“One burger isn’t going to kill you. It’s okay to treat yourself,” said every person in my life ever, after hearing my frets about food and my guilty feelings towards indulging. They’re right, of course. One “unhealthy” meal every once in a while is normal and is a part of balancing disordered eating habits like mine. But “treating myself,” or in other words practicing what others deem as “self-care” is more triggering for me than it is helpful.
Eating “unhealthy meals” isn’t as simple for me as it may be for other people. And if you have ever struggled with disordered eating, then you know the stress that goes into consuming anything at all. So believing that I have the right to indulge often because others say I should is problematic because I just don’t feel comfortable doing it.
But yet, this self-care practice is shoved down my throat daily via the various wellness accounts I follow (but maybe should unfollow), friends who believe indulging is an important part of self-care, and those who already have a healthy relationship with food. However, for people like me, a day of treating themselves comes with a weeklong aftershock, including obsessive mirror checking, food restriction, increased exercise and severe anxiety.
Sure, attempting to create balance in my life by making myself more comfortable about eating foods I deem as unhealthy may seem like a logical route to take. But is taking that Instagram advice doing more harm than good, giving me unnecessary anxiety by forcing myself to do so? Maybe there is a better way to approach it. As this article on VICE puts it, “We young people, suffering in unprecedented numbers, have been forced to take on the responsibility of caring for ourselves, and have fallen under the spell of this hashtaggable term to do so.”
It’s not that I think self-care is all bad. I think that at its core, the concept is wonderful. Taking time to focus on what we want and need for ourselves is truly important. But has the self-care movement become a bandaid replacement for a more pertinent solution to big problems like anxiety, OCD, and eating disorders? “You can’t actually treat an anxiety disorder with a bubble bath or a meditation app, and the supposition that you can is a dangerous one.”
In addition to this, self-care has now become a very loose term. I hear it flung around as a way to justify frequent unhealthy behaviors, like the overconsumption of alcohol. It’s important to note that not everyone uses it this way though. There are some for whom practicing self-care rituals like meditation, yoga, or even indulging in a certain food is a great way to bring balance into their lives.
So what’s the best way to approach it?
1. Make sure it’s an activity you enjoy
Forcing yourself to do something that you actually don’t enjoy, just because you saw Becky doing it on Instagram, isn’t actually self-care. As much as I know yoga is good for me, every time I try to do it (because I see so many others enjoying it) it feels more like work than something I enjoy. Find something that makes you feel good, that heals you—regardless of what any one else is dong.
2. Be mindful
Is your self-care routine healthy and useful for you, or has it become more of a burden? Things that may have served you in the past may not be enjoyable for you now. Be mindful about how what you are doing is making you feel.
It’s also good to be mindful of the type of self-care you are maybe buying into. “Taking care of your body and mind is good. But when these practices are commodified, marketed, and suddenly become shiny and expensive—is that still self-care, or has it morphed into something else?”
3. Figure out what is important/special to you
Sometimes the things that can make the most difference are the smallest ones. Wearing a special type of perfume is important to me, it makes me happy. Spraying it on in the morning always puts me in a good mood. Going to get a manicure, though, does not. Although by Instagram standards the latter would be deemed as a more appropriate self-care ritual.
Moral of the story: when approaching self-care, be mindful and do what works for you. Regardless of what others say you should be doing.
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Photo: Rolande, Michalopolous, Shooter, Element5Digital, Spanic; Unsplash.