In my 20's, I had a close friend who was heavily invested in her appearance, especially with regard to maintaining a very toned, thin body. She made no bones (no pun intended) about the fact that this was the most important thing in her life. People were always commenting on her slender figure and asking how she kept it. "I take care of myself," she'd sniff just a bit haughtily. Her version of taking care of herself demanded unswerving and relentless rigidity regardless of circumstance: eating less than 1000 calories per day, usually two but sometimes three daily aerobics classes, and eventually, abuse of laxatives. (Do I have to admit that my younger, eating-disordered self envied her for her thinness and for what I perceived at the time as strength and discipline, only understanding in later years that it sprung from self-hatred and obsession?) We started drifting apart after I started finding my way out of ED-ville, and began moving away from our shared worldview.
So a lot of years passed where hearing the words "I take care of myself" made une femme bristle a bit. It always fell on my ears sounding a bit self-righteous and disingenuous at the same time. I've seen a lot of people do a lot of ultimately self-destructive things in the name of "taking care of themselves" which to many always seems to equate to "staying thin and young-looking." And I've seen some naturally very thin people with really crappy habits get a pass, and get credited with good self-care when it's really mostly Doritos and genetics.
But to be able to live a stylish, adventurous, balanced, delicious life after 50, more and more attention to self care is required. So what does that look like? And how does one separate what really nurtures and energizes from what is intended to achieve a specific culturally-approved look? I've come to realize that this is a highly individual formula, and that it must shift with time and circumstances. Taking care of myself in my 20's meant (among other things) running three miles a few times a week, because it made me feel wonderful and gave me lots of energy, but that same regimen would be murder on my joints today. (I miss running, I really do.)
Self-care at this point in time involves the following (in no particular order):
- A bit of protein with every meal, and fresh fruits and veggies as often as possible.
- Limiting sugary foods to immediately after meals (prevents blood sugar crashes)
- Walking as much as possible, and once I'm cleared by the orthopedist, riding my recumbent stationary bike a few times a week
- Regular dental care (more and more evidence that gum disease is a factor in a host of other serious conditions, such as heart disease!) Flossing daily in addition to brushing.
- Regular medical checkups
- Remembering to take my thyroid med every morning
- Sleep (getting 8 hours is a challenge at times, but I try)
- Wearing clothing that fits my body NOW, not when I'm five pounds thinner
- Wearing a seatbelt (it's the law here, but still)
- Down time where no one is making demands on me (I get up an hour before the rest of my family to achieve this)
- SUNSCREEN. Every day. 40+ SPF.
- Writing for this blog.
- Doing some stretches daily, again once the orthopedist signs off (I'm restricted from certain movements until my bones have fused to my artificial hip)
- Vitamin, calcium, and fish oil tablets daily
- A bit of dark chocolate daily, and a glass of wine a few times a week.
- A good laugh at my own expense at least once a day. ("I used to be disgusted/But now I'm just amused.")