A return to the loveliness of things

I’m no Oprah (as my bank account will attest), but there is one thing I know for sure: the path toward balance and self-care and wellness is non-linear.

There are going to be bumps in the road. Sometimes those bumps last a day. Some last a week. (Or, you know, some last for five years, like the one I experienced in grad school….)

Culturally, we don’t have a lot of nice names for those ‘bumps.’

Falling off the horse.

Binging.

Cheating.

“Being bad.”

Any college professor can tell you that a lack of self-care is the standard expectation in our profession during the last 3 weeks of the semester. We wear it like a badge of honor. As the grading piles up and our students get more panicked and the end-of-the-term reports and service work ramp up, the expectation is that we’ll stay up too late, we’ll eat like unsupervised toddlers, we’ll fall off the fitness wagon, and we’ll drink too much.

If, in late April, you suggest to a fellow academic that you’re managing three, balanced meals a day, getting to bed by 10:30 p.m. each night, and maintaining your marathon training, you will likely make yourself an enemy.

It reminds me of the time I overheard a student say to a peer right before finals week: “Dude, sometime this week I’ve got to eat a vegetable.”

Same goes for your professor, dude.

While I’m proud to report that I kept my fitness on track the entire semester (something I’ve never EVER managed, even back into my grad school days), my nutrition did hit a slump (well hello there, emotional eating!) Thanks to my new lens of self-care, however, it really was a different experience, and I tried to approach my change in behavior with curiosity, not condemnation.

First, because unhealthy, un-mindful eating is now an outlier, I found it easier to think more about the why of emotional eating.

I ate __________ because I thought it would make me feel (or not feel) ______________.

I found that the longer it had been since I’d used this reasoning, the more absurd it seemed. Hmmm, Jessica, you’re saying that eating 1/2 a pound of the sad, unwanted lingering Easter candy didn’t ACTUALLY make you forget about the tedium of having 60 essays to grade in two days? How unexpected!

The very fact that these impulsive instincts are now the exception rather than the rule also allowed me to appreciate the extent of my transformation over the last 4.5 months. “Huh, this used to be how I coped with things and how I treated my body every. single. day.” Even as I was dabbling in old ways, I felt proud that they now felt like, well, old ways.

Most importantly, as I was out of balance late last month, I tried to think about emotional eating as a very obvious signal to check in with myself. The urge to cast aside the hard work and the lifestyle changes I’ve carved out for myself serves as an important warning sign: something’s off. You’re pushing too hard. Something’s gotta give or shift. It was an opportunity to ask myself: What’s going on in my personal or professional life that’s pushing me past a comfortable point? Basically, my instinct to eat an entire box of macaroni and cheese at 11 p.m. is a lot like an electronic device with a red flashing light — it’s time to recharge the batteries.

In the time that I was returning to some older lifestyle patterns, there was a phrase that kept creeping up into my subconscious, and it’s one that’s stuck with me:

Return to the loveliness of things.

Colorful, fresh food on a pretty plate, eaten at a table (ideally with a candle burning.) A big mug of tea with a good book. Eating in community, not isolation. Eating mindfully (not via multitasking). Though I’m not on Instagram, I began to think of my relationship to food through that lens — would this meal, or this eating experience be worthy of a photo? Would I like the story it’s telling about how I’m treating myself? How I’m balancing things in my life?

This most recent finals week will not be the last time I’ll be faced with these questions, or veer away from my mission to take better care of myself, but it’s a comfort to have gone through it with more curiosity and more compassion. It felt healthy to think about it as an indicator of my stress levels, and an invitation to adjust things in my life accordingly, rather than a failure of character or something to berate myself over.

Frankly, when the stress of finals time dissolved and the recent wave of “indulgence” passed, I actually felt excited to return to some healthier lifestyle practices. If you had told me 5 months ago that I could actually miss salad, I’d have laughed in your face. I’d have felt a little bit bad about it, because that would have been rude, but that’s what would have happened.

Me craving salad. It just goes to show: miracles are possible, friends!

Ever watchful,

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P.S. Want to know the best thing I ever read about salad? (I’d actually be shocked if any one out there did, because that’s just a weird pitch…) BUT, seriously, if you think you could never be a salad eater, start here: Salad Tips from a Reformed Salad Hater.

Then make these mason jar salads. Doesn’t get more lovely than these — they’re practically artwork! #GameChanger

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