Expert Insight: The Self-Care Gender Gap

“One gender-related theme that stood out was related to caretaking. Every woman in the study, but none of the men, reported putting others before themselves…

Tina was a compulsive eater who used food as a way to practise self-care. During the second interview, she began to realise how taking care of others led her to eat: “I had no down time. I had no time for myself and I think I was using food more than I had been to take the edge off and medicate myself, reward myself, treat myself”.

– Patricia Goodspeed Grant, “Social and Emotional Origins of Comfort Eating”

Tina was a 54-year-old psychiatric nurse who took part in a small research study looking at how social and cultural factors contribute to overeating. Tina had spent all her life taking care of others and turning to food to take care of herself.

Another participant, Lottie, learnt to be self-sacrificing from watching her mother who she described as “the ultimate caretaker”. Lottie explained: “you teach the lessons that you live better than those that you say. You tell your children you should do this or do that but they’re watching you and that’s what they pick up”.

Girls are often taught from a young age that putting other people’s needs ahead of their own is a virtue, while identifying and meeting their own needs is selfish.

It’s no surprise the vast majority of my clients are women. Many, many of them work in caring professions – as nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and support workers to name but a few. They spend their working day taking care of others. The rest of their time is often devoted to looking after family members.

Is it any wonder then they repeatedly find themselves mindlessly emptying the contents of the fridge into their mouths? Like Tina, it’s the only way they can “medicate”, “reward” and “treat” themselves. There’s simply no space in their lives for their own needs, not that they would consider them anyway.

If we truly want to solve the so-called “obesity epidemic”, in addition to putting an end to dieting, we must correct the message to young girls that their needs should be sacrificed in favour of taking care of others.

It’s not right.

It’s not fair.

But it’s not enough to say it. We have to show it. Women need to model the self-compassion necessary to identify our emotional needs and demonstrate the self-confidence to meet them appropriately.

There’s no need for women to be self-sacrificing and there’s no reason why men can’t be nurturing (many of them are).

Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s self-preservation.

We all have the right to look after ourselves.

All of us.

No exceptions.

©️ Julie de Rohan 2019.



Goodspeed Grant, P. (2008) “Food for the Soul: Social and Emotional Origins of Comfort Eating in the Morbidly Obese”, in Buckroyd, J. & Rother, S. (eds) “Psychological Responses to Eating Disorders and Obesity”. Chichester: Wiley.

26 thoughts on “Expert Insight: The Self-Care Gender Gap

  1. Terrific post, Julie. Week after week, you expose some veiled behaviours in our society that point to something much deeper going on. I think girls are brought up to be more other-oriented and to behave any differently is to be considered selfish – I know I was certainly brought up like this. The consequences of this message can be so profound. The cycle needs to be broken, probably by all of us, one at a time, Lxx

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    1. “The cycle needs to be broken, probably by all of us, one at a time” – I love that, wouldn’t it be great? Many thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lol, and the lovely feedback!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I always thought that the self-care gap in women case is related to the education level, for an example here in some villages, the woman is still treated as a maid, she must work in the house, prepare food, take care of children. etc…other than that she doesn’t have any other role, I don’t know about the food and self-care relation, for an example my mother put her family always first, she hardly has time for her self but doesn’t care about food, probably smoking here is the alternative but I didn’t know that well educated women can have such a problem, for an example new generations nowadays are different, the women are more selfish, sometimes in a bad way but sometimes in a good way (I mean they think about their need and their-selves and their future before anything else) so it’s hard to decide if it’s a gender issue or education issue
    Sorry but I don’t know if I made my point 🙂
    Thank you for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you made your point, Huguette – I understand what you’re saying. There’s a gender gap in many areas – education, pay, expectation etc – I’m just highlighting here the message that women are often given about putting other people’s needs first and how that relates to overeating in particular. I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and add to the conversation.

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  3. Great observation – It is definitely an ingrained thing that females work towards group success whereas males work towards personal achievement on the whole. Supermums, who try to do everything, may be then modelling the wrong behaviours to their children. Lots to think about here!

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    1. Hi Kim – that’s such a good point about “Supermums”. We’re often encouraged to be able to do everything – career, children etc. – and for some women it’s very important to be seen to have it all together, but it often comes at a price. As you say, what’s the message children, especially girls, are receiving? Great to have your take on this, glad the post was thought-provoking!

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  4. Thank you for sharing!.. 🙂

    “When someone tells you “you’ve changed”, it might be because you have stopped living your life their way”.. John Pence

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  5. “There’s no need for women to be self-sacrificing and there’s no reason why men can’t be nurturing (many of them are).

    Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s self-preservation.

    We all have the right to look after ourselves”………

    Yes as women, especially being wives and mother’s we have many duties and responsibilities and tend to neglect ourselves. But we need to be in good health to do all that. I also agree with you and it is true, “Self-care is necessary and it is Not being selfish and we need to “Take Care of ourselves” Many Blessings coming your way from me 🙂 ❤

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