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Self-Care: A Luxury Or Necessity For Long-term Health?

May 31, 2017

By Sofia Rydin-Gray, PHD – Director of Behavioral Health at Duke Diet & Fitness Center (Republished with permission from “The Healthy Weigh” blog)

Have you ever heard yourself say “I can’t afford the time to focus on myself until my kids are out of the house/I retire/I have summer vacation?” We all get caught up in the busyness of life, and we may put off self-care for weeks, months, or even years! When you’re at the bottom of your list of priorities you will eventually notice the negative effects on your eating habits, stress and energy levels, and how you interact with your loved ones. Don’t get caught in this trap. Putting self-care at the top of your list of priorities is critical for long term health and sustained weight loss. Learn how to prioritize your self-care needs now, not later.

But first off, let’s define what self-care means. In a general sense, self-care is the intentional things you for yourself – physically, emotionally, and mentally. So if your goal is to lose weight, it is necessary to create an environment where you can make this happen. For example, making time for physical activity so that your body feels good, eating nourishing foods for your body and mind, or planning ahead for what types of healthy snacks to bring on your commute to work. If you believe that making your needs a priority is self-indulgent or a once in a while luxury, it is crucial that you realize that losing weight for the long term involves being committed to a lifestyle that includes self-care. Also, there is no need to feel guilty when you take care of yourself because it is a “win-win” for everyone. When you’re taking better care of yourself you will have more energy and motivation for your loved ones, and for other important areas of your life.

Here are some areas of self-care related to health and weight loss, as well as some steps to get you started:

Physical Activity and Movement:

Making time for exercise may seem like the last thing you want to do when you have tons of other responsibilities, if your work out expectations are too high. Make sure you start slow.

  • Carve out 10-15 minutes each day (if you have been sedentary for a while) even when you feel too busy. Walk around the block after your drop the kids off at school, or put your sneakers on after lunch and walk around the office building.
  • Commit to signing up for one personal training session or group exercise class at the local gym each week.

Emotional Health:

If your emotional bank account is running low because you’re filling everyone else’s, then you might build resentment towards other people and you feel increasingly disconnected from yourself. Moreover, this can trigger emotional eating. Get back on track with your own emotional needs.

  • Keep a brief journal for a week and write about anything that bothers you and about things you’re grateful for. This will help you feel connected to yourself and can further clarify your self-care needs.
  • Make time for nurturing relationships with people that have a positive influence on you.

Adequate Sleep and Rest:

If you find yourself staying up too late in order to respond to all your emails or complete other tasks, this will take a toll on your energy levels the next day. You might think you’re being more productive by scarifying sleep to get more stuff done, however, you will be running on empty before you know it. Give yourself the right balance between being productive and getting adequate rest:

  • Develop a nightly routine of wrapping up any mentally or physically engaging activity one hour before bedtime.
  • Give yourself 10-15 minutes to wind down when you’re noticing stress building up, or during transitions between activities.

Food and Nutrition:

With everything you’re juggling every day, it may seem like food planning is impossible. However, without planning we often resort to last minute food choices that are less nutritious and higher in calories. Remind yourself that some meal planning is a necessity if your goal is to be healthier and lose weight.

  • Ask for help with meal and snack planning. Ask your friends who are positive role models, ask your spouse or other family member, or ask a professional.
  • Make sure you have healthy snacks (e.g., fruits) at home for when you have cravings for something to eat between meals.

Learning to prioritize your own needs is a process and don’t expect perfection from yourself. And remember that self-care doesn’t just happen without intentional effort. Rather than putting off your own needs until you have more time, change your approach and commit to carving out the necessary time for your health and happiness.


Dr. Sofia Rydin-Gray is the Director of Behavioral Health for the Duke Diet and Fitness Center. Dr. Rydin-Gray applies a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach to treating a variety of conditions that interfere with quality of life. She specializes in delivering brief clinical interventions with a focus on practical application and skills building. Her clinical expertise is in assessing and treating the behavioral components of weight management, binge eating, emotional eating and other lifestyle-related conditions.

For more information about Dr. Gray or the Duke Diet and Fitness Center, visit


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