A few years ago I was reading some article on dieting, as I am wont to do, when I came across the words –
“An adult woman seeking to lose 1-2 pounds per week requires 1,400 calories per day, the same amount as a seven year old child…”
I will not recount to you the rest of the article, as it was tedious and ricecake based. Those words though, stuck with me. Because I have struggled, for years and years, with how to feed myself, how to manage myself, how to make workaday decisions about my welfare. But all these little things – should I have a chocolate bar? Should I watch another episode of Game Of Thrones or go to bed? Should I go out with my friends tonight? – I know EXACTLY what I would say if it wasn’t me I was talking to, but a seven year old.
I have developed a loose list of rules which I use to govern my behaviour, based on the idea of looking after myself the same way I would if I was my own child, if you see what I mean. It’s obviously not always appropriate, and I fail a lot, but I still want to share them with you. This is what caring for myself well means to me – not too indulgent, not too draconian. Reasonable, and kind.
The Food Rules
You can always, always have fruits and vegetables. As much as you like. No exceptions.
You should really have breakfast every day, even if it is just a banana on the bus.
Can you have a biscuit? Yes, go on then. Three? Hmmm. Maybe, if you’re on a hike or something. A whole packet? NO mate, nice try.
You get three meals per day. Ideally they consist of some carb, some protein and some fruit/veg.
Sometimes, you can get pizza or McDonalds if you want to. But you know in your heart how often is reasonable to do this. Once a week, approx. NOT once a day. But sure, sometimes you can have chips.
See also, sweets. Of course you can have them sometimes. But only sometimes. My dad used to buy me penny mix on the way home from school every Friday. That feels about right.
There will be some days, like Christmas, or your birthday, or on holiday, when the normal rules go out of the window and you are allowed chocolate for breakfast. Enjoy these times! Revel in them. But they are high days and holidays. Not Tuesdays.
Never shame yourself about food. You are not “greedy” or “a pig” and if you ate too much and now you feel uncomfortable, that was a mistake which you will try to learn from, not a damning and permanent indication of your character.
Much more important than what you don’t eat is what you do. Wholesome food. Enough of it. The energy and vitamins you need to be healthy, and happy.
The Other Rules
It is a good idea to have a notional, age-appropriate bedtime. Mine is about 11:30. You are only really allowed to stay up past this on special occasions and weekends.
You have to “do your homework”, whatever this means for you. It might mean spending time writing, or another creative pursuit, or perhaps learning French, or doing the housework, or working on your startup or teaching yourself to code… Whatever. But if you have a thing that makes you feel a sense of accomplishment or joy but is not easy to motivate yourself to do, you should do it.
Playing with your friends is a good thing to do and while you can’t do it all day every day, you should definitely assume that most Friday nights you will go to the pub with your mates, or whatever your equivalent is.
As long as you can afford them, you are ALWAYS allowed books.
When you have been to school and done your homework, you are definitely allowed to play computer games and watch tv and you should not feel at all guilty about doing this. But not for, like, 8 hours straight, you’ll feel weird and cranky after and you’ll get square eyes.
If your think your one of your friends (colleagues, boss, partner) is being mean to you, you should not automatically assume that it is because you are a dick, and that they are right. You should probably gently encourage yourself to see if you can view the situation from their side though, and try to find a solution. Operate on the assumption that you can be kind, both to yourself and to them, and that if you need to end some kind of relationship, it is not because either they or you are a horrendous dickhead neccessarily, but these things do sometimes happen.
Some leisure activities are extremely wholesome and good for you and will always make you feel great, so they should be practiced as a first option wherever possible. You will know what yours are. Mine are – reading, anything involving light physical activity, anything that takes place outdoors, anything that involves seeing friends but not getting absolutely pissed, being in any body of water and low-pressure cookery – this has pretty much not changed since I was 7. So my perfect bank holiday Monday would be – reading in the bath for an hour followed by a BBQ.
If you feel tearful and sad for no clear reason, the appropriate response is NOT to snap at yourself to pull yourself together. Nor is it to offer yourself an entire chocolate cake. It is to give yourself a cuddle and ask what’s wrong, and then listen to the answer.
Pepper your life with treats to look forward to. These can be food based but should not always be. Go to see films you want to, have a day at a theme park, book tickets to a musical.
The Ultimate Rule
Don’t be mean to yourself. Look after yourself, don’t call yourself names, don’t punish yourself for small mistakes and accidents. Be reasonable.
I’d love to know what you think of all this. I’m sure not everyone struggles with moderation as much as I do! But if you do, I hope this helped xx