Nutrition with love
How different might our health experiences feel, if we ditched the rules and guilt and began with love?
And not just romantic love; love in the widest sense, of nurture, gentleness, kindness and cherishing.
I think many of our experiences with ‘trying to be healthy’ can be pretty dull, but if we started with love, it might all feel easier.
Most of us fall into a rule-based perspective: burdened by a sense of obligation, and infused with guilt.
For example, we call certain foods ‘naughty’ and feel bad if we eat them.
Or we feel guilty for not doing more of the ‘right’ things – whether that’s exercise, eating kale, or going to bed early.
We switch between feeling smug when we have ‘willpower’ and feeling like we’re failing if we ‘indulge’.
This isn’t helped by much of our media about health, which often stokes anxiety. Or just makes us feel tired thinking about it all!
But what if we stopped berating ourselves?
If most health culture relies on rule-following, what if our health experience was governed by a sense of relationship?
What if our relationship with health became a joyful experience, primarily of love?
I want to explore the difference it makes when we begin, not with strict perfectionism, but with the kindness of affection.
And this month, I’m going to begin with: the moment we go to bed.
In the UK, we’re in the last month or so of winter light, before the clocks leap forward for summertime at the end of March.
If you’re anything like me, you’re a little tired and frazzled after a long winter and ready for some sort of ‘half-term holiday’ - even if you don’t have children at school.
But the irony is that, even when we’re tired, we aren’t always very good at putting ourselves to bed! And this is the part that links to nutrition.
You may have asked yourself already: why is this nutritionist talking about bedtime, rather than vitamins and minerals? Well, there’s a host of reasons, of which I’ll choose one.
When we’re sleep deprived, we’re more likely to crave sugar.
We crave sugar because our body considers sleep deprivation a threat, and is more easily triggered into ‘sympathetic’ or ‘fight or flight’ mode. And when we’re in this mode, we crave quick hits of energy.
The classic comparison is with our ancestors running from wild animals. If you’re running from something dangerous, a quick energy shot from something sweet is a good idea. A slow-digested steak isn’t.
If frequent lack of sleep causes our bodies to feel threatened frequently, then we’re much more likely to crave sugar on a regular basis.
And as we know, sugar consumption tends to feel good-ish in the short term, but has unpleasant consequences in the long term – negatively affecting skin, weight, mood, the gut microbiome, and energy levels.
So I hope you can see why a nutritionist would care about sleep!
But how might we get more and better sleep?
And more importantly, how could we get more sleep, not from a position of, ‘yet another thing I should be doing’, but from a place of love?
Thinking with love
For me, it starts in the imagination. If I see a timely bedtime as a rule-based thing I ‘ought’ to do, I’ll sometimes obey, but often rebel.
But if I imagine bedtime as an opportunity for nurture, and imagine the gentle care I’d give to a child, it becomes much easier.
When we put children to bed, we do lots of things to make it easy for them.
We keep to a set bedtime. We run a bath. We make time for reading, perhaps for prayer. We turn the lights down and speak gently. We give reassurance and affection.
Now. What if we gave this sort of kindness to ourselves, the grown-ups?
What if we were gentle with ourselves like a kind parent, ran ourselves a bath, made time for reading and for prayer? What if we turned the lights down and connected with those close to us?
If you’re anything like me, it’s not easy to make myself go to bed early because I should.
But it’s much easier to imagine myself running a pre-bedtime bath, or lighting a candle. It’s easier to imagine the wonderful book I will read, or the moment I’ll be still to remember God’s loving presence.
Perhaps we needn’t be surprised that everything – especially health – is easier when you start with love.
To your very best of health,
Clare Backhouse, dipION, Registered Nutritionist MBANT
Registered Nutritional Therapist CNHC