As a nutritionist, many people ask me the following question: What should I eat to be healthy? You will agree that nutrition plays an important role when we think about our health, but I strongly believe that we must rethink our relationship with food and understand that there are many ways to take care of ourselves, both physically and mentally.
As we begin a new year, why not ask ourselves how we can take care of ourselves without setting somewhat unrealistic goals, which would only exacerbate our anxiety and self-esteem if a goal is not accomplished.
Here are some tips for taking care of yourself, both mentally and physically, without creating unnecessary expectations:1. Treat yourself every day and be grateful
Having fun every day is essential. Did you know that when we indulge ourselves daily, whether it’s taking the time to take a nice hot bath, watching an entertaining TV show, eating chocolate cookies or even reading a good book, we are in a more positive mood? Scientifically, a positive mood is associated with (but not necessarily caused by) increased levels of dopamine in the brain.1 Gratitude is another way to have a more positive outlook on life and to take care or ourselves. By being grateful for the small pleasures of everyday life, it is easier to look on the bright side and truly appreciate precious moments. In a nutshell, having fun every day and showing gratitude can be easily integrated into our routine to take better care of ourselves.
2. Compliment yourself on your personality, not just your physical appearance
The era where we only compliment each other on our physical traits is over! Sure, it's always nice to be told that the color of our sweater makes our complexion stand out, that our eyes are beautiful or that our hair is so well styled, but comments about weight and self-worth through physical appeal should not become a motivation to increase our self-esteem. In this new year, learn to compliment yourself daily for your skills, your greatness or for other talents rather than for a physical trait. This will make it easier for you to appreciate and love yourself.
It would also be interesting to practice this with others. Don’t forget to tell the people around you that you appreciate them for who they are and not for how they look. Of course, it is not forbidden to make comments about our physical appearance, but always be kind as comments about appearance can sometimes hurt even if it started with a good intention.
3. Move for fun
There is no doubt that sport is a way to take care of yourself physically and mentally. Several studies prove that physical activity, no matter how simple, allows us to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes or metabolic syndrome, certain cancers, and many others.2
At a time when mental health is less taboo, physical activity has been shown to be associated with many positive psychological and cognitive changes and even reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and burnout.3 Aerobic exercise is also thought to have a similar effect to antidepressants for older people with major depression.4
Physical activity should be kept simple and practiced within the limits of our abilities. It is therefore important to find a physical activity that we enjoy for our own satisfaction and not for the impact it may have on our physical appearance.
4. Eat a balanced, varied diet and listen to your hunger signals
The science of nutrition has greatly evolved in recent years, and is still a relatively new science. One thing that is clear in the literature is the need to favor fresh and minimally processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. Variety is also the key since eating the same foods every day would not be adequate for our nutrient intake, but also for our gut bacteria that feed on what we eat. It is also important to listen to your hunger signals to avoid not eating enough or overeating. Intuitive eating targets the internal physiological signals of hunger and satiety to regulate food intake, takes into account the emotions associated with eating, and aims for long-term body weight regulation.5
In summary, eating a variety of foods and listening to your hunger signals are good ways to take care of yourself. Eating a balanced diet is also essential , but what does balanced mean? It means that we need to include foods that we enjoy every day. Even if these foods are not among the foods “considered healthy”, it is necessary to allow ourselves these small indulgences for the greater happiness of our brain.
5. Manage stress
It is becoming increasingly clear that constant stress has a negative impact on our physical and mental health. Indeed, persistent stress can lead to various disorders, such as depression, anxiety or burnout. Good stress management contributes to quality of life, mental health6 and therefore to self-care. We must learn to manage our stress by developing healthy relationships, having a balance between our professional and personal lives, maintaining good sleep habits and reducing our screen time. These are all tips that can help us better manage stress and allow us to take care of ourselves daily.
In short, taking care of ourselves daily is not easy, but we must individually and as a society give ourselves the time to develop our kindness towards ourselves and towards others.
- Dfarhud D, Malmir M, Khanahmadi M. Happiness & Health: The Biological Factors- Systematic Review Article. Iran J Public Health. 2014 Nov;43(11):1468-77. PMID: 26060713; PMCID: PMC4449495.
- Centers for diseases control and prevention, Benefits of Physical activity, Last Reviewed: June 16, 2022: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm#:~:text=Being%20physically%20active%20can%20improve,activity%20gain%20some%20health%20benefits.
- Lindwall, M., T. Ljung, E. Hadzibajramovic et I. H. Jonsdottir (2012). « Selfreported physical activity and aerobic fitness are differently related to mental health », Mental Health and Physical Activity, vol. 5, n° 1, p. 28-34.
- Blumenthal, J. A., M. A. Babyak, K. A. Moore, W. E. Craighead, S. Herman, P. Khatri, R. Waugh, M. A. Napolitano, L. M. Forman et M. Appelbaum (1999). « Effects of exercise training on older patients with major depression », Archives of Internal Medicine, vol. 159, n° 19, p. 2349-2356.
- Karine Gravel, Nutritionniste - Docteure en nutrition, L’alimentation intuitive 2022:https://www.karinegravel.com/approche/#:~:text=Alimentation%20intuitive,L'alimentation%20intuitive&text=Plut%C3%B4t%20que%20de%20se%20priver,sensation%20de%20rassasiement%2C%20sans%20jugement.
- Croix-Rouge, Published on September 10th 2020 : https://www.croixrouge.ca/blogue/2020/9/l-impact-de-votre-stress-sur-votre-sante mentale#:~:text=Le%20stress%20affecte%20non%20seulement,dos%20ou%20de%20cou%2C%20etc.