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 and shameful.

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.  We 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.

 

 

*From Buckroyd, J. & Rother, S. (eds) (2008) “Psychological Responses to Eating Disorders and Obesity” (Chichester: Wiley).

How Do You Prove to Yourself That You Care?

Self-care – that old chestnut.  Right now, it feels like we can’t move for people telling us we should care about ourselves.

It’s great in theory, but what about in practice?

Many of us yearn for healthy self-esteem.  We think “if I lose weight that will make me feel better about myself” but, while it might make us feel better physically, it doesn’t increase how much we care about ourselves.

Continue reading “How Do You Prove to Yourself That You Care?”

Food for Thought: Unlocking Self-Compassion

“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent.  They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line.  Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be”.

– Kristen Neff

That self-critical voice has such authority, doesn’t it?  We think “if I just strive to be the person it tells me I should be, then one day I’ll be OK”.

But that day will never come.

The day will never come when that negative voice in our head says “well done, you’re worthy, now you deserve to look after yourself”. Its sole motivation is to make us feel not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not successful enough, not enough, not enough, not enough…

Continue reading “Food for Thought: Unlocking Self-Compassion”

Food for Thought: Knowing Yourself

“You’ve got to know yourself so you can at last be yourself” – D.H. Lawrence

We know when we meet someone who’s at ease with themselves.  They know who they are and they’re comfortable in their own skin. There’s no need for them to impress, play games or apologise for themselves.

If all we’ve ever experienced is disharmony within, we might envy them. “I wish I were like that”, we think.  “Life must be so uncomplicated for them”.

The irony is that in order to be ourselves we often believe we need to be someone else entirely – someone better.  Or, at the very least, we must “fix” what we believe is “wrong” about us.

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Are You Committed to Your Destination?

I remember the day I wanted to give up.

I was at home.  It was a warm, bright morning and sunlight was streaming into the study.  I was heading towards the door but, as I passed my desk, something stopped me.

A simple thought.

“This is too hard”.

I’d worked so hard to understand my issues with food and myself but, despite my efforts, I couldn’t make enough sense of them to consistently affect my eating behaviour.  Although my bingeing had stopped, I was still eating when I knew I wasn’t hungry.  It felt like an impossible struggle with no way out.

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Gentle Reminder: It’s Just Food

Some food has a higher nutritional content than other food.  Some food is produced more ethically than other food.  Neither of these facts can be disputed.

What is up for debate is how helpful it is for you psychologically and emotionally to label food as “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”.

If you consider one food more off-limits or “naughty” than another, which one are you most likely to reach for when you’ve had a bad day?  Or when you need a pick-me-up?  Or when you want to treat yourself?

Put it another way:  we don’t binge on broccoli.

Continue reading “Gentle Reminder: It’s Just Food”

Expert Insight: What We Really Lose When We Diet

“I started each new diet with burning enthusiasm – this was going to be the diet to beat all the others, this time I was really going to lose weight and keep it off forever.  I never did.  Every single diet ended with me regaining all the weight I had lost, plus a few pounds extra.  What I did lose, I had not intended to lose – I lost time, I lost energy, I lost me”.

Dr Cherie Martin, “Naturally Slim Without Dieting”

It breaks my heart when I see a young woman on Instagram hating herself for not being able to stick to her slimming club’s diet plan, dreading her next weigh-in and vowing to do better tomorrow.  What will tomorrow bring for her?  More of the same and, in all likelihood, a life-long messed-up relationship with food.

Perhaps you were once that young woman.

I was.

Continue reading “Expert Insight: What We Really Lose When We Diet”