real life" community, primarily women &  mothers, many of whom have young children.  There are several topics of conversation that seem to surface within this community: discipline, frustration, mental health, physical wellness, nutrition & body image being some of the more common discussions.

I wanted to focus specifically on the last four topics.  Mental health, physical wellness, nutrition and body image. I think that they are all tied to one another.  Our image of our self effects our mental heath, our physical health, and how we eat.  Our mental health effects our physical health, the way we eat and our body image.  You get the idea, each has an impact on the other.

Body Image seems to be the area in which women realize, "I need to change something".  Post baby body.  Perhaps in caring for our familes, we've neglected to care for ourselves.  As a result, we've stopped exercising regularly, and have either begun to be careless with eating or have been making poor nutritional choices in favour of convenience.  Sometimes the poor nutritional choices are a result of addictionstress, or depression.  The result often being poor self image.  I've seen many women at this point, deciding it's time to lose weight.  Time for some self care.

I was at this point three years ago, after I had our third baby.  I weighed 190 lbs, and felt very uncomfortable in my body.   Time to lose some weight, and the journey of self care began.  I started with the Weight Watchers diet, quite likely the most common calorie restriction diet.  At this point, I had already realized that fat is GOOD!  So, I didn't purposefully restrict fat or protein.  I lost 20 lbs with ease.

January 2008 - 190 lbs

I continued eating a Traditional Foods diet for the following year and a half.  My hair grew long, life became unbearably busy.  I began practicing yoga very casually in the fall of 2008, attending a mom & kids class.   I also tried to keep active by attending fitness classes and working out.  While, there was a degree of self care going on - the hair continued to grow long, I wasn't reading for fun (and my memory, and ability to converse with intellegence was diminished) and I was still not comfortable in my body.  

I thought that I was pretty healthy at this point.  Until, I saw a photograph of myself, and realized that although I was active, this was not the body I wanted: 
June (really!  in a touque!!) 2009 175 lbs 

The body I wanted was strong, lean (I don't mean skinny when I say this) and full of energy.  It was at this point that I discovered the Primal Blueprint, thanks to a good friend who had been eating this way for about six months and was feeling (and looking) great!!  At first, I thought the Primal Blueprint was really weird, and slightly confusing.  I didn't really like the reference to "Grok" and the idea of eating & living like an archetypal image of the caveman made me feel uncomfortable.  But, the more I read, the more I wanted to learn.  Eventually, I was convinced and I started eating & exercising primally.  I lost weight quickly and with ease, and was down to 150lbs within 2 months.  

I've been eating and exercising primally since then (with one break between December and February of 2009/2010), and have maintained my weight with ease while also gaining a fair amount of muscle.   My exercise routine is simply body weight work (yoga) combined with a lot of walking (low level cardio) and the occasional sprint (sometimes hill sprints, sometimes on the treadmill, other times a rowing machine or stationary bike).  

My point isn't LOOK AT ME!! LOOK AT ME!! In fact, I'm not even going to post a photo of what I look like now.  Its about the journey.  I think we often get "stuck"  in certain behaviour patterns.  We eat what we've always eaten (even if its not good for us), we move how we've always moved (even if its not good for us), or we stop moving all together, we stop cutting our hair, we let our feet get cracked and dry, we stop reading for pleasure (although, we may read a parenting book now and then), we seek out community online and stop connecting with our real life friends or perhaps we stop seeking real life friends all together,  we stop going out, we spend our time caring for others and stop caring for ourselves.  I could make a very long list of ways in which mothers begin to lose the ability to care for themselves.  Perhaps not everyone can relate to all of these ways in which we stop caring for ourselves, but I imagine most mothers have experienced one or two of these.  

I can relate to most of them.  I also found myself in a cycle of depression, which I've later discovered to be Bipolar Disorder.    Many of the ways in which I stopped caring for myself were related to depression.  But, I also believe that lack of self care, particularly for myself, can be a trigger for a depressive state.  

Eating well, moving your body, connecting with your friends, are all vital in maintaining contentment. This is not to say that depression can be "cured" by doing these things - depression is complex and often requires medication and therapy in order to move toward healing.  I'm arguing that self care is also crucial in maintaining wellness both mentally & physically.   Wellness is essential when healing from depression. 

My journey toward self care began with eating primally.  Then I made a decision a year ago to commit to getting my hair cut coloured every 8 weeks.  This was a small change and perhaps a bit superficial but this change has made a significant impact upon how I feel about myself.  It's also allowed me to pamper myself on a regular basis. 

I've made other changes too.  I've committed to a regular yoga & meditation practice, which includes signing up for a year long yoga teacher training course.  I've begun to buy books and read for pleasure, I've also begun to do logic puzzles in at attempt to actively challenge my often under used left brain. (Primal Blueprint Law # 10).  I have started taking supplements, something I never thought I'd do.  But, our modern diet - no matter how much we try -  is lacking many of the minerals and vitamins we need.  I've chosen to supplement with vitamin d , magnesium, B12, and Fish Oil.  

I'm experimenting with other ways of self care, but I think these types of things can be individual.  Be that finding a hobby you enjoy, pampering yourself regularly, committing to spending face time with your friends, finding and meeting new friends, playing a sport you enjoy or exploring new music.  

In the end, I'm always trying to be mindful of all 10 Primal Blueprint Laws.  I think these are a recipe for wellness and self care.  How you interpret them is up to you but, the point that should be made is that we need to approach wellness & contentment with a whole body approach.  Our body image is intrinsically tied to our diet, which is tied to our mental health & physical well being.  All of these factors work together & sometimes they even work against each other.  As mothers, we need to place importance upon self care and the path toward doing so is unique for everybody.  

So, whenever I read on forums about women starting their journey into self care I get very excited.  When I read "I've had enough, its time to lose weight" - I always want to jump in and introduce them to yoga or the Primal Blueprint.  I try to be very encouraging.  I think weight loss is a wonderful goal, it allows us to feel comfortable in our bodies.  But, I think changing the way we eat MUST only be the tip of the iceberg.  We must also see how doing this changes us physically and how beginning to move our bodies can enhance that.  Then, we need to look very closely at how proper nutrition can effect all of this and examine how this makes us feel.  

I also want to say that fad dieting, calorie restriction, over exercising to the point of injury (errr.... 30 day shred, c25k??) are not paths to self care.  It is my experience that true self care must be holistic and mindful.  I believe it's important to analyze what you are doing from the perspective of  how it is effecting your entire body.  Emotionally, physically, and spiritually.   What is your goal?  Is it longevity, vitality & contentment?  Or is it only to look good in a bathing suit?  

Take some time to figure out a path to wellness that nourishes YOU and then DO it. You deserve it!!