In my nutrition classes, I’ve learned about this idea of primary food and secondary food as it relates to health and well being.
Primary food takes a look at overall lifestyle, whereas secondary food is the food on your plate. When we think of health, we tend to think first of diet and nutrition. But being healthy goes far beyond that.
Lifestyle affects nutrition and diet. For example, if someone is overworking and really busy, they eat more junk food. Or when someone is stressed out or depressed, they binge eat. Also the opposite is true, I know when I start exercising consistently, I’m much more motivated to eat healthy foods and drink less alcohol. So what people eat is secondary to the lifestyle.
Primary food are the big things that make up your life, the things that nourish you when they’re good, and drain you when their bad – relationships, career, financials, physical activity, hobbies/fun/joy, creativity, spirituality, etc.
Here is a good visual for primary food:
When primary food is full, you forget about food, almost like you don’t need it. When you’re deep in work, or when you’re having fun, you often forget to eat! Well… the opposite is also true. When you lack in primary food, you need more secondary food, and that is where cravings come from.
You can be eating all the kale and broccoli in the world, but if you arent nourishing yourself holistically you will not feel vibrant.
Another important thing to note, is that each person is unique when it comes to primary food and secondary food. What I need to feel nourished and energized and happy can be completely the opposite of what you need.
This whole idea of primary food and secondary food makes complete sense to me, I think it is so important, and it is aligned with what I already thought about lifestyle design and trying to live the best life possible.
So this brings me to the topic of self care. I think of self care as feeding yourself primary food. It’s doing the things that make you feel better, happier, and healthier. It’s looking at that color wheel above, and focusing on the things you need, for you. Sometimes it’s big things, like leaving a toxic relationship or making a career change to something more fulfilling. And sometimes it’s small things that help you destress and find joy.
But to be honest, I’ve never really put much thought into the topic of self care. In my early twenties, I definitely had some unhealthy, even destructive habits. When I made the change in my later twenties to get healthy, I never thought I was practicing “self care,” I just didn’t want to feel like shit anymore.
I took Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies quiz. I have a Questioner tendency, which means I resist outer expectations and meet inner expectations. “I do what I think is best, according to my judgment. If it doesn’t make sense, I won’t do it.” Because of this natural tendency to do what I want to do, I feel like I naturally practice self care. I’m at a point in my life where I want to exercise, so I do it. I want to eat healthy, and surf in the morning, and listen to awesome podcasts, and write, so I do it.
But for others, I feel like it doesn’t come naturally to practice self care. One of my clients that I’m coaching has an Obliger tendency, which means she meets outer expectations and resists inner expectations. “I do what I have to do. I don’t want to let others down, but I may let myself down.” She’s basically the opposite of me.
She is a top performer at work and kicks ass in her career, but she has a tough time getting simple lifestyle habits to stick, like exercise, diet, and getting up from her computer to take a few walks throughout the workday. And failure to hit her habits leads to frustration and guilt.
We’ve been working on exercise for a few months now, and it’s off and on. I started to feel like exercise was too narrow a focus, and that’s when I realized that we needed to expand the focus to self care. Exercise falls under the self care umbrella, but at the core, it’s making self care a priority that needs to be the focus. Even if exercising isn’t in the cards, at least eating healthy or getting up and taking a couple short walks throughout the day could be a self care small win. And even if none of those things happened, because the workday was so busy and she is exhausted from killing it all day at her job, then she should come home and put on her favorite TV show and feel zero guilt about it, because at the end of the day, self care isn’t about what you did today or yesterday, it’s a mindset.
The first thing I had her do was come up with a list of all the things that could potentially fall under the self care umbrella. This is different for everyone. What are the things you LOVE to do?
For her, it’s obvious things, like the types of exercising she likes and cooking healthy meals at home, but also she came up with tons of awesome small things: getting to bed by 10pm, unwinding after work with a movie/tv, having a morning cup of coffee, talking to my close friends and family weekly/daily, reading a good fiction book, relaxing outdoors at the beach or pool, cleaning the house which is therapeutic, hitting goals at work, saving money, and so on.
When you do the things on the list, it’s very important that you do them with the intention of self care. It’s like you are giving yourself this gift, and you should appreciate and feel gratitude for it. This is the thought process that develops a lasting mindset of self care.
So now, instead of only tracking exercising, we track self care on a daily and weekly basis. What did you do today for yourself, that made you happier or healthier?
It’s all about trying to develop a mindset of self care with someone who naturally puts outer expectations in front of inner expectations.
Here are two articles from my nutrition school that inspired this change, and this post.
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