Ask the Dietitian

Hi Ladies,

Welcome back!

This week’s question comes from Lynne in Philadelphia.

How can I make self care, specifically exercise, a priority when I was raised to put myself last?

This is an issue that many women deal with, especially women who were raised in the 50’s and 60’s. I see it often in my practice. Even women who were raised after 1970 and are now raising children of their own often struggle with making self care a priority.

Although we have come a long way, many women still find themselves with, what I call, “nice girl syndrome”. We believe it is selfish to put ourselves first and we want people to like us so we say “yes” to many things that don’t serve our own goals. Well, unless your goal is to be nice and have everyone like you – see the catch?

The bottom line is, not everyone is going to like you. Yes, it’s hard to swallow! It took me a very long time to figure that out, and years longer to finally be okay with it. I wasted nearly a decade  feeling bad about and trying to get acceptance from a person who doesn’t like me! No matter how nice you are to some people, they may still just take you for granted, abuse and take advantage of you. They may never return the favor and even talk badly about you despite how nice you are to them. But guess what, it’s them, not you! Genius, I know! Ladies, there are takers and givers in this world and sometimes you just have to cut ties with a taker.

So, when we are killing ourselves to be nice and then being taken for granted and used up by the takers of the world, it’s hard to have any time left over for ourselves. Takers tend to be bottomless pits! Takers can be specific people, or they can be groups, such as the local PTA, religious organizations or the team you are on at work. I’m not suggesting you never volunteer! Of course you should volunteer – if that brings you joy. What I am saying though, is that you have to make sure that saying yes to these people or groups falls in line with your goals or at the very least still allows you time to pursue your own goals such as daily movement.

No. It can be a complete sentence. Practice it with me. “Hello _______, (insert your name here) we are looking for someone to head the Breakfast at School Committee. It’s not a huge commitment, we just need a parent to be at the school every day at o’ dark thirty to serve breakfast to our kids. You would only need to be there if another volunteer is unavailable. It’s a very important part of our school and we don’t have any one else who is willing to head this vital committee.” Your answer – “No”. Go ahead, say it again, “No”.

I realize that although “No” can be a complete sentence, for us people pleasing nice girls it can be impossible. In that case, feel free to add a few extra words to your sentence. “I’m sorry, I am not able to volunteer for that committee at this time.” No further explanation needed and in fact, the more time you spend explaining, the more openings you are giving the “taker” to finagle their way into eating your time.

Once you have the, “saying no to huge unfulfilling commitments that don’t align with your goals”, down the next step is to mark self care or exercise in your calendar just as you would with any other commitment. Be specific. If the word exercise turns you off and makes you feel icky inside, change the word or words to “movement”, “walk in nature” or “stroll through the holiday village shops”. Think of movement as an adventure and use it as an excuse to spend time with others or check out new places and parks. Signing up for a class with a friend can help seal the commitment.

I know from personal experience and from working with hundreds of women just like you, that the hardest part is the first step. Remind yourself every day, that you don’t need to see the whole staircase, just the very next step. For you, the hardest part may be putting on your walking shoes. If it is, than just accomplish that. Don’t tell yourself you have to or that you should exercise. Don’t force yourself to move in a way that you despise because you want to lose weight. Just make it enjoyable and take it one step at a time. The following steps can help.

1.) Spend a few minutes thinking about a goal or two that you have.

2.) Funnel those goals down to the core reason of why that goal is important. If it’s to lose weight, go deeper and think about why that would make a difference.

3.) Think of at least 1 step you can take today to start moving towards that goal – it can be a baby step such as “I’ll bring my sneakers to work.” Or, “I’ll spend 5 minutes journaling.”

4.) Create space in your schedule by eliminating people, projects or volunteer activities that don’t align with your goals or prevent you from having time for self care. Remember, the laundry, the dirty dishes or the dusty furniture will still be there after you take care of yourself.

5.) Write self care, movement or exercise classes down in your calendar, just as you would for any other commitment. Enlist a friend and you can help each other commit to goals.

In short, put the oxygen mask on yourself first. If you don’t, there may be no one available to help you survive and thrive, and if you don’t survive than you won’t be there to help anyone. You are at your best and can help others the most when you are thriving!

If you want to read more about commitments and how they can sometimes drag you down, head over to my friend Sarah’s blog.

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Hi! I'm Heather: a body positivity, Health at Every Size dietitian. When I'm not blogging about wellness, I'm spending time with my fabulous family. Sometimes, they wear me out, so then it's time to bake, read, knit, tie myself into a yoga pose, or continue to work my first novel... stay tuned.