Healing Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self: Sustaining Self-Care Practices

Healing Your Relationship

Building your own menu of self-care practices sustains you, your partnership, and all of your relationships. I use the word “practices” instead of “habits” or “routines” because you are trying something new and may need to keep at it for a while for that something new to become a habit. Creating daily self-care practices helps us to get our needs met by the ideal person to take care of those needs: ourselves. When we take good care of ourselves, only then do we have more space to reach out and nourish those we love.

The consequences of a deficit of self-care

Self-care can be a challenge in busy lives. We spend our time attending to our work, our children, our friends, our homes, our communities—and all of that is wonderful and rewarding.  Care of ourselves often gets squeezed out of the day. I believe that many of our chronic diseases, our mental illnesses, our growing fatigues, and our relationship challenges are often born out of deficits in self-care. These deficits could be failing to check in with ourselves during the day, appreciating what we are feeling, and knowing when enough is enough.

Filling the void with food

Sometimes we get to the end of the day and realize that we feel depleted. We often fall into habits that aren’t sustaining us and our partnerships instead of seeing the growth in the hardship. Sometimes we punish ourselves with over- or under-indulgence of food or other pleasures. Why do we do this? We do this because food is tied closely to expressing our larger needs and hunger. It has been so since the time that we cried for our mother’s care and feeding on our first day as a human being. Whether we want it to be or not, food will always be associated with love and care and asking for what we need. Our brains are wired that way from day one on this planet.

Lack of spaciousness

Sometimes we try to cram so many things into a short day or week—even if they are rich, meaningful experiences—that we suffer from a lack of spaciousness. Spaciousness is my favorite self-care practice, and I am the first one to admit that I struggle with lack of it. Spaciousness is that luscious time that unfolds naturally in the present moment. In the unfolding, we have room to breathe, to create, to reflect, to have insights, and to make a connection with those we love. At those times, we not only have time to get in touch with ourselves and what we want and need from ourselves and our partners, we have the time to make requests that might help us meet those needs.

Spaciousness fosters growth in relationships

I believe that spacious moments encourage creative and spiritual growth spurts in individuals and in relationships. I grow more deeply connected to my partner and family when we have some lazy, unstructured time together. When I have spacious moments alone, I have insights, notice what’s going on inside of me and outside of me, and I notice (when I’m really spacious) that it’s all connected.

Spaciousness fosters growth in relationships

Food cravings are disguised form of a need for spaciousness

I talk with my clients often about how those mini-food breaks during the day (you know, the ones where you aren’t hungry but find yourself foraging?) may sometimes be the sensory part of our yearning for some downtime. Something rich to eat might give us a five-minute moment of bliss (goddess forbid we stop for more than five minutes!), but is that really what we crave? Perhaps what we really want is the richer taste of spacious time to do or be or make whatever it is that calls to us. We might not feel that we deserve those regenerative moments—but maybe we deserve a bit of chocolate. Sometimes there is a deeper need that wants to be met and the food is a stand-in. Maybe it’s easier to munch than to ask your partner if he wouldn’t mind taking on some extra responsibility around the house?

Pick out a set of self-care practices for yourself

Discovering our own sustaining self-care practices (sustaining for ourselves and for our partnership) takes some listening and investigation. While you have to decide which self-care practices really resonate best with you, I’m going to make a few suggestions that are on my and some of my clients’ lists of daily or weekly practices:

Add any others that help you feel grounded, present, and deeply nourished. You don’t have to do these all at once. I recommend picking one or two self-care practices that resonate with you. Once they’ve become more habitual, choose another. You will be amazed at how much better you feel when you take this intentional time for yourself.

When you devote a little more energy to taking good care of yourself—really nourishing your spirit and soul—then any power that food has over you becomes weaker. You also have more energy to give your partner and may find yourself more generous than you are when “running on fumes.” Take some spacious time to listen deeply, experiment, and discover what you hunger for. Your partnership—and all of your relationships—will thrive when you first honor yourself.

Heidi Schauster
Certified Nutrition Therapist, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S
Heidi Schauster is a certified eating disorder registered dietitian, author of Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self, and founder of Nourishing Words Nutrition Therapy. She lives in the Greater Boston area with her partner David and two teenaged daughters. They can occasionally be found dancing around on stilts or in the midst of a dishwashing dance party.