Radical Self-Care Step Nine – Nourishment

A Hedonist’s Guide to Healthy Eating

Are you Hungry? What sounds good?

Feeding ourselves well is an essential part of self-care. How could it not be? Eating is primal! Among our most basic needs.

I am a massage therapist, which translates to a pleasure-seeking hedonist! Therefore, my relationship to food is all about pleasure. Well, pleasure and health. Part of what makes me enjoy my food is knowing that the things I eat are enhancing my physical well-being. I love foods that are rich with vibrant colors, delectable textures and fresh flavors.

Everything you eat, if possible, should consist of foods you love. This way you are feeding more than your stomach. You are providing a feast to all of your senses. Choose foods that have bright colors, artistically presented, with fresh, rich intense flavors.

Tomato, cheese, crackers

Tomato, cheese, crackers

Here are some tips for making your meals as restorative as possible.

Your favorite foods will likely be different from mine, so as I describe the way I play with these concepts, know that you will create your own way of eating mindfully and joyfully, but the main thing I want you to take away from this is about quality, not quantity.

My very favorite foods are fruits. Mangos, raspberries, crisp apples, strawberries, grace my meals every day. I love foods that look beautiful, taste divine and feel like they are benefiting my health with every chew and swallow.

I try to eat about half my food intake in the form of fruits and vegetables. They are healthy and they are beautiful. They come in a rich variety of colors and have intense flavors. You can arrange fruits and vegetables so that a plate looks like a work of art, making it all the more appetizing. When I was in Italy, a country well known for its epicurean delights, I was struck by how simple and delicious much of the food preparation was. Vegetables were grilled or pan-fried and embellished with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, some chopped garlic and that’s it. Simple and delicious. Play with garnishes. That’s what students learn in culinary academies. The art of garnishing. It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s tasty and you can make healthy food very appetizing that way. Take some broccoli, steam it, drizzle with olive oil that has had some garlic sautéed in it and then decorate it with a tablespoon of chopped, toasted walnuts. Yum.

Experiment.

Root vegetables

Root vegetables

cooked root vegetables

cooked root vegetables

Try different fresh herbs as a garnish. Some chopped fresh basil, perhaps, or parsley. Or try grating some fresh lemon or orange zest. I became quite an aficionado of zesting and began collecting a variety of zesters. It really adds great flavor, texture and color to all sorts of dishes. And it is chocked full of powerful antioxidants, the substance that fights cancer in your body.

Making good food can be very easy. One of my favorite summer dinners is steamed vegetables topped with a poached egg and a sprinkle of fresh parmesan cheese. This is particularly good on asparagus, summer squash, broccoli or green beans. As the egg yolk breaks and soaks into the vegetable it is rather luxurious! I try to get the freshest eggs I can find, buying them at the farmer’s market whenever possible. The green vegetables, topped by the egg, with its bright orange yolk, create a beautiful presentation! Get in the habit of treating yourself like an honored guest, creating food presentations like you would for company or that you might receive in a fine restaurant.

Hummus platter

Hummus platter

Preparing gorgeous, appetizing food is a form of self-love. It’s nourishing way beyond nutrition. I know a lot of people who think if they don’t have someone else to cook for it’s not worth bothering. These people eat very poorly when they are by themselves. I’m talking about watching TV mindlessly gobbling potato chips, frozen pizza, or some quickly micro-waved frozen dinner. Please treat yourself better than this.

I promise you, that if you start caring for yourself the way you would treat good company your life will change. For one thing, you will become a happier person if little pleasures become part of your daily life, no matter where you are, whom you are with or what you are doing. As you become happier you will radiate positive energy and people will become attracted to that energy and will want to be around you and will automatically be good to you and treat you to things.

When I go out of town on a solo getaway, which is what I like to do in order to recharge and write, I want to keep my costs down so I bring food with me to minimize the expense of eating out. I’ll bring a ripe avocado, mash it with lemon juice, garlic powder and sea salt, making a delicious guacamole. I’ll take a carrot and slice it into slivers for dipping. I may also cut up a red bell pepper and chop up some tomatoes. With a little cheese and crackers it makes a beautiful, healthy meal that I can put together in a hotel room.

I pack fruit, graham crackers, peanut butter and goat cheese for breakfast, cups of instant hot soup that only required boiling water from an electric hot pot I bring with me. I add chopped peanuts to garnish the Thai noodle soup that comes in one of those “just add water” cups and voila! A tasty and beautiful meal. I carry a couple of plates and a nice bowl for my food so I can transfer everything to my pretty dishes. It’s easy, delicious and beautifully presented. And healthy, as well. Most importantly, eating this way, with care to presentation and quality, simple ingredients makes me feel incredibly good.

Ratatouille tart

Ratatouille tart

What would your meals be like if every serving were in some sense a work of art? We see pictures of food in magazines, on websites, in TV commercials, in restaurant ads, foods that have been carefully arranged by a food stylist to make them appear appetizing. What if you did that for yourself? Every time you eat?

You don’t need a lot of money to live well. You just need to make the most of the little things. Food is a pleasure you can use to treat yourself multiple times throughout the day, every day.

This is a way to care yourself physically, emotionally and can become a habit of yummy creativity.

Feed your eyes.

Phyllo mushroom pizza

Phyllo mushroom pizza

Feed your taste buds.

Feed your stomach.

Feed your heart.

Feed your creativity.

Feed your soul.

 

 

 

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Radical Self-Care Step Eight – Balance

Finding the Balance or Managing the Feel-Good Meter

On one of my trips out of town, I was overcome with the feeling that helping others is what life’s all about. In big ways. In small ways. Offering to give a hand to a friend whom you know is struggling. Tipping the person who prepares your coffee. Helping a confused person find their way. Being friendly to strangers when you’re out running your errands. Being helpful whenever you can. Meeting a person’s eye and smiling. Or just holding their gaze for a moment so they know they have been seen. There are a thousand ways big and small to help other people.

Society Hotel, Portland. The lobby cafe

Society Hotel, Portland. The lobby cafe

Thinking about things like gratitude practices, I wanted to promote the practice of kindness and helping others. Whether it’s doing something practical like helping someone get something done or doing something that lifts a person’s spirits, spreading helpfulness is one of the most powerful spiritual practices we can do.

Giving doesn’t only make the other person feel good but it makes your own heart feel good.

I went to Portland a few months ago for a writing retreat and every place I went I encountered helpful, friendly people who made me feel good to be alive and happy about humanity. I met many strangers who were extremely kind to me and helped me with directions, when I was walking through the city, because I’m terrible at finding my way in new places. I’m famous among my friends for getting lost or taking the wrong turn. They took the time to explain to me where things were, and how the city was laid out (numerically and alphabetically) so I could figure out how to find the address I was looking for.

Society Hotel, Portland. Lobby fireplace.

Society Hotel, Portland. Lobby fireplace.

The women at the writing workshop shared their fears and vulnerabilities in words and tears and exquisite pieces of writing that made me feel less alone and not so different. I went to this writing retreat hoping to become a better writer but really, what it did was open my heart. I saw so many ways that people were doing what they could to help other people. The presenters gave us all books from writers they knew, whom they were supporting by sharing their books. They said they take a percentage of what they bring in from the workshop to help upcoming writers. A beautiful practice of Helping.

At the hostel-like Society Hotel, where I was staying, the staff were very friendly and chatty. They greeted me with smiles every time I entered the lobby/lounge/café area. They had a little take-out bar where they made healthy breakfasts and lunches and they remembered each day that I wanted yogurt with their homemade granola and a fresh orange for breakfast.

The people at the front desk were patient in explaining how to find places in town and how to navigate the neighborhood. And in order to get a good night’s sleep they gave me a quiet room on a top floor away from the street noise.

I was so overcome by the openness and friendliness of the people I was meeting in this city, where I arrived alone, discovering the fresh, artistic nature of Portland. My heart was blasted open.

On the flight home, as I reflected on my four-day excursion I thought about how delightful it was to go to a place where the people were so forthcoming and inviting. Life is all about helping each other and being good to one another, I decided.

But then I had another thought. Being an open, giving person is all very well, but we need to take care of ourselves, too. We need to have a balance between giving and receiving. When we talk about balance between giving and receiving, how much is too much?

One of the reasons we are here – or if I want to get all pompous about it – one of the meanings of life, is to find the balance between helping others and taking care of ourselves. When people go too far to the extreme in either direction, devastating things can happen.

Society Hotel, Portland. Coffee bar.

Society Hotel, Portland. Coffee bar.

When taking care of oneself obliterates everything else it turns to greed, which can become meanness or even war, at the extreme level. And giving too much of oneself, without taking time to recharge, can result in a state of severe depletion, or become an addiction to being needed at its worst.

Finding that balance between helping others and helping oneself is a tricky dance. Like any balancing act it is easy to tip to one side or the other. It feels so good to do something for someone else where you can immediately see that your action is making a difference. It also feels good to unplug, slow down, and indulge in some self-care. When tackling anything big, the best thing to do is take small bites. Go back and forth. Find the comfort zone between manageable acts of kindness and bite sized treats of self-care.

Radical Self-Care Step Five – Rest

Is It Nap Time Yet?

This is the hardest self-care step for me because it means that I have to stop my usual frenzy of activity and really slow down. I talk a good game but in reality I am always in motion. Between all the things I have to do and the things I want to do it’s really quite a challenge for me to stop and just be still.

But, oh my goodness, it is so necessary.

Watercolor Molly & Grace

We are like bees buzzing around an endless array of flowers, getting caught up in the colors and aromas and we can get lost there, always buzzing, never resting.

And yet, magical things come from rest.

To do nothing is a powerful act. To be, to rest, to let go. Letting the swirl of energy that is constantly driving us come to a halt. Taking some time to stop and evaluate what we’re doing gives us a chance to prioritize what’s really important. It also gives us time to recharge our batteries and it strengthens our immune systems.

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to take one day a week just for rest. No goals. No chores. Not even scheduling a fun activity with a friend. A day for true rest. Reading, gardening, taking a nice long walk, even curling up on the couch and watching a movie. For me, rest requires not engaging, which is why I don’t make plans with anyone on my rest day. But your mileage may vary. The important thing is to give yourself a true break, where you aren’t “on” and nothing at all is needed from you. It’s quite a luxury.

A day of rest gives you a chance to just be yourself. You aren’t playing a role (parent, spouse, friend or whatever you do for a living). You aren’t responding to anyone. It’s a day to truly nurture yourself, to allow yourself to be 100% okay just as you are. Nothing else required.

When I was in my 20’s I went on a long trip for several months to Southeast Asia. I happened to arrive in Bali the day before what they call “quiet day.” On that day everything on the island is shut down. No cars or buses run. No restaurants are open. No fires are lit. It’s a day where the entire island hits the “off” switch. All food has been prepared in advance because no cooking is done. A local person explained to me that they do this so malevolent spirits will think everyone has left the island and they will move on. I thought it was wonderful that this whole culture observed a day when absolutely everything and everyone came to a halt and rested.

Even the bible talks about having a day of rest each week. Many spiritual traditions honor a day of rest. Clearly, there is something to this.

Think of it as a way to re-boot. You know that when you re-boot things they work better. As the deeply down-to-earth writer Anne Lamott says, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

This is what I’m talking about. We all need some time to unplug. When we can’t screw up because nothing is required of us. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds delicious.

 

When is Enough Really Enough?

We live in a world that values achievement more than inner peace.

There is a craziness I see in our modern culture. We are constantly receiving messages telling us that we’re not enough.

different pastries

We are told that we can always do more, acquire more and create more. With this kind of thinking, people are never satisfied. They may think that if they can get 10 new clients, sell 100 more books or get a 5% raise that they will be content, but no sooner does that happen than they start to visualize a new goal to reach.

How do we feel good about ourselves and our lives when we keep thinking we should be doing better than we are?

I know people who make six figures who are still pushing for the next level. They want more business, a promotion or a new title in an endless climb up a mountain whose peak is always over the next pass. It’s nuts but they are responding to society’s expectations.

I think about this because all around me I see people who are stressed. They are living for the future,  even when, for the most part, they already have really good lives. Another reason I am writing about this is because I get caught up in it, too.

Can you relate to this?

I have to stop myself and ask, “What’s really important?”

What’s really going to make us feel good isn’t reaching a greater threshold of success. It’s appreciating what we have in our lives right now.

We have to learn how to balance the stress that is part of life. And it’s not by obsessing on achievement.

This past month, not far from where I live, a fire in Northern California destroyed hundreds of homes devastating thousands of lives. I read daily about refugees, fleeing unbearable conditions, risking their lives in a challenging quest for survival, to find a place where they can belong and live in dignity. And internally, everyone I know is grappling with some kind of struggle.

So the question I have is, what can we be grateful for exactly the way things are right now? Whatever our circumstances. Whatever we have or don’t have. What is present, in this moment, that we can be grateful for? I suggest we take a moment to appreciate those things about our lives that are soul satisfying. The people we know who make us light up. When our work is appreciated. The uniqueness about where we live and everything in our lives that makes them valuable. Perhaps many of these are things we take for granted, focusing more on how to get that thing that is out of our reach.

We all have many things that are precious and worthy of our appreciation. And that, dear friend, is truly enough.