We’re now a week into the new year and some of us are beginning to realize that things aren’t panning out as we’d intended. We aren’t zooming around on hover boards as predicted back in 1985, and the perennial commitments to hit the gym every day may not have come to fruition. Some will be discouraged by this and decide to throw in the towel with guilt and dismay. Others will pledge to ‘try harder’ and compel themselves even more earnestly to do more, do better, be more.
What if there were another option?
What if, rather than fervently throwing ourselves into yet another rapid weight loss plan or heroic detox regimen, we shifted the focus toward greater self-acceptance and compassion? Would health goals be easier or more likely to attain if the motivating factor were self-love and commitment to our primary relationship with ourselves for the long haul? The research suggests this to be true.
Begin with self-compassion and gentleness
Why do you have goals for wellness and health in the first place? Hopefully because you care about yourself and want to take good care of yourself! When the motivator is self-care rather than on self-criticism, sticking with your plan and feeling good is much more likely. Positive regard for oneself leads to self-efficacy, the belief that you can achieve your goals in a specific area, which is a predictor of effective health behavior change and maintenance.[i]
Self-compassion is good for your health
Having compassion, whether for ourselves or for others, increases our production of a hormone called oxytocin which creates positive feelings such as love and trust, and also helps lower blood pressure and heart rate. Conversely, self criticism activates a fight-or-flight response in the body with increased adrenaline, cortisol and blood pressure.[ii] The long-term effects of cortisol are very damaging and lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, fatigue, brain fog, hormonal imbalance, sleep disturbance and many more of the chronic ailments prevalent today. Dr. Hans Selye coined the term ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’ to describe the effects of chronic adrenal stress.
Often times, there are good reasons why people rely on the less-than-healthy habits in their lives. Perhaps you suffer from adrenal stress and fatigue, and can’t imagine getting through the day without a triple espresso. Maybe your sleep is poor, and you have an extra glass of wine in the evening to try to get some sleep. Or perhaps your carb cravings are absolutely unmanageable in the afternoon when your blood sugar and serotonin levels dip and you just have to have that chocolate chip cookie. In all of these scenarios, underlying metabolic and neuroendocrine issues set the stage for reliance on a ‘crutch’ to keep functioning. The problem isn’t faulty will-power, but an actual physiologic imbalance, and when resolved, the cravings simply fade away. A naturopathic consultation for wellness and prevention can help identify obstacles to achieving your goals and get you on the right path.
Identify what you really want and begin where you are
Would you like to lose 20 lb, get in good enough shape to run a half marathon this spring, take up yoga, and do a complete nutrition overhaul? It’s possible that you could achieve all of these goals, but a realistic strategy is to identify what you really want and break it into manageable steps, centered around self-acceptance rather than perfectionism. In addition to self-compassion and gentleness, support can help clarify your goals and identify obstacles in your path. Whether you seek more radical changes or simply to fine-tune your nutrition or supplement regimen for optimal wellness and prevention, the tools you need to get there with gentleness are available.
Keep the focus on what you will add, rather than take away
Instead of focusing on the things you want to cut from your diet, begin by building a relationship with the things that you’ll add. For example, if you’ve vowed to cut out sugar from your diet, begin by gathering recipes calling for natural sweeteners and exploring new healthy treats. You need not feel deprived to reach your goals. In addition to the nourishing additions to your life, practices such as Emotional Freedom Technique are helpful for reinforcing your commitment to self-care and let go of attachment to the old habits that no longer serve you.
Wellness & Prevention Offering
In the spirit of supporting self-compassion in our patients wellness goals, we’re offering a special naturopathic wellness & prevention package for 2015. This one-hour intake session is designed to help clarify wellness goals, identify obstacles, and offer tools to support you on your path to greater health. Happy new year!
[i] Stretcher V. The role of self-efficacy in achieving health behavior change. Health Education Quarterly. Spring 1986 Vol 13(1):73-91.
[ii] Neff Kristen. Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. 2011