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How to improve health: Self control vs Self care

May 21, 2021

Think back to a time you have set a weight loss goal, what lifestyle changes did you make in a bid to lose weight?

Now consider behaviours that feel caring for your body, both mentally and physically. Remembering here, weight loss is not a behaviour. What does caring for your body feel like?

When I ask these questions with my clients, the answers to each question look very different. Although most often we begin a weight loss diet with the intention of caring for our body, we can end up unintentionally neglecting our body’s basic needs which is not so good for our long term health.


Self care is when we work with our body.

Self control is when we fight against our body.


Self control

When we make changes with a focus on weight loss, we are already focusing on control - control over our weight. Although, our perception of what weight and shape our body should be is highly influenced by our society in which we live rather than by where our body naturally sits. 

Advertising and media frequently portray an “ideal body” as one which is not healthy or possible for the majority of the population to achieve. Paired with inaccurate messaging that our weight is in our control (it's really not that simple), that smaller bodies are more worthy and that health can be measured in size, it’s no wonder we try to control our body size. To be clear, these messages are not correct but they do make it difficult to trust and respect our natural body weight.


Self control behaviours can look like:

  • Skipping meals or snacks to cut calories
  • Restricting foods you enjoy eating or not allowing food pleasure
  • Trying to control your body’s weight or shape
  • Beating yourself up for uncomfortable sensations or feelings
  • Weighing yourself to measure your progress or your self-worth


When we focus on healthy eating through self control, we end up feeling more stressed around food (which is negative for our health) and often end up eating more of the foods we are trying to control. It’s just not sustainable long term and why healthy eating can feel so hard.

If you have any behaviours that are coming from a place of self control, consider how they are benefiting your overall health and wellbeing. How do they affect your thoughts and mindset? How do these rules affect your relationship with food and yourself?


Self care

From a place of self care, we are focusing on providing physical and psychological care to our body and trusting that, when we look after it to the best of our ability, it will find the weight and shape that feels best. This is harder than it sounds when we live in a culture that idealises dieting and normalises neglecting our basic needs.


Self care behaviours can look like:

  • Allowing and prioritising regular food throughout the day
  • Focusing on adding in foods that make your body feel good
  • Allowing your body to find its most comfortable weight and shape
  • Curiously exploring uncomfortable sensations and feelings
  • Measuring health by how you feel and how connected you feel to your body (not a number on the scale)


From a self care perspective we can focus on the wider benefits of food and health such as the nutritional benefits a range of food can provide but also the pleasure, comfort, social and cultural connection. We give ourselves space to focus on what will truly make a difference to our health and wellbeing.


How to improve health from a place of self care

Are you feeling ready to focus on your health from a place of self care but wondering how you can get started? Here’s some steps to work through:


Stop weighing yourself

Your health or worth cannot be measured from a number on the scale. This can be difficult to remember when our world is full of incorrect messages about weight but there’s simply no evidence to support this. It distracts us from being able to tune into how our body actually feels, can make or break our mood for the day and stop us from engaging in more rewarding parts of life.


Think of food as more than calories

When we think of food in terms of calories it encourages a calorie counting battle in our head that really distracts from the true value of food. Food provides essential energy and nutrients to our body that we can only get from eating a variety of different foods.

Just as importantly, food is a biologically important source of pleasure, comfort, bonding and culture. If we neglect the bigger impact food plays in our life, we will miss out on the psychological health benefits of food enjoyment.


Remember your mental health

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. In fact, our mental health directly influences our physical health markers. An example of this is that dieting increases our stress hormone cortisol. When raised for long periods, cortisol increases your risk of many health problems such as heart disease, problems with digestion, headaches and poor sleep. It also promotes weight gain, one of the many reasons dieting does not work for long term weight loss.


Bring in mindfulness

Mindfulness is about bringing awareness into our actions. Awareness comes from a place of curiosity rather than judgement where we are able to explore and make changes from a caring perspective.

This can include gently exploring your intentions behind a behaviour to become aware of behaviours that care for your body and those being used to control your body.

It can also be an awareness for the eating experience itself. Gently noticing and allowing the satisfaction food provides, noticing the way foods feels in your body and trusting your body’s innate cues to guide how much food feels comfortable.

So often, health is portrayed as having control over our body, however this leads to restricting our body’s basic needs and is not sustainable. When we change our focus and make changes based on self care, we are working with our body and it becomes a much more sustainable, and enjoyable, way to live.

Want more support? Emma Townsin is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor. She works with women to improve their health and wellbeing through developing a positive relationship with food and body. You can get in touch for a free consultation to explore how her Intuitive Eating Program or 1-to-1 coaching can support you.

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