Self-Care Starts in the Kitchen
I went into a season of deployment a few years ago with the best of intentions. I knew I’d be busy with my three elementary-aged kids, but I was capable, confident, and strong. More than anything, I was determined to prove my worth as the hero at home.
A couple of weeks into the deployment my body started to rebel. Physical symptoms of stress began appearing out of nowhere, or so I thought. But the truth was that our family had been eating a lot of fast food and fun foods leading up to the deployment and I couldn’t remember the last time I intentionally engaged in physical activity. I had to face the facts. I’d been so wrapped up in making sure my kids were taken care of and spending time with my husband pre-deployment, that I’d forgotten about my own health and well-being. I started to panic. What if something happened to me?
After seeing a doctor and a counselor who explained that anxiety was the root cause of my symptoms, I learned to face it head-on. I spent the remainder of that deployment discovering what wellness looks like for me, and how to achieve it. I had been a mom for twelve years, and focusing on me felt selfish and foreign. At first.
Luxury or Necessity?
I knew I had to play offense with this anxiety business. I needed to be well to take care of my children while my husband worked on the opposite side of the world. I could no longer view self-care as an optional luxury. So, I made a list of all the ways I knew that would likely lead to improved wellness:
· Schedule a massage
· Daily trail runs or group barre class
· Eat nutritious meals
· Have lunch with a friend
· Gratitude journaling
Set-up for Success
So much of military life is out of my control, so I like to find areas where I do have control and start there. I was in charge of the food that came into our house, and ultimately into my body. I was in charge of lacing up my shoes and heading out for a run. I could initiate a social gathering. Even when I didn’t feel like chopping vegetables or going for a walk, I knew it was the path to health, so I made myself do it anyway. These small steps empowered me to take charge of my own health, despite a deployment situation.
You Have to Start Somewhere
During particularly stressful seasons, like during a move or periods of solo-parenting, I have been known to develop a nightly ice cream habit or plow through a bag of cheesy chips. While this feels good in the moment, it is not helpful in the long run. My professional background is in nutrition, and I know better. And when life is out of sorts, the kitchen is always my starting point for putting chaos back into order.
I know that if I really pay attention to my body, I feel my best when I’m eating fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, quality proteins, healthy fats, and good carbohydrates.
I’ve learned to trust my body and work backward.
If healthy eating requires nutritious foods to be within reach, then I need to put in the effort to plan a few meals, make a list, grocery shop, and prep.
Eating well doesn’t just happen by accident. And with a busy family, I’m all about shortcuts. Fully cooked rotisserie chickens are perfect for adding to soups, salads, or eating straight off the bones. Frozen fruit and spinach get thrown into smoothies for a morning antioxidant punch. Starting off the day being kind to my body and feeding it well gives me energy and confidence to take on whatever the day might bring.
Consistency, not Perfection
I’ve learned that consistently incorporating nutritious, flavorful foods is a more sustainable approach than any sort of diet. While there is no such as thing as perfect eating, I know I can curb snack cravings by making sure to eat protein and fiber-rich foods like vegetables at meals.
And if I know I’m going out for pizza with friends, I might drink a smoothie for breakfast, eat a big chicken salad for lunch so I don’t arrive famished to the restaurant, and then enjoy a slice or two without guilt or shame.
Taking care of myself always starts in the kitchen, then spills out into other areas of my life. That deployment turned out to be a pivotal point in my wellness journey. Even though it was painful and dark at times, the self-awareness it brought was invaluable. Learning to prioritize my health ended up making me happier, stronger, and a more capable mother and wife.
Kara is a Navy wife and Momma to three energetic kids. She is a Pacific Northwest native currently living the California dream in sunny San Diego. A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, she reads cookbooks like juicy novels and is usually thinking about what's for dinner. She is a freelance writer, and blogs regularly on her website about military life.