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.

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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”

Gentle Reminder: You’re Not Who You Think You Are

Do you ever feel like a walking contradiction?

Does it feel as though you hold conflicting beliefs about yourself simultaneously?

It’s not unusual to have paradoxes within us.  The tension they create is often what brings us to counselling.

Clients frequently share with me what they think about themselves – “I’m greedy”, “I’m lazy”, “no one likes me”, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m a failure”.

Sometimes when they’re in the middle of describing themselves negatively, they do something quite astonishing.

Continue reading “Gentle Reminder: You’re Not Who You Think You Are”

What Do Other People Think Of You?

It’s a beautiful, sunny day and you’re taking a stroll.  A group of girls approaches. As they pass you, they burst into a fit of giggles.

“They’re laughing at me” is your immediate thought, as grey clouds descend in your mind.

You’re having a meal at your favourite restaurant.  You look up mid-mouthful and catch the eye of a fellow diner who’s frowning.

The food instantly turns bitter in your mouth, preceded by the thought: “He thinks I shouldn’t be eating this because I’m fat”.

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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.

Continue reading “Food for Thought: Knowing Yourself”