Taking the full measure of life

Don’t Give Up On Taking Good Care of Yourself

February 19th, 2008 · 18 Comments

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We struggle when an element of our lives doesn’t go the way we have wanted or planned for it to go. Often, when the way seems too tough, we give up. We quit trying to swim against what seems a permanent current or undertow; we take the path of least resistance and let life float us in a different direction—or even let ourselves drown, as morbid as the analogy is.

There are certainly times when giving up, at least in some sense, is appropriate. Sometimes life hands us so much, so quickly, that we can’t begin to fathom what is going on—and that may be a time to give up the fight for a while and just try to process what’s going on.

When we have discovered that something we thought we wanted doesn’t work anymore, depending on the circumstances, that can be an excellent time to give up. When we have discovered we were doing something for all the wrong reasons, and we can think of no or few good reasons to continue on a path, that can be a good time to give up. These cases aren’t really giving up though, actually; they’re finding a new direction, which can require as much or more energy as maintaining the current momentum.

When it comes to weight loss, I used to give up. I would try a diet for a while, and it would be great! The final answer! The path! Why didn’t I know about this diet before? Then what seemed pretty easy in the gung-ho early days would get difficult. And something would happen to throw me off: I’d have an inexplicable gain when I expected a loss, or I’d go to a birthday party or just have a bad week and eat too much food and break my perfect record. Or I’d start slipping up on my diet until my slip-ups became the greater percentage of my diet than my weight-loss diet was. I know that there are a lot of people reaching this point right now because a) I read lots of blogs, many about health and weight loss work; b) it’s the time of year when the New Year’s resolutions come crashing into day-to-day reality; and c) it’s the time of year when readership on health/weight loss blogs drops due to people’s gung-ho efforts petering out.

I don’t know exactly what flipped my perspective around at the beginning of last year to make this time different for me. I wish I did know, because I would bottle it and give it away for free to anyone else who has struggled with weight like I have. I began focusing in January 2007 on taking care of myself. Unlike dieting, with taking care of myself, there’s nothing to rebel against. I’m not being controlled by anyone or anything; I’m just taking care of me. Why would I fight that? In the process, I’ve been able to adopt what I know can be a life-long lifestyle for me. (It’s not just rhetoric for me this time; sometimes it feels—dare I say it?—easy. Or at least natural now.) I’ve never felt so good about myself as I have in the last two years. And that’s not because of the weight loss (though, hey, of course I like looking in the mirror and trying on clothes a lot more than before). It’s because the way I have set up my weight loss is the way that leads me to be more loving to myself.

For me, that has meant dropping the concern for counting points or calories or carbs or anything else. When I try to count things, I consider that counting a form of external control that I can rebel against and cheat. Knowing how much I hate counting those things and tracking them, I made a deal with myself at the beginning of 2007 that if I could keep a focus on being healthy without tracking anything, I would not require myself to track anything. Fair enough, right? So instead of counting, I focus on eating balanced meals that are high in vegetables. I learn about nutrition and food habits and keep on developing new knowledge in those areas. I limit how often I eat dessert and only eat a couple of bites when I do. (And I enjoy those couple of bites of full-fat, high-calorie goodness way more than I would enjoy a 100-calorie, larger diet version.) I exercise regularly. I check my emotions against my life to see where I should ease up on how I’m thinking about myself. But I don’t do those and many other things because they’re rules I’ve given myself; if they were rules, I’d end up breaking them and feel both righteous and guilty after doing so. That wouldn’t work at all. I do them because by doing them, I am taking care of my physical health, which is one aspect, one really damn important aspect, of who I am as a person. If I don’t do one of those things for a while, I feel worse (grotesquely stuffed at dinner after overeating, overflowing with emotions after not exercising), and it gives me a nudge that puts me back on track. Weighing myself also keeps me on track; it gives me one of several concrete measures to indicate whether I’m on track.

How you learn to take care of yourself may be different than how I do it for myself. You may find that using a points system or calorie-counting or whatever gives you a shorthand for how well you are taking care of yourself the same way that weighing helps me do. Whatever you find that works for you is great; just do find something that works for you. Find something that makes you feel like a person who is more full of life, confidence, and self-love. (If it leads to bouts of self-loathing and guilt, even if you’re losing weight, I consider that the wrong path long-term. You’ve gotta inhabit that head and heart as well as that body for the rest of your life.)

One of my metrics for success, my weight loss, was off this week for most of the week. The scale made a sudden jump and said I had gained 1.5 to 2.2 pounds, depending on when I weighed. On a previous diet, I would have freaked out. I would have wanted to give up. I would have wanted to know why I was doing all that hard work and restricting myself for no benefit. But not this time, because I know what I’m doing is taking care of myself. I know that if my weight goes up for a bit, it’s probably just adjusting itself to things beyond my control. This week, I knew part of that issue was hormonal, and I knew part of it could be that I can’t exercise much until my anemia fades.


The chart is my weight loss since the beginning of 2007. Since I started this growth pattern towards being a healthier person emotionally and physically—a person who holds herself accountable but also tries to care for herself gently—I have had more than one time that my weight loss has stagnated or my weight has gone up for a while. At one point I stagnated for about 6 weeks. But I’ve kept on going because this is about so much more than losing weight—and, in turn, I’m sure you can see that the downward trend continued (and continues).

My evidence is purely anecdotal, but what I’ve come to believe is this: if you’re not just dieting but are taking care of yourself and your metrics are off for a while, you won’t feel like a failure and you won’t give up. If you stop doing your healthy activities, you’ll pick them up again with focus and determination but not guilt. There’s little room for guilt in good self-care, as the focus is on understanding what’s going on, working toward the positive, and refraining from self-judgment or condemnation.

So if what you’re doing is working for you, keep doing it! If what you’re doing isn’t helping you feel like a happier, healthier, more capable you, then find a new path. (Maybe consider trying a kinder, gentler path that is more gradual than the steep decline you might have been working towards, but that’s just my experience talking.) If you find life is overwhelming you for a while—if you’re a new mom, if your husband has cancer, or whatever—it’s okay to back off of weight loss for a while, because you only have so much energy to go around. But do keep taking care of yourself in mind even if it can’t have all your energy and even if it doesn’t mean focusing on weight-loss at the moment. You are worth all of the care that you would offer someone else, so make sure you include yourself in the love and tenderness you release into the world.

Tags: non-scale victories · on the soapbox

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Sheltie Girl // Feb 20, 2008 at 7:04 am

    Hi Sally – You are doing wonderfully on your diet. I always considered any weight loss or maintaining your weight a success.

    For me things got a bit erratic over the last year with my thyroid condition acting up. The doctor ended up switching my medication, but there was a while where I wasn’t physically feeling my best and my weight was see sawing and I didn’t seem to have much control due to my thyroid condition getting worse. It’s important to keep your focus and be good to yourself and others.

    Hear! Hear!

    Sheltie Girl @ Gluten A Go Go

  • 2 Astra Libris // Feb 20, 2008 at 9:12 am

    Sally, thank you so much for your wonderful comment on my blog… I’m so glad you led me, in turn, to discover your incredible, inspiring blog! Your approach to life, and your wise words in this post and throughout your blog, are an incredible gift to the blogging community…

  • 3 Roxie // Feb 20, 2008 at 10:16 am

    I plan to refer back to this post time and time again. It really is the secret – it’s not the big, drastic changes that a DIET makes that stick, it’s those small, self-caring changes that make a big difference. Your writing and insight is amazing. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • 4 Annie // Feb 20, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Beautifully said, Sally.

    I took a similar path as I had tried the strict diets before and would just end up frustrated, giving up, and gaining the weight back. It wasn’t until I decided to focus on overall health of body, mind, and spirit, that it then became a new wonderful way of thinking about life. It took all the pressure off about losing weight and just put the focus on getting healthier day-by-day.

    I began listening to my body as it told me exactly what it needed to thrive. I am healthier today than I was yesterday, last week, last month, and last year. It is a journey of small changes and discoveries that has now become very enjoyable and the desire to learn even more about nutrition, exercise, and getting healthy grows, and not lessens, with each passing day.

    Your site has been a great source of inspiration and information and I am so glad I found it.

  • 5 Shake // Feb 20, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    lol – I was eating sugar-free Jelly Bellys when I ran across the part about enjoying the couple of bites of high-fat, high-calorie goodness more than the 110 calorie diet version. I thought “how true!” Those fat-free and sugar-free things taste so nasty compared to the real deal!

    This is such a great post — your development as a writer (as well as a care-taker for yourself) has been a wonderful process to behold.

  • 6 Lasserday // Feb 20, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    I, too, have gotten off the “strong arm my way to weight loss” diet. it is a new transition for me, this caring for myself and really checking in with my body and having faith that it knows what it needs to get healthy again. i don’t know if this new way of living will result in loss of fat, although i suspect it will, but i do know that it will result in me having more faith in myself, and that is nothing to sniff at. thanks for pointing out that there are others on this journey and that it makes much more sense than eating processed junk just cause it has tiny calorie counts. 🙂

  • 7 Helen // Feb 20, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Counting has never worked for me either. Nor has “dieting”. Changing how I eat in a way that I can live with for the long term is what worked for me for a long time…and what I hope will work for me again!

  • 8 Laura N // Feb 20, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    SUPER great post, Sally. Really inspirational.

  • 9 Lisa // Feb 20, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    you have a great story, it’s not about how to lose weight but how to crave life! feel proud. sometimes you just wake up and say, “I am going to look at this just a little differently,” without freaking out.

    Cultivate Confidence

  • 10 Kim // Feb 20, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    You are a so young to be such a wise old sage! 🙂

  • 11 Ricki // Feb 21, 2008 at 5:20 am

    Well, you’ve certainly summed up my path as a dieter! The only time I felt weight loss was “easy” was when I did what you describe here–simply eat food that’s good for me, and take care of myself. This time round, the former isn’t working so great, perhaps because I’ve been lax on the latter. But I love the concept that there’s only so much energy to go around. Perhaps I was just putting too much of myself into other things and unable to really focus on the “taking care” part. As always, a thought-provoking and eloquent post!

  • 12 Sara // Feb 21, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. We really do just have to come to that point where we realize that if we eat better and take care of ourselves we’ll feel better, instead of thinking of it as some sort of thing that wants to control us and take away all our fun. Now, when I eat a bowl full of my dh’s cookie dough stash, I don’t get down on myself (my gut does that to me. lol), which inevitably sends me into a spiral of more and more cookie dough and other junk, I just say, “well gee I shouldn’t have done that” then go on with the right way of eating. I know your attitude about it is what has made you successful and will help you maintain once you reach whatever weight it is you want instead of ending up going back and forth with your weight. I hope people reading this will be very encouraged to not look for a miracle cure, it’s so much easier than that.

    (PS I’m going to “steal” your spaghetti squash casserole recipe for next week. Gosh it sounds really good.–I wonder where our halloween stuff is?)

  • 13 Lori W. // Feb 22, 2008 at 9:27 am

    Sally, this is a great post and it’s another good reminder that it’s not all or nothing but a series of steps we can take. You have a fantastic attitude about the weight loss, the food, and life in general. I always feel good after reading your blog. 🙂

  • 14 michelle // Feb 22, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Sally, this is beautiful and full of so much truth, not only in dieting, but just in general everyday life and the trials and tribulations (as you said). I even sent it to my mom – she struggles with this so much and taking care of herself amidst my father’s health troubles and you inspire me so much, I know she’ll find comfort and inspiration in your words too. You’re just…amazing, and I hope that some day I can incorporate all the wonderful things you have into my own life.

  • 15 MB // Feb 23, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    What a wonderful inspiring post! I really needed to hear those words today. Thank you! I’ll just found your blog and will definitely be back to catch up on past words of wisdom.

  • 16 glutenfreeforgood // Feb 24, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Sally — what lovely sentiments! Yes, when we learn to care for ourselves, that is the first step to sharing that positive energy with others. I always stress how important that is when I work with people as a nutritionist.

    As they say on the airplane, “Please place your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.”

    Take care of yourself, girl — you have become an inspiration to others!

  • 17 Jenn // Feb 24, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Sally, this is a great post. I have been learning not to play the guilt game with myself, and I’m getting better. The last few weeks have been rough, and my eating and exercise habits have suffered because of them, but I’m starting to realize that’s okay; we are all going to take a step back now and then, and there’s nothing standing in my way of doing better tomorrow. Thanks for keeping us all inspired and motivated!

  • 18 Meg Wolff // Dec 6, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    Sally, This is the most important advice you can give, “You are worth all of the care that you would offer someone else, so make sure you include yourself in the love and tenderness you release into the world.” Well said!

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