The Self-Care Series: We Can't Afford to Wait by Chandler Smith

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Ah, self-care. That elusive thing we’ve all heard of, but don’t know how to practice. I have a lot of room to grow in this part of being a human, but over the last few years I’ve pieced together some healthy exercise and food rhythms that have taught me a lot about nurturing and valuing my body. But first—my background with “wellness.” I used to hate to exercise. Before I had kids, working out was always fueled by vanity. I wouldn’t have used that word, but I dieted and exercised because I wanted to look a certain way or be a certain size. Because, if I was a size 2 then everyone in the world would love me, I would be accepted and adored, and everything would be great all the time. (That sounds so silly. But that’s the reality of where my heart was. Ugh.) “Healthy living” was always a burden; something I hated but needed to do to look the way I wanted. I never enjoyed it, and never felt like I had done enough. After I had my son, I continued to exercise, but my motivations totally changed. It was a completely different experience from working out pre-motherhood.

Here’s how having children shifted my attitude towards working out and dieting.

I want to have a lot of kids. I come from a big family and I want to have a big family. So this body that I’m wearing has to stay pretty strong. If I want to carry and care for more than just one or two humans, I need to really take care of my body. My body is a tool and I need to be diligent with the necessary upkeep. I want to wrestle on the floor with my grandkids. Don’t come by the nursing home to visit me—I want to bike to my grandkids’ house. I want to be fully present and engaged when I’m a grandmother. Health is not something I can wait to pursue when I'm fifty. I need to set a healthy foundation now, so I can fully know and enjoy my progeny when they come around.

I don’t want to get sick. Yes, you can live a really healthy lifestyle and still get cancer, but there are a whole lot of very preventable diseases that I can avoid by making changes to my life today. Anything I can do today to keep my health tomorrow is a no brainer.

I want to be happy. Depression and mental illness run in my family, and I’ve seen them take their toll on so many people I love. There are a ton of studies that have found that exercising daily can have the same or more of an effect on your brain as taking anti-depressants. (Read The Depression Cure, for more on this—it’s so, so good.) Mental illness is a very real thing, but there are very real habits I can practice to keep my mind and body healthy, without medicine, therapy, or meltdowns.

I know I’m loved. I used to believe a lie that if I looked a certain way, I would be loved and okay. Children are always a blessing, but for me, one of the ancillary blessings of having children was realizing that even when I gained 50 lbs in 6 months, I was loved. God loved me. My husband loved me. My family loved me. My friends loved me. Even strangers seem to pour love and encouragement on me when I’m plump and pregnant. If I fall off the wagon and gain a ton of weigh (pregnant or not) I know that it doesn’t change my value or my acceptance. I am not loved for what I look like. I’m loved because I’m loved.

So with all those bullet points on what motivates me now to stay healthy, here are more bullet points on exactly what kind of healthy daily habits I’ve put in place.

Exercise. Do something every day. Even if running a marathon sounded fun to me (which it definitely does not) I do not have the luxury of extensive training time in this season of life. Instead of setting lofty exercise goals that will end in disappointment (think January 15 of every single year ever) I’ve just decided to do something, anything everyday. Somedays that’s a 30-minute walk with my kids in the jogging stroller, and other days it’s a quick YouTube yoga session. Some days it’s 100 jumping jacks and lunges with my kids, and some days it’s a swim at the YMCA while they’re in childcare. It almost doesn’t matter what it is, but it’s something and it’s every day. By not putting too much pressure on myself, I never feel burnt out. I always look forward to exercising because I’ve set myself up for success with realistic goals.

Listen to your body. Your body is doing some seriously crazy work, like growing humans, sustaining infants, and lifting toddlers up and down all day long. Between menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and breastfeeding, your body is almost always going through some sort of physical transition. Listen to what your body wants to do and go with it. Some days I feel like I need to sweat and burn off energy, so I run. Other days I’m exhausted and can. not. handle. it. so I just do some gentle yoga. Be kind to yourself. Make exercise fun and life-giving. I love running with my husband, and walking with friends. I read when I use the elliptical. I pray a lot when I swim. If I combine working out with something I want to do already, I’m much more likely to do it and to enjoy it. Win win.

Diet. 1) "Capsule” your food. I love cooking and experimenting, but I don’t have the mental bandwidth to get creative 3 times a day. Instead of giving myself unlimited options, I eat the same things for breakfast and lunch every day. I don’t have to think about what I’m having for those meals, and I can get creative and have fun putting together dinner. Breakfast is Oatmeal or eggs and Lunch is a green smoothie or a salad. Dinner is something other than the above! I love not having to think about each meal, and I know I will feel good and have energy after each one. It’s probably not for everyone, but it has worked for me.

2) Eat real food. If you can’t explain how it was made to a 5-year-old, don’t put it in your body. (Eggs— Yes! Corn flakes— what the?!) Your body was made to digest food, not “food-like” material. Be kind to the amazing machine you’re living in, and give it real fuel. (Watch Hungry for Change, or read anything and everything by Michael Pollan for more inspiration.)

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Chandler Smith is a wife of one and mother of three. She spends her days managing chaos, daydreaming about how to solve the refugee crisis, playing legos, hosting lots of overnight guests, building capsule wardrobes, cooking for a crowd, and reading Little House on the Prairie. 

Her proudest accomplishments are perfecting the 10-minute power nap, acquiring 6k Pinterest followers despite not actually completing a single craft, and convincing her children that mopping the floor is a special treat only to be earned if they obey all day.

She and her family live in Cincinnati permanently, but are currently in Silicon Valley for 6 months for her husband's startup, Cladwell. You can currently find her in her minivan in the Santa Clara Mountains trying to convince her 4-year-old to appreciate the the view as much as she does. 

Read more from Chandler with I choose to Make Today a Good Day, and Our Fight for Date Night.