A friend sent me the following message last night:

“If you could offer just three or four bits of advice on eating clean/healthy and total lifestyle change toward eating, what would it be? Do you do dairy? Almond milk? Ever use agave? Favorite fruits? Greens every day?”

Oh, my goodness. I am honored that this friend would ask me this question, but I’m also a bit surprised. I have always strived to take care of myself but then –BAM you have breast cancer– and I sometimes wonder, what does it matter? To do all these things but then be the one in nine who gets breast cancer? Who am I to offer advice? But that is my mind creating nonsense and fear – of course, it matters.

My response to her question:

Dear Friend,

“Eat like you love yourself,
Move like you love yourself,
Speak like you love yourself,
Act like you love yourself.”
~Tara Stiles

I don’t have all the scientific knowledge, nutritional wisdom, or self-discipline to make the right health choices all the time, but I do try to love myself in the best way I know how every day. Self-care = self-love.

I think the #1 bit of advice I would offer is to manage stress. Sometimes I feel like a tennis player hitting all the balls that come nonstop in life. Jumping from side to side, waiting for the next serve. But having a proactive plan in place to manage life’s inevitable stresses is so important because stress is absolute havoc on our systems. My stress management toolbox includes running, hiking, walking, yoga, deep breathing and meditation, connection with my family or a close friend, awareness and gratitude, reading a few treasured books, and surrendering life’s difficulties to God.

As far as eating goes, I don’t put rules or restrictions on myself. Instead, I seek to eat like I love myself, and my relationship with a nearby farm is at the heart of this. I’ve developed a deep reverence for my farmer friends, the work they do, and the food they grow. When I go to pick up my box of vegetables each week, I am completely in awe of every item. I know each piece of produce began as a seed, was labored and tended to by my friends, and then left to just be and grow in the magical way it knows how — transformed from a tiny seed into a fresh, vibrant vegetable that will nourish me and my family. I get to take these gems home and create meals and menus around them. Farm to table to soul. The same goes for my garden.

So rather than following this diet or that, I would encourage you to fall in love with the wondrous gift of food cycles. Find a local farm or farmers market and shape your meals around the produce you receive at those places. Grow a garden, even if it’s just one tomato plant on your deck. Check out different cookbooks from the library every week or two. Delight in the adventure of finding, creating and cooking from these gifts. I sometimes partake in a big cheeseburger, fries and a Coke, but I try to shape the majority of my diet around local produce. Pay attention to how certain foods make you feel, and then honor yourself with your choices.

In working with a naturopath over the past year, a few other daily goals of mine are sleep, hydration, and exercise.

Sleeping like I love myself means a minimum of eight hours nightly. Sleep is when our body fights illness and restores itself. (Hello, smart body!) I honor my sleep time now more than ever. It’s hard during the school year when the alarm goes off at 6 AM, but that just means I need to be asleep by 10 or 10:30 PM. Which means I need to be in bed reading and winding down by 9:30 PM. Rest is also very important – if you’re tired during the day, rest. Make it a priority. You literally cannot pour from an empty glass.

My naturopath says to drink half your body weight in ounces daily. I do not always do this, but I try. I make a pitcher of water (so I know how many ounces is in it) and try to drink two of them daily. I put a combination of any of the following in my water: lemon, orange, lime, cucumber, basil, and mint. Hands down, I drink more water when it has a bit of natural flavor to it. Hydration is essential for overall health and well-being.

And exercise… I think of moving my body as something I get to do rather than something I have to do. Right now I have a healthy physical body that has the ability to move, and I will never, ever take that for granted again. The only “rule” I have for myself is to do something daily. It could be a run, walk, hike, bike ride, housework, playing in the pool with the kids, yoga, etc. Switch it up. Use your body to explore your little corner of the Earth. Use the time to connect with yourself, with God, and to release stress. Don’t wait for time in your schedule to “open up” for exercise- it won’t happen. Make it a daily practice, schedule it in, put it at the top of your to-do list.

So, my friend, I ask you to continually love yourself and trust your inner wisdom to care for you. Release the heavy burdens of stress through prayer, meditation, reading, and exercise. Cook beautiful and simple foods at home. Make your bedroom a peaceful sanctuary and rest well. Drink water with a grateful heart. Move your body, and keep your eyes open to the beautiful world around you. Enjoy every day.

Much love – Gretchen

PS- A couple reading recommendations:
Clean Eating Magazine
A Return to Love – Marianne Williamson
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver
The Moosewood Cookbook – Mollie Katzen