Healthy Eating on a Budget: Reigning in Your Grocery Bill While Taking Care of Your Nutritional Needs

This is something I’ve struggled with for a while now. Actually, I’m still struggling a little bit. If you’ve read my post on “shopping from your pantry first“, you’ll know I’ve covered the topic before. In the above post, I went over ways to use what you already have in your pantry to eat fresher and save money. But somewhere along the line, I’ve fallen off the wagon.

I’ve been focusing on my budget a bit more closely and found that I’m consistently overshooting my food budget on a monthly basis. I may be setting my budget too low, but I don’t eat a ton, and I rarely eat out. And some months I’ll spend upwards to $750! That’s a lot of money no matter how you look at it.

So I’ve decided that it’s time to take a deeper look into my eating and shopping habits. Spending close to a thousand dollars a month on food just isn’t sustainable. You’ll be happy to know I have been slowly whittling down my food stores as I laid out in my post above, “Shopping from Your Pantry First”. But I should be saving money, not spending more this way. So how did I get here?

What’s my Relationship to My Shopping Habits

Taking the deep dive for me meant taking a look at how I was spending my money, where I was shopping and why I was choosing to shop this way. I know I’m still up to my neck in debt, so why am I still spending so much at the grocery store? I have a feeling that it has a lot to do with my upbringing and some underlying insecurities.

You are What You Shop For

I was raised in a family that largely defined themselves by what they purchased. In my youth, we were constantly going from one store to the next. Shopping and looking for deals that my caregivers called “running errands”. This is where I learned how to view shopping and the foundation on which I developed my own shopping habits.

In my teens, I was attracted to the ideals of hippie culture. I believe this was in direct defiance to my family’s buying into consumer culture. And even with all the ways I saw my caregivers substitute what they bought for who they were, I was still hooked by the act of shopping. Even in spite of my teenage defiance. So why was this so?

For me, I think it has to do with security. I was so neglected as a child when it came to me learning how to take care of my nutritional needs, that when I started down the road of healthier living, I got caught up in the colors, trastes, smells and possibilities of the food I was buying. And if you’ve ever walked into a Whole Foods, you’ll know that the store is designed to lure you in and make you want to spend your money. It also helps that they kind of align with my hippie ideals.

So it was in this way that I was confusing the things I was buying for self-care. This was also what my care-givers were doing as well. It makes sense to me now, but when I was in the throws of shopping, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. It wasn’t until I looked back and saw that I spent around $700-$750 on groceries a few months in a row that I realized I needed to corral my spending habits.

What am I Buying and Why

After I decided to take the deep dive, I opened my Everydollar Budgeting App and took a look at the places I was shopping and how frequently I was shopping there. The first thing I noticed was, there were a lot of entres.

One month’s itemized Spending list on Everydollar

And most of them were at local drug stores for between $10 and $30 a piece. This is when I realized I was in the habit of buying a lot of snacks before I was heading into my second job. So now I’m on the lookout for snacks I can take with me that I get at the grocery store when I work my long days. These along with the meals I’m bringing with me to work will cost less than the frequent trips to local drug stores.

The second thing I noticed about my habits were, I had a lot of entries for Whole Foods. And they weren’t small either. I was spending upwards to $70 dollars a visit some shops. I think this was directly related to me shopping for my self-care dinners once a week and doing it solely at Whole Foods. Add all these to my two big shopping trips a month at the less expensive grocery store at $100 a shop and you have a pretty hefty grocery bill.

And all of these shopping trips are reminiscent of the shopping excursions of my youth. Where shopping was a value. So now that I know what my habits look like and why I shop the ways that I do, what am I doing to change my habits?

Shopping to Fill the Need to Nourish, Not to Belong

Now that I’ve decided to change my habits, my new focus is on buying affordable food that has a high nutritional value. I was buying all organic food on my big shopping days. This is fine, IF you have the money. And I most definitely do not. Something that Dave Ramsey says often on his show is, you can’t afford extras because you’re broke. And owing as much as I do, I am definitely in that category.

So I’m making the switch to buying more frozen veggies and canned goods, as they’re cheaper then their fresh counterparts. It may not be ideal, but I’ll be able to buy what I want when I’m out of debt. It’s just like Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else so you can live and give like no one else.”

For me this means going to Whole Foods only when I run out of something. And even then, there’s a Stop and Shop that is equally as close and less expensive. This also means eating non-organic, frozen and canned veggies. The one saving grace is, that this won’t last forever. Once I’ve paid down my debt, I can add a little more to my food budget. Then I’ll be able to buy the things that look interesting, or shop in line with my ideals.

And it’s also important to recognize that I’m in no way depriving myself of nutrients or flavor. The food I’ll be purchasing now will be just as nutritious, if not a little less so than what I’ve been buying. I’m also lucky enough to live near the 22nd most diverse city in the US. This means I have a huge selection to choose from when I’m picking out my recipes for the week. So I’m not lacking in variety.

Shopping as a Pass Time

The other aspect of shopping for me is, that it’s something I enjoy doing. And while I’m paying off my debt, I haven’t been able to shop for myself in a long time asides from the basics. So when I go food shopping, I’m also filling a desire to buy something new.

This is why stores such as Whole Foods are so appealing to me. They’re attractive, clean and their displays are set up to make you want to spend your money. And it feels like a treat when I’m buying something from their store. Also, there’s nothing quite like a good meal. So when we associate the pleasure we derive from the food we purchase, as well as their attractive displays, something as simple as food shopping can turn into a treat. Add a high price tag and we’ll be blowing through our budgets in no time.

So for me, it’s best to steer clear of stores like these altogether until I’ve made room in my budget by paying down my debt. Finding the places that you gravitate towards and like to spend money may be helpful to identify if you’re looking to save yourself some cash.

Spices are the Spice of Life

And finally, if you want to make the most impact on the quality of your meals, investing in and learning how to use spices will go a long way to boost the flavor profiles of your meals. The best part about spices is, that for the most part they’re a once every three or four month investment. If you buy a 10oz container of garlic powder for $4.50, it will last you a few months and add a lot of flavor to your meals.

If you’re new to the culinary world and spices seem overwhelming, this post from Kitchn, about using spices in your daily cooking should be a good start to familiarize yourself with your spice cabinet. And don’t be afraid to experiment. Look for new recipes and dishes that use new to you spices. These will help you to broaden your culinary repertoire.

Black Bean Soup:

And finally, here is a recipe for black bean soup I’ve been making for years. It has a lot of flavor for being only a modest bean and you can make it on the cheap. You may not have all the spices on hand, and if you don’t, they’re good ones to buy in bulk. They are used in a lot of recipes so having them available will help improve your cooking game. And check out my Community page for links to recipe sites for inspiration.

Black Beans Over Rice

“Black Bean Soup” by TheBushCenter is licensed under

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound dry black beans
  • 2 Med onion, diced
  • 5 Cloves garlic minced
  • 1 Small bunch fresh cilantro chopped, removing woody stems. Tender stems are desirable.
  • 2 Tble Neutral oil
  • 3 Cinnamon sticks
  • 7 Bay leaves whole
  • 2 Tble Onion powder
  • 2 Tble Galic powder
  • 2 Tble Coriander ground
  • 1 Tble Dried oregano
  • 1 Tble Cumin ground
  • 1 Tble Turmeric
  • 6-8 Cps Vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Your choice of rice cooked to manufacturer’s instructions (I use a mix of basmati and jasmine. Adding a stick of cinnamon and a few bay leaves to the water to give your rice an added boost of flavor.)
  • Fresh cilantro, lime wedges, Monterey Jack shreds, sour cream, avocado or guacamole, tortilla chips and fresh sliced white onion for serving (optional).

Method:

  1. Using a large stock pot, 12 quarts, heat oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the onion and sauté for 4-5 minutes until onion is translucent. Add garlic and spices and cook for another 1-2 minutes until the aroma blooms from the spices and garlic
  2. Rinse the dried beans and pick out any stones or dirt clods. Once clean, add dried beans to onion, garlic and spice mixture. Stir to coat.
  3. Add the vegetable broth, just to cover the beans. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the beans to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook uncovered. The beans will take between 1.5 to 2 hours to cook, so keep the remaining vegetable broth near by and add to keep the beans submerged throughout cooking. The broth will thicken and turn black from the beans, creating a rich and thick broth.
  4. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, add salt and pepper to taste and the chopped, fresh cilantro. Also taste and adjust spices here.
  5. Serve beans over rice, discarding cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, with desired toppings and tortilla chips on the side. Best when eaten fresh, will stay in the fridge in an air tight container for up to 5 days.

I hope you enjoy this recipe and it aids you on your culinary journey. It isn’t always easy, reigning in our spending. Especially in a category as primal as our food budget. But with a little will power and know-how, we can eat healthier while saving money. If you make this recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments section below. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Health Tips…Drink Liquor Responsibly….Eat Fruits Liberally…Remember Both Comes From Same Source…..VeG….” by Sunciti _ Sundaram’s Images + Messages is licensed under

Self-Care: How We Treat Our Pantry and How It’s Related to the Ways We Nourish Ourselves

As I mentioned in last weeks post about neglecting our needs for clothing, I have been going through a lot of areas in my life that have been neglected for far too long. The kitchen pantry and how I nourish myself being one of them. And it’s one that is packed with loads of unattended and badly neglected feelings. Food is difficult for many, seeing how it is so closely connected with our survival.

Lessons on How to Nourish Were Not Priority

The environment I grew up in was one filled with many conflicting messages about how to nourish myself. And food was a source of great confusion. As I’ve said before, my care-giver’s focus was on how we looked. How we were seen was priority number one to them. So along with wearing the right thing, we also needed to look the part. And to my family this meant being thin. It wasn’t until very recently that I’ve gotten to my “desired weight”. Or the one that would be approved of by my care-givers. It’s ironic because looking thin is no longer a top priority for me. My goals now are to be at a healthy weight through diet and exercise.

Learning Difficult Lessons From Family

But how they went about showing me that being thin was a priority was what was most confusing. One of my care-givers offered me money to lose weight. I believe the arrangement was 40 dollars to get to my ideal weight. And I couldn’t have been more than twelve at the time, so I agreed. I wanted the money for sure, but also the opportunity to please them. To feel loved and accepted, whatever the cost, by my care-givers.

What was most confusing about this task was, that I was given no direction on how to change my habits. And what was more confusing was that I was being fed by them as well. I had no idea what to do to lose weight or how to acquire the resources to get me to what seemed like an impossible goal on my own. So I felt like a failure. This was a huge blow to my confidence and one I’ve carried with me for a long time.

And to add to the confusion, instead of being shown the resources and support to achieve my goal, I was ridiculed for my weight. I was called a “human garbage disposal” while my entire family laughed at my expense.

Mixed Messages and More Confusion

Another layer of confusion was when I told my care-givers I was hungry they would almost always reply with, “there’s a fridge full of food in the kitchen”. That wasn’t untrue, but I had no idea how to cook or prepare meals for myself. And the extent of my culinary abilities lie in being able to open a box of cereal or bottle of soda. No one was around to show me how to make a meal for myself.

I remember once pulling pork chops from the freezer. I thought I’d try and do what my caregivers suggested and cook a meal for myself. So I defrosted the meat and cooked them in a frying pan. Thinking back now that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But I was on my own with no one to tell me that undercooked pork is potentially dangerous. But I finished cooking them and ate them. luckily without issue. I was kind of proud of myself for trying to nourish myself and was feeling pretty good. Until my care-givers came home and scolded me for using the pork chops they were saving for later in the week.

So there I stood, not knowing how to nourish myself and my need for food, being told that there was plenty of food in the fridge. Only now I realize I wasn’t allowed to eat it without the consent of my care-givers. Who already thought I was eating too much because I was overweight. And I was overweight because my diet consisted of cereal, soda, and whatever candy I could buy at the local convenience store.

And With No Guidance to Show Me How

Also my caregivers were gone from 10am to 2am most days. So there was nobody awake in the house by the the time I left for school in the mornings. And by the time I got home from school, my care-givers were working. I went to bed whenever I wanted and ate whatever was left over in the fridge. Sometimes not seeing them for days. So getting consent to make meals for myself or to be shown how to nourish my nutritional needs wasn’t even an option.

Food Food Everywhere But Not a Meal to Nourish

Fast forward to two weeks ago and I’m rearranging my cabinets to make room for new purchases. It was then that I realized that there are some food items that have been in my cabinets for about half a decade. That’s a long time for a box of pasta to be sitting in the cabinet. I was treating my pantry like a museum. Curating different “staples”, things I should have, to have food on hand. Though I only ate a few meals. I only just started learning how to meal prep and had no idea how to put together a pantry. Speaking of building a functional pantry, Minimalist Baker has a great post on how to set up your own pantry. In case you were in the same boat that I was.

What I had was cabinets full of foods that I rarely used, if at all and no intention of ever using them. They were just there. I’m not entirely sure why, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with my upbringing. Being told we had plenty of food yet none of it was for me to prepare. I just wanting to know I had food, for the comfort of having it.

New Lessons on How to Nourish my Body

I’ve been cooking for a long time as a way to make a living. I started in a small but successful Mexican takeout place when I was 20 and I’ve been cooking in some form ever since. But when it came to cooking for myself, I didn’t. For a long time I ate takeout and went to restaurants and seldom cooked meals. It wasn’t until the last few years that I started to meal prep. Bring meals to work with me and taking an active role in nourishing my body.

One of the first changes I made that has had a positive impact on how I choose to nourish myself is through batch cooking. I start out with a plan, by choosing about three recipes to cook for the week. Then I keep them in the fridge for easy meals that I can reheat, instead of cooking at the end of a long day. I also batch cook lunch and breakfast to bring to work with me on the same day. One of the benefits is, that I’m able to organize my shopping list around the recipes I choose. This way very little food goes to waste.

Batch Cooking for Beginners

To batch cook, I simply take the recipes I’m going to cook for the week and multiply them by two or three times the original quantity. So if the recipe yields two servings, if I multiply all the ingredients by three, I have six servings. I usually cook only a few recipes and some kind of grain to have some variety, so I’m not eating the same thing day after day. But also because I don’t have the freezer space and they would go bad before I’d get to them.

And after realizing that a good portion of my pantry was old enough to start school, I made a plan to use up what I had. To organize my pantry and hopefully my relationship to the food I eat as well.

I’ve been searching for recipes that use these items that have been taking up cabinet space and am making plans to rotate and keep my stores fresh. For example instead of buying boxes of pasta, just to have incase, after I use up what I do have I’m going to buy pasta fresh from the pasta shop that is close to home (update: I’m buying pasta on the cheap until I pay off my debt). This way, I’ll be eating fresh foods while freeing up space in my pantry. Also supporting a local business at the same time.

Quality and Self-Care in Nourishing Myself

I was a little worried about the price I would be paying. Being a thrifty New Englander and all. But I’ve found that buying fresh isn’t that much more expensive. A pound of pasta is roughly around 4 dollars fresh. Compared to .79 cents for it’s dried counterpart. Yes that’s four times the cost. But if you only eat pasta once or twice a week, or less as I do, that’s only 12 dollars a month for 9 meals. That’s roughly $1.50 a meal, assuming you get 3 meals from a pound of pasta. So it’s affordable and the quality is unbeatable. It’s also a nice way to treat yourself with a special, affordable meal.

I think what sparked this investigation into my relationship with food and how I eat, started with my self-care Sunday dinners. On my self-care Sundays, I spend one day a week to take special care of myself. I chose my Friday, or the last day of my work week which falls on Sunday. And a large part of the day involves preparing and eating a special meal for myself. Something I normally wouldn’t make. This act helps me to enjoy being around food and the process of making it. Being creative, and trying something I normally wouldn’t cook for myself. Before these dinners, looking up new recipes was something I seldom did! I would usually eat the same three or four recipes without veering from them.

Enjoying Cooking Again

In short, I’m teaching myself the healthy habits and boundaries around food I was never given. What used to be a source of fear and anxiety, has now become a resource. I look forward to coming home on my Fridays, knowing that I’ll light a candle, put some music on and cook a meal that I know I’m going to enjoy. It’s a source of pleasure to know I’m able to care for and nourish myself in this way. And I’m also eating healthier foods as well! We spend so much of our time relating to food, why spend that time and energy being fearful of it? Treat your food with love and you will love what you eat. Thanks for reading. Peace :]

Here are a few of my go-to recipes if you’re looking for something new or to start batch cooking for yourself, enjoy!

Roast Vegetable & Quinoa Harvest Bowl

1-Pot Everyday Lentil Soup

Easy Vegan Ramen

Image Credits: “Early 20th century pantry in Pittock Mansion” by mharrsch is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Updated 7/31/22

Self-Care Sundays! Coming to Terms with your Fear and Neglect of Self by Creating Healthy, New, and Self-Sustaining Habits, Part 2.

In last week’s article, Self-Care Sundays!, I went over some ways that we can get caught in the trap of neglecting ourselves. By using either the lessons taught to us in our youths by our caregivers or by the unhealthy habits we’ve cultivated in our day to day routines from not-so-stellar role models.

This week I’d like to talk about some of the self-care rituals I’ve created and how I’ve developed them. But also why they are important in their own specific ways. Hopefully, my routines will give you some ideas and the motivation to start and cultivate your own self-care rituals. So, lets hit the ground running with exercise.

Movement Matters

I started running in my early thirties. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that it’s become a part of my self-care routine. This is partly due to me only recently starting my self-care routine. But also because running has become a place where I’ve learned how to reach and set goals. The pleasure of finding the ease in the work of the longer runs, as well as the friendships I developed with my running buddies along the way.

In my youth, teenage years and twenties, I was lazy. I was adverse to work, all kinds and clocked so many hours playing video games that I don’t like to think what I could have accomplished had I utilized that time towards more productive ends. But I was also living with the effects of years of neglect and abuse. I had no direction, and no one I felt I could turn to for guidance or to help develop a healthy hobby. To give me advice and direction on where to go or what to do with my life. So I was doing the best I could with what I had and what I had was a lot of free time and video games. In short, I needed to get out from in front of a screen and get some fresh air.

Fun Running

So I started running. I began after my divorce and I feel was a way of dealing with some of the guilt I was harboring for leaving my ex-wife (she had started running shortly before we broke up). Later it would become a way for me to find peace while being in the midst of stress. An apt metaphor for life, but it also represented connection with others, as I had picked up a handful of running buddies along the way.

But it became part of my self-care routine because I really began enjoying just being on the road. Not only the fond memories and my feet pounding on the pavement, but also reconnecting with the parts of me that want to take care of myself and my physical health. I finally felt like I had an outlet to making a healthy physical change to my routine. Making my physical health a priority was a step towards making peace with the parts of my neglected self that were paralyzed by the fear of being neglected. The part that was in front of a screen, beer in hand, avoiding the work we all have to get after in life.

Stretch it Out

Yoga was another way for me to reconnect with myself, only for different reasons than with running. I had experienced a lot of traumatic events in my childhood. So much so that I was in a constant state of dissociation from the time I was eight, until very recently. Fear and anxiety were emotional states that were always humming softly in the background. Save for the times that they made their way front and center to my emotional body. Then I was plunged back into reliving the traumatic emotions I experienced in my youth.

Whenever I stepped foot inside my body, the immediate and intense urge to use a method to self sooth would come crashing in. Drinking coffee and alcohol being two of my go tos, but video games and anti-anxiety meds and other forms of distraction were also outlets I used to sooth. I rarely touched anyone and feared being touched by others due to my lack of trust. Most of my trauma happened at the hands of my caregivers. My body was a place filled with paralyzing fear and horror.

When I started practicing yoga regularly, I had only ever done it once before and it was not a good experience. I went with my sister, I was hungover, in a gym where everybody working out was staring at us and in front of a picture window where harsh rays of sunlight where beating down on us. It was an unforgiving hour.

I’m not sure why I started again after the last experience. But when I began my practice in earnest, it was different in almost every way. I went to the Y, where they had just built a new facility and class was held in the ballet studio. The room was large, spacious and private. There was soft light from LED candles placed around the mirror adorned walls of the studio. Soothing, ambient music was playing quietly in the background while the instructor walked among the students correcting postures with a polite and gentle touch. This was the place I learned that under certain circumstances, I could learn to come home to my body again. To trust myself and others.

Since, I’ve started my own practice at home. It’s been an indispensable way to connect more fully with my senses. I usually burn a candle while I practice, to help to engage more of my awareness and be wholly present in my body. And it’s still tough work. But reconnecting and being present in my body while knowing I’m safe as I am has opened up new ways of staying present with my emotions and learning to trust that safety. My body no longer feels unsafe.

Eating and Cooking Healthy Meals

Food was another way to reconnect with myself. My unhealthy relationship with food started almost from day one. I was always overweight growing up. I ate for flavor instead of nutritional value and was never given proper direction on how to cook for myself, or what healthy foods to eat were.

In my teens and twenties, I ate fast food and takeout almost every night and was always drinking beer. At least a six pack a night and my early thirties weren’t much better. I have a sweet tooth too, so I had zero self control when it came to eating sweets. I would eat chocolate almost as much as I drank beer. My family never taught me how to prepare meals, so when I was on my own at 19 I had no idea what I was doing with regards to my nutritional needs. I was completely in the dark when it came to my food choices.

I decided to become vegan about five years ago which I still mostly am. Only on occasion will I have dairy when I’m not cooking for myself. On Sundays, I choose a special meal to cook, something different, or something I wouldn’t normally cook for myself as a treat. I go shopping for the ingredients the night before and usually grab a seasonal beer to pair with dinner. I also make a dessert for myself to round out the experience.

My boundaries with food were so poor that I had no appreciation of the food I had been eating. And if I continued to follow that path I would most definitely have developed some health issues. I eat more healthfully now, since becoming vegan, and my self-care dinners have really come to embody the new relationship I’m forging with the ways I’m choosing to nourish my body.

I’m learning to enjoy the food I eat. The process of making something special for myself and the research of finding something that is appealing to me. I’m learning to nourish my body as well as the experience surrounding the food I eat. Replacing the confusion and fear of not knowing how to care for one of my most basic needs with confidence and joy.

Atmosphere Matters, So Does Tea

Candles and tea are other ways in which I’ve set the tone for my evening meal and post-meal experience. I’ve always enjoyed the ambient lighting provided by candle light, and since my most traumatic experiences happened at night, the cozy setting helps to ease some of the stress the evening sometimes brings.

Tea, herbal, is another way to set a relaxing tone to the evening while unwinding after dinner. I had been so used to being wound up from drinking so much caffeine during the day that I needed to drink five to six beers at night just to relax. Herbal tea is a healthy and tasty way for me to wind down at the end of the day. The one beer I have at dinner and the tea I have at night are ways I’m setting healthy boundaries around the ways I handle my stress levels. They are more for taste and enjoyment now, instead of relying on something to calm me down.

Rest and Good Tunes

And finally, music and sleep. I usually listen to something soothing while eating, without words and I make sure to get at least eight hours of sleep. So I get to bed at a sound hour. Music was the first way I learned to relate to my emotions and listening to music without words helps me to attune to how I’m feeling in the present while setting a relaxing environment, not unlike the yoga studio I would first practice in. While as I’ve said before, much of my trauma happened during the night so getting enough sleep is essential for my emotional well being.

Make a Day of It

These are the rituals of my self-care Sundays. They have evolved from when I first started practicing them. I plan on changing a few things up after I pay down some debt, but essentially they are ways to attune to my emotional well being. But also reparenting myself around the areas of my life that have been neglected. First by my caregivers, but then by me as I carried on their legacy of abuse and neglect of myself.

I needed to learn how to trust myself again after all I had been through and put myself through. It isn’t easy, but the more I persist and kept showing myself that I’m here, I care, the more trust I, slowly but surely am building and ease and confidence takes the place of fear and the emptiness that the neglect left.

And in a way, I’m cultivating hope for the future. Something Tara Brach calls resourcing. I’m now looking forward to my self-care days and rituals. The calm and comfort that I’m cultivating on Sundays I’m now able to call on those feelings and resources throughout the week. Whether I’m in the middle of a busy day at work, or struggling with a tough run, I can call on the good memories of days past or on future plans.

I hope I’ve painted a picture of how I’ve attuned to my needs and maybe inspired some readers to start their own rituals. I’d also like to add that it takes persistence and a little tenacity. As I’ve said above it wasn’t without some struggle, which is counter intuitive to finding ease but feeling at ease isn’t easy. If you are like I was, living with a constant sense of vigilance, relaxing isn’t second nature. So be persistent! It takes time but with a little consistent self-care you’ll be able to attune to your needs and maybe loosen the grip of your fear, whatever form it may be taking. All you need to do is listen inward and show some kindness. Peace : ]

Image Credits: “2015-03-18c What do I do for self-care — index card #self-care #happiness #comfort” by sachac is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Self-Care Sundays! Coming to Terms With Your Fear and Neglect by Creating Healthy, Sustainable Habits.

Self-care. This used to be a term I knew almost nothing about. For a long time, I didn’t know I had needs that weren’t food, clothes, shelter or water (more like beer actually). Anything beyond the realm of survival was definitely not on my radar. A younger me would most likely scoff at the idea. Self-care, in my mind, equated to something like getting a mani-pedi. If you’ve read my post on toxic masculinity, you’ll know that I had deeply entrenched beliefs about the nature of men. Mainly, men having to be tough and unfeeling while women were afforded the luxury of being pampered or taken care of.

What Are Your Beliefs About Self-Care Based On

If that was tough to read, then I’m on the right track because it definitely
did not feel good to write. The strong sexist overtones were literally and figuratively beaten into me from the time I was a small child. This is no exaggeration. My family ran from their emotions using so many different modalities, that I’m not surprised that I literally did not know what it was like to experience emotions. I’m grateful that I found my way out of the maze they dropped me in, because it was a bumpy ride.

In my youth, I would spend my days watching one of my caregivers drink coffee all morning long, while driving to multiple locations to shop for clothing or house wares that they called running errands. They would then meet their mother and would gossip and complain about the people closest to them.

In the early evening they would switch to drinking vodka tonics, cooking dinner and paying bills or budgeting at the kitchen table and finish the night by watching hours of television. They were in perpetual motion. Or at very least, filled their time with distractions that would keep them from sitting with their internal life. I love my caregiver, but from them is where I learned to avoid my emotions with either chemicals or distractions.

My Unkempt Maze Of Emotions

The men in my life weren’t much more emotionally intelligent that the women. They would use mostly anger and aggression to hammer their points home. I don’t remember many teachable moments in my childhood from the men in my family. There was however, a lot of yelling and beatings for not following their rules. 

So it was here that I was left. In the maze of my lessons of neglecting my emotional self and the fear of the male role models in my life. Fear, anxiety and neglect were states I knew well growing up in my family. Though I now know that it wasn’t their fault. They themselves were, “faced with something that could consume you completely” to quote a song lyric from Grimes’ “Skin“.

In the case of my family, what “could consume you completely” was all of the unattended emotions. The ones that were wildly in need of some kind and structured attention. But when you’re a child learning how to communicate with your loved ones and learning the different types of languages they’re modeling for you, using their spoken and implied rules, it’s difficult to understand that it’ not your fault that you don’t understand. That it’s not personal.

Navigating Anger in the Family Maze Of Communication

Also, anger and conditional belonging can be another area to be fearful of when learning our place in the family structure. As children we’re the centers of our own worlds. When we sit at the kitchen table as children and listen to our parents cut up others for their perceived shortcomings often enough, it can be tough. Tough to know that when they turn their disdain towards us, in a moment of frustration and we become the target, that the we have not fallen into the category of “other”. Or that we no longer belong with or to our parents. In turn, showing us that the love our parents once gave so freely is conditional and unstable.

This can be a lonely place and one filled with fear for not feeling as though we belong and with it, feelings of self-doubt. I know I was left to wonder what I could have done that made my caregivers turn on me so quickly. And this family dynamic is something that I’ve carried with me. And inadvertently, have tried to recreate it in my other relationships. If the foundation of how we view ourselves is built on the criticisms of our family relationships, then we are left with a very unstable vision of how we see ourselves and our relationships. And luckily, this is where a self-care routine helped me overcome and nourish some of the fear and neglect that had been instilled in me from childhood.

Self-Care and it’s Positive Effects

From my experience, practicing self-care means we are sending the message to ourselves that we are important and valuable. And the more often we send ourselves these positive messages, the less we believe unhealthy messages. The ones of feeling unloved. Those that we receive by the neglect and abuse from our caregivers. As an old co-worker of mine used to say, it’s like you’re telling yourself, “I’m here, I care”.

And a little bit of care goes a long way. Especially since we have everyday stressors to deal with. Added to the neglect from the past it can feel insurmountable at times! But what helps us to embody and strengthen these messages of self-care we give to ourselves is, repetition and consistency. We need to make showing up for ourselves a habit.

Self-Care Routine, Self-Care Sundays

Which brings us to self-care Sundays! For me and my schedule, I needed to set some time aside each week. This is so I know I have some slotted time to relax. And even learning to relax is a challenge! So I started by choosing a time to begin to learn, which for me became Sunday nights. Since I work in the food industry, my Sunday is my Friday. So I thought, what better way to start my weekend than with a little down time for myself.

The consistency of my routine being once a week gives me the sense that I’m valuing myself and my time. I know that no matter how stressful my day or week gets, or the tasks that pile up, I’ve set aside some time where I can do something special for myself. Or just be. Without worrying about what I need to do next.

And this is where consistency is important. I needed the set structure of having a specific day and set time, to be able to learn that I could count on myself to show up. Or that I’m here, I care. To focus on myself with a kindness and attention that I hadn’t received before from those who were supposed to show me how it’s done. And as I’ve said above, from my experience growing up as a man, it was difficult societally because self-care has historically fallen in the realm of the feminine.

Self-Care is Everybody’ Job Not Gender Specific

Which was another obstacle I found myself navigating. Around the gender specific roles I was taught. Whom should do what. I felt a mix of guilt, shame and a little bit of fear for showing kindness to myself. As though this was not my job. I was swimming against the current of my family’s unspoken rule of showing kindness at all. It was not only seen as a sign of weakness for a man, but also feminine by nature. I had to teach myself that kindness was not a feminine emotion, but a human one.

The following sums up the types of role modeling my family members exemplified in my childhood. The man of the house made a living and had a career. He was the unquestioned authority and head of the household. He used violence and aggression to keep his family in line and protected. The woman was caretaker of the man and children. She cooked, cleaned and soothed her man using whatever means necessary. She was submissive and navigated her world with a childlike naivety and cruelty. Alcohol and denial were the two tools most often used to keep this model “working”.

Under this model I was taught that I needed a woman to be kind to me, because I couldn’t do it for myself. I was unable to feel kindness being a man, so instead, I needed a woman to feel it for me. Asides from this being an extremely unhealthy dynamic, it taught me the lesson that I couldn’t be kind to myself or others.

Gender Specific Emotions Breeds Contempt

As a child, I was given a considerable amount of unhealthy messages. Kindness being the woman’s job or even having emotions as being feminine, were a few of them. But to my younger self this made sense. This was due to all the men in my life being terrifying and the source of most of my abuse. But the women were just as fear provoking, neglectful and spiteful. So fitting into the roles I had laid out for me meant, I needed to be hard and unfeeling. In control of myself and others while enduring all the contempt we were generating under these unspoken rules.

Little did I realize that this was my family trying to control their external experiences to feel more in control of their internal worlds. If everybody acts the part that’s pre-approved, then everybody knows where they stand with one another. But asides from being unhealthy, this also takes the spontaneity out of life. Trying to predict everybody else’s emotional states and reactions in order to feel safe in a relationship is more like surviving than being in a conscious loving relationship. And not allowing for people to change is just as bleak an outlook.

What I feel was the missing piece to my family’s way of being in relationship was, they were relying on someone else to take care of themselves while they took care of another. And if your source of belonging and care is threatened and you are unable to provide that care for yourself, then you would go to great lengths to try to control that source of external “care”. Even if it is abusive.

The Importance of Self-Care

This is why self-care is so much more important than just taking ourselves out to dinner once in a while. It’s a way to show ourselves that even if we don’t have someone who is willing to take care of us, we’re still capable of giving ourselves the care we need. We’re still worthy of love and we still belong. We’re not only willing, but perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves.

Now that I’ve gone over some of the ways we may find resistance in attempting self care, next week I’ll go over some of my routines and how I made them stick. Because it’s not always easy starting a new routine. Especially one that is at the very core of how we take care of ourselves. Till next time, Peace : )

Image Credits: “2015-03-18c What do I do for self-care — index card #self-care #happiness #comfort” by sachac is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Edited: 6/3/22

Reparenting: How Cultivating a Healthy Diet is Important to Understanding Our Unhealthy Boundaries With Food

A healthy diet is tough to maintain. Food is at the center of most of our celebrations and holidays. We share recipes we love while we find new favorites and old standbys to garnish our plates. We eat every day and we have different dishes representing a plethora of cultures to choose from. It’s also a way we pass time and to cheer ourselves up. We binge on it while we binge on T.V. and there are other ways we use food to be sure. But for most of us food is always in the back of our minds.

Getting Intentional

I usually start a cooking week with the best of intentions. To cook lots of different meals for a quick and easy lunch or dinner during to reheat so I won’t have to stand in front of the fridge or cabinets wondering, “what will I eat for dinner tonight?” But it inevitably happens. My days off come around and something’s come up, or I don’t have the energy to muster the ambitious meal plan I have in mind. So I default to something easy while the food I bought for the recipes I chose slowly waste away in the fridge or on the counter tops.

This happens more often than I’d like to admit. I know I’m not alone and I feel guilty tossing a bunch of produce that’s turned. Not only do I feel bad about the waste but also because meals are so important to our self-care and how we feel about, view and fuel our bodies. The more we take care with the foods that we prepare for ourselves, the more it feels like we are respecting ourselves. And in turn the better we feel about ourselves. But there’s also the voice that beats us up when an unhealthy habit we’ve been taught along the way creeps in.

When Habits Take A Turn For The Worse

And my habits were just that. In my teens and early twenties, I ate a lot of takeout while drinking four to five beers or mixed drinks a night. I had always been overweight, until fairly recently and ate the fattiest, most unhealthy of takeout foods. One of my weaknesses was for pork pot stickers with general Goa’s chicken and chow fun following right behind them. I would probably eat my daily caloric intake in one meal if I got Chinese food for take-out!

My takeout habit started when I was a teenager. I would spend my paper-route money at a sub-shop down the street from where I lived. My mother was always working and was a server so she wasn’t home most nights. She didn’t always have time to make dinner for us or I was tired of eating the same pot of spaghetti sauce, for what felt like a month. So I defaulted to greasy subs and pizzas, while loading up on chips and Slush Puppies at the local convenience store.

It wasn’t until recently, the last few years, that I’ve decided to take a more mindful look at the ways I’ve related to how I’ve nourished myself in the past. And I’ve set some goals for how I want my diet to look going forward in the future. Here are some of the conclusions I’ve come to.

Healthier Food Habits A Turn For The Better

My more recent food journey began when a friend of mine asked me to go to the Boston Vegfest with her five years ago. She also gave me a book titled, “The China Study” by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Dr. Campbell’s book is about the long term health benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet on weight loss as well as nutritional values. He champions a whole foods, vegetarian diet. Vegfest was an incredible experience. There were speakers like Dr. Michael Greger, author and founder of the website, Nutritional Facts. He also focused on the nutritional benefits and values of eating a vegan or vegetarian diet. But there were also venders with loads of tasty treats and samples to try as well.

So after those two positive experiences, naturally I jumped in with both feet and became vegan right away. I didn’t try incorporating tofu and more greens into my diet and then slowly fading out meat. Having dairy only on occasion. Nope. Over time my diet has come to resemble something more of a vegetarian diet. Where I mostly still cook vegan for myself and will sometimes eat vegetarian while I’m out. This is due to it not always being easy to find vegan restaurants or restaurants that cater to vegan ways of eating. But I haven’t, nor will I ever eat meat again.

For me it has a lot to do with the environmental impact and the health benefits a plant based diet brings. But I also understand and respect that it’s not a lifestyle for everybody. Vegan’s have gotten a bad rap for being pushy about their beliefs and I don’t want to rest in that camp.

But what is more important for me than the “right” way to eat is, that I needed to set healthier boundaries with the food I was eating. I was drinking close to half my calories for the day in beer alone. Then eating probably my full caloric intake at dinner if I went out to eat! And that was just in one meal! The rest of the day wasn’t stellar either. All said, I would probably eat 4.5k calories in a day with a very sedentary lifestyle. Lots of video games and TV watching without any exercise. Long story short, I had zero boundaries when it came to food.

Are My Intentions Really That Healthy?

When I started eating vegan, it was for weight loss. The health benefits were appealing, but as I’ve said in my post “Search for a Blog“, my family’s values were definitely based in image centric beliefs. My mom would often call me a human garbage disposal with regards to my eating habits. And being overweight pretty much my entire life, I never felt like I belonged to my family. Not that my family members were models for healthy eating habits. But I wanted to belong and I wanted to do it by looking good naked.

I still want to look good. And yes, look good naked. I feel like a large part of self care is about liking who you are in that you enjoy your self projected image. BUT, it’s sometimes difficult to draw the line on what’s healthy versus unhealthy self image, thanks largely to advertising, cultural tendencies and trends. But that’s another post for another time, maybe for somebody with a masters or doctorate in social anthropology or psychology.

Finding Resources

When I started eating a healthy diet, I found that I had to make a lot of sacrifices and find new ways and habits of eating that would allow me to achieve my desired relationship with my food. Protein and iron were now on my radar, as I searched for food’s caloric and nutritional values. Also scanning for proper ratios of carbs to fats to proteins were on my mind as well. It wasn’t easy at first but I found loads of recipes on many different sites that were helpful. A big shout out to The Minimalist Baker for helping me get started with vegan friendly recipes. She also has nutritional breakdowns of her recipes as well. Otherwise I would have been eating a lot of stir-fried tofu and veggies, which probably would have gotten old before long.

But there are so many resources online now, making it so easy to find recipes and inspiration. This Rawesome Vegan Life is another great source for recipe inspiration. But you could find yourself in the same trap if you make and eat whatever you feel like eating, without regards to how much and what you are consuming. And I was headed in that direction yet again.

Addressing An Unhealthy Relationship To Food

By not watching my portion sizes and making a lot of sweets and and other high fat, low nutritionally dense recipes, my eating habits turned into something that resembled what I was doing before going vegan. Only I replaced meat and dairy with more nuts and seeds. As well as loads of chocolate and sweeteners. They were all natural for the most part but I was consuming without regard to how much. And eating for big flavor instead of nutritional value.

Questionable Intentions

One of the reasons I went vegan was because I read somewhere, I’m not entirely sure where and please don’t quote me on this information, that if you eat a vegan, plant based diet your body naturally maintains a low ratio of body fat to muscle. But this only pertains to a healthy plant based diet high in whole, nutrient dense foods. Also one low in sweeteners and highly fatty processed foods. This was something I was disregarding.

My health goals now are to get to a certain body fat percentage. Mostly because I want to see if I’m able. But with my lifestyle changes being so drastically different from the ways I used to be, not only my eating habits but also my exercising habits, I think it’d be nice for at least once in my lifetime, to see the best version of myself in regards to fitness levels and healthy diet.

I’m sure some of the drive to achieve my health goals stems from being called a human garbage disposal when I was young. But regardless of the past I believe that there’s a part in all of us that wants to see the best versions of ourselves. This brings me to the other side of the boundaries coin, the need to achieve beyond what might be healthy.

Over Doing It, When Boundaries Are Too Rigid

I was once married to a woman who told me that I became obsessed with things. Hobbies or ideas that I would find interesting. And she was right. I would follow my interests almost to the point of obsession. If I started brewing beer, I had to grow my own hops, brew three batches at a time and know as much as I could about every aspect of the process. If corralled this could be a useful trait. But left unchecked it can become, well unhealthy obsession.

This could be dangerous when applied to a healthy diet or exercise and detrimental to your health as well. If we become too obsessed with cutting calories, then something like pursuing a healthy diet can lead to malnutrition. Which can lead to loss of bone density and lower immune system function in drastic cases. And exercise done to the point of exhaustion can lead to injury. And if our habit is to push ourselves to persist through exhaustion, we run the risk of doing serious damage to our bodies.

Examples Of Overdoing It

This happened to me once while I was running in the upper milage, while training for a half marathon. I was running three times a week. I had two short days, about three miles and one long day, about eight to ten miles. I kept this schedule while also working full time and restricting my caloric intake. This did not bode well for my future self. One day, after I worked a full day and only ate maybe a small breakfast, I went for a long run. When I got home I jumped in the shower to clean up. When I got out and was drying myself off, I bent over and stood up too quickly, which caused me to pass out on my bathroom floor.

I’m not sure how long I was out, but that was a sobering experience to say the least. I don’t think I really understood what happened to me until much after it happened. This is an example of pushing yourself to the point of it being unhealthy. So take it from me, make sure you’re taking good care with a healthy diet and only pushing yourself when you know you won’t do yourself some serious damage to yourself.

So regardless of our healthy diet goals, it’s important to not only reign in over consumption, but to check aggressive fitness goals as well. Because finding the right balance of how you take care of yourself by way of your personal needs such as a healthy diet and exercise and how you respond to your body’s limits is important.

Also, don’t forget about your expectations and how you get there, which are so important for the intentions we set on how we want to live our lives and be the healthiest versions of ourselves. And as a good friend of mine says, Jay Foss, host of a weekly radio show on North Shore 104.9fm, Raising your Inner Voice, “being the best version of myself helps you to be the best version of yourself”.

I hope you find this perspective useful to some degree. As I said in the beginning of this post, finding a healthy relationship to your diet is difficult. Just know that you are not alone. And remember you don’t have to be so hard on yourself. Be well, peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: Adam Sergott, Haymarket, Boston, MA

Edited: 5/26/22

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