I learned that today is International Self-Love day. Now that is a holiday I can get behind! I was working on this blog post without even knowing it was relevant to the day ;-)
But regardless of that, love is on everyone’s mind this week anyway. I personally am not a fan of the mainstream culture that surrounds Valentine’s Day and there is a reason why I don’t have any Valentine’s recipes on my blog. I also think that if you want to spoil yourself or someone that you love with delicious rich food like steak or chocolate desserts, that you can and should do that any ol’ day of the year. But, if observing Valentine’s Day is something that excites you and is a positive force in your life, then by all means, enjoy! <3
Love Is Important For Our Health
Let’s talk about love. Feeling love for and receiving it from others is important for our health and well-being, there is no question about that if you look to the scientific literature. I could write a long post just on this topic.
Oxytocin is a hormone that can function as a neurotransmitter in the brain with nicknames like “the love hormone” and “the cuddle hormone”. It has been shown to have profound effects on our ability to properly regulate stress, is crucial for our mental health, and can even prevent the onset of PTSD after an acute trauma, (sources 1, 2). It has been investigated as a treatment for a number of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia (source).
Looking at it from the other direction, loneliness is critically detrimental to our health, increases inflammation, dysregulates the immune system, and can increase pain, fatigue, and depression (source). I know that one can feel love and experience loneliness at the same time; like I said, I know this is a big topic, but I just wanted to illustrate how important these components are to our overall health and well-being.
While experiencing love with other humans is crucial, the most important love you’ll ever express in your life is for yourself.
My Journey From Self-Hatred To Self-Love
**Trigger warning - self-harm and eating disorders**
Self-love has been an extremely difficult thing for me to learn and embrace. I have spent more years than not acting and living from a place of self-hatred rather than self-love. And during those years I took a ton of super angsty self-portraits like the one above.
In the interest of being authentic and as real as possible, I’m going to let myself be really vulnerable and share something that’s difficult for me to talk about: my history of self-hatred manifested as physical self-harm in the form of cutting and disordered eating. Thankfully today it feels almost as though that was another person, a past life, a bad dream. But I think it’s important to be honest in sharing these details of my past, as distant and foreign as they seem to me now.
As a teenager I received an official diagnosis of “eating disorder not otherwise specified” or EDNOS because I was never extreme enough to be diagnosed as anorexic, but I went through periods of starving myself while wallowing in the belief that I was not good enough and deserved punishment. I had some bingeing and purging sprinkled in, too.
I started cutting myself at age 12 and stopped in my early 20s. I also hurt myself in college with high-risk behavior, binge drinking, unsafe sex, and prescription drug abuse. I’ve said the words “I hate myself” or “I hate my xxxx” (body, fibroids, periods, fatigue, etc.) both out loud and in my journals more times than I would like to admit.
It has been quite the journey to do a complete 180 from those behaviors and thoughts over the last 10 years. Not to be ridiculously cheesy, but I swear it is 100% true: it was the love of the man who became my husband that began my healing process. Made me stop cutting. Stop hurting myself with my other behaviors. Oxytocin hard at work?! I’m certain it is part of the scientific explanation behind my healing. And experiencing that love with another person is what helped me begin the journey of learning to love myself.
**End trigger warning**
It has been a long and slow process for me to learn self-love. You have to approach it as a practice and know that, like anything that you practice, you get better at it over time. The Loving Diet helped me really turn a corner in this process and made it easier for me to practice loving myself every day, loving every part of me, even the parts that hurt, even the parts that I’d prefer to ignore or forget.
I still have days where I falter and can’t say “I love myself” with conviction. But it is a huge step that I have days where I can say it and mean it 100%.
One way to learn self-love is to start practicing authentic self-care, and to make self-care a true lifestyle approach, one in which you guide your days and decisions by asking yourself “how can I take care of myself?”
Authentic Self-Care Is Not Something That You Schedule
It’s time to reclaim self-care as something that is deeply nourishing and built into daily life. Self-care is absolutely not just something that you schedule in a few times per week. No, that’s missing the entire point. Self-care has been hijacked and bastardized, turned into this idea that doing a few one-off things like soaking in a bath, getting a massage, or doing a charcoal mask a few times a week is somehow going to offset the damage caused by leading a stressful lifestyle.
Authentic self-care is so much more than that. It is a guiding principle that informs your daily habits and choices.
It’s easier to see the deeper meaning if you turn the language around:
self-care = taking care of yourself
Same thing, different syntax, and now the root meaning is more clear.
Think about diet. If you’re on my site, you’re probably following something along the lines of Paleo or AIP, or perhaps just gluten-free with a real food focus. Imagine if you were to say to yourself or to others that you’re Paleo, yet you only schedule in a few Paleo meals per week, the rest of the time eating processed Standard American Diet meals.
Don’t you see how ridiculous that is? It’s the same with self-care.
I admit that I have been using a skewed vision of self-care in my own lifestyle, and also in how I communicate to you. I am deeply sorry and have been doing a lot of soul-searching the last several weeks on this topic, and have realized I am overdue for a bit of a recalibration using some specific techniques I’ve had major success with in the past.
Announcing: Practicing Authentic Self-Care Online Course
I’ve been working on a project. Something big. Something incredible. But right now it’s in beta, and totally free, and I need your help. I’d love for you to join me with this first guided run-through. It’s private, and will be available right here on my website in a special area. I will also have a new closed Facebook group for community discussion.
In this online course I will guide you through two extremely powerful phases. And during this beta test run I will be doing the hard work right along side you and sharing my own discoveries and growth.
Phase one requires a lot of inner work and will feature a series of writing exercises. Boy, I have been putting my neuroscience degrees to work in sourcing tools that are backed by science to help you make changes that will stick. Self-assessment and getting clear on your needs and goals is critical for implementing lasting changes in your life.
By the time you finish phase one, you’ll have a much deeper understanding about your self-care needs and will see which areas of your life are out of balance. Some will be easy to change, some will inevitably be more difficult and require some long-term effort. What you discover will be unique to you, so that you can create a customized approach that phase two will help you implement.
Then, in phase two, we’ll take a look at many facets of life and I will provide you with actionable things you can do in these different areas to start taking better care of yourself. Even if they are baby steps, they all add up. Working through phase two will help you to learn how to truly turn self-care into taking care of yourself, and in the process help you cultivate self-love.
Join The Beta Group For Free
To join this free (for now) guided beta run of the course sign up using the form below. I am going to keep registration open for one week, through Feb 20th, and then I’ll close the doors on this free beta session.
I have one small condition I’m asking everyone who joins the beta group to promise they will do: take an anonymous questionnaire at the end of the beta run. Your feedback is going to be invaluable to working out the kinks before the full course launches in the spring!