On Self-Care

“the practice of the healer, therapist, teacher or any helping professional should be directed towards his or herself first, because if the helper is unhappy, he or she cannot help many people.” tich nhat hanh (cited in hooks, 1994)

My path to health and wellness has been a tumultuous one.  The early part of my life was filled with a lot of unhealthy, processed foods and little exercise. The bulk of my teenage years and early 20s were spent diet-obsessed, eating-disordered, exercise-addicted, and still full of processed (vegan) food and occasional alcohol binges. Today, the thought of any of those old habits being part of my reality makes me feel physically ill. I’m not sure when exactly the shift occurred, but somehow my diet-obsession has turned into a health-obsession and my exercise-addiction (albeit still arguably present) has come to include more gentle forms of activity, like (and perhaps most importantly) yoga. I can’t recall the last time I bought something processed and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had alcohol in the past year. To my body’s delight and my punk/working class/criticalgradstudent heart’s dismay, I have transformed into a stereotype of what surely must be a category on “Stuff White People Like”: a bourgie hippie. (Which is so annoying, because I hate hippies).

Although the goal of writing this post is to celebrate and perhaps even inspire folks to embrace holistically healthy lifestyles, I would be remiss to not acknowledge that I have an immense amount of privilege to spend time reading and thinking about health and wellness. I have time to exercise and meal-plan/prepare. I have a disposable income that–although is not much–allows me to splurge on yoga memberships and personal juicers. I spent my last blog post woe-ing about my privilege, so in the interest of not extending that pity-party to the point of total obnoxiousness, I want to shift gears and positively focus way my healthy habits have truly transformed my life. Still, the question of access is one that is DEEPLY important to me, and I want to continue to find ways to argue that healthy living should not and does not necessarily have to be reserved for those with time and money. I hope to engage with this more in future posts, and hopefully through future research and activism.

fresh squeezed green juice: kale, spinach, parsley, green apples, lemon, ginger. yum!

I chose to write about this now because I’m embarking on round two of a 21-day detox cleanse, inspired by a combination of Alejandro Junger’s CLEAN program and Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Dietbook (yes, it’s a ridiculous title; deal with it). Dr. Junger’s program (to which I’m adhering more strictly) requires a simple formula of a liquid meal in the morning, a solid meal at lunch, liquid meal at dinner. This usually works out as: juice, healthy lunch, smoothie or pureed soup for dinner. There is a list of items that are not allowed, including: certain kinds of meat, sugar, alcohol, gluten, caffeine, certain types of high-sugar fruits, “nightshades,” peanuts, eggs, soy, dairy. There are very few instances that you would ever buy anything in a package. My refrigerator is mostly full of fresh fruits and veggies, bulk gluten-free grains, and almond butter. As a vegan, I already had a good chunk of this eliminated from my diet, but during my first round, giving up bread, soy (tofu), and sugar seemed like it would be impossible. Surprisingly, after completing the first cleanse in January, I’ve rarely looked back, and have continued to eat a mostly gluten-free, soy-free and (refined) sugar-free diet (in addition to remaining vegan, and now, mostly processed-food free).

Round two is proving to be equally successful and I was happy to bring in the addition of Kris Carr‘s book, which has a similar 21 day cleanse, but Carr doesn’t require that your dinner be in liquid form. In addition, Carr includes a bunch of hippie-dippy spiritual stuff in the book, such as daily affirmations, an insistence on meditation, and hailing her readers as “magical unicorns” who must tend to our “god pods.” If I wasn’t eating so healthy, I’d probably throw up in my mouth a little, but one of the perks of the cleanse is a feeling of acceptance (of yourself and others), and so I now mostly just find it endearing.

Being on a detox allows you to live in your body with intention and mindfulness. It allows you to think about food in ways that are not about deprivation (I swear, that’s not the framework, counter-intuitive as it may seem), but about nutrition, energy and sustenance. As someone who struggled with body-hate and a vicious battle with bulimia for most my life (literally most of it; my eating disorder issues started around age 11), finding a way to enjoy food again has been profoundly life-changing. Part of the detox is trying to learn what foods negatively impact your body; for me, I discovered that gluten was a problem (I broke out in a rash the first time I introduced bread back in my diet after the first cleanse), and tomatoes are too acidic for my stomach. And, surprise surprise, sugar makes me feel like shit after the initial high. But the cleanse also helps you learn to crave new foods. I was a vegan-baker to my core; I loved sugary desserts. Although I still love the adorableness and deliciousness of sweet treats (making them for myself and sharing with others), I’ve now been happily introduced to a world of gluten-free, refined-sugar free, vegan (often raw) baking, and I would take a raw date/coconut cookie ball over a cupcake any day…(okay, there might be instances when that’s not true, but srsly, for the most part, I crave better forms of sweets now!). In addition, I crave and am no longer afraid of “healthy fats” like avocados, almond butter, and olive oil. During the cleanse, my lunches probably have more fat and calories than I’ve ever “let” myself have in one meal, but they fill me up both physically and emotionally. Not being afraid of (good-for-you) food is a pretty amazing sensation.(And, I’m not gonna lie, the fact that I lost seven pounds on my initial cleanse, and have since kept five of those pounds off just eating a mostly “clean” diet, is pretty cool).

But I’m not writing this just to be a commercial for Kriss and Dr. J. I’m writing this because I know that life is tough and stressful, and whether you’re reading this as a fellow grad student, or someone struggling to find fulfilling work, or burntout on long hours, or dealing with family drama, or waking up sad, or feeling “in a rut,” I want to stress that self-care can transform all of those things. I want to stress that self-care is not selfish, because as TNH asserts in the quote at the top of post, we can’t help anyone else (or be in solidarity in the struggle, in more emancipatory terms) if we aren’t first healthy and strong ourselves.

My biggest issue with “bourgie hippie” philosophy is the way it disengages with structural forms of oppression. Anytime anyone remotely suggests that “positive visualization” can provide “abundance,” I become seriously infuriated. Working-class struggle provides abundance, assholes. Not meditation. But what meditation/yoga/healthy eating/etc. does provide is the energy to endure struggle, activism, stress, trauma. And we can’t engage in political and social battles if we don’t have the energy to offer solid resistance. So, I like to think of myself as having a “disidentification” bourgie hippie-ism. Jose Munoz describes disidentification as “the third mode of dealing with dominant ideology, one that neither opts to assimilate within such a structure nor strictly opposes it; rather, disidentification is a strategy that works on and against dominant ideology” (p. 11). Disidentification allows me to take what works from new-agey forms of health and wellness and reclaim it in a way that rejects the really oppressive parts and take up the potentialities offered from the rest of it.

Yoga and changes in my diet got me through one of the biggest and most difficult life changes I’ve experienced. Two years ago I left the love of my life–Chicago–for Minneapolis. I left behind amazing friends, a broken but important relationship, a sense of belonging, a community of activists and punks, and a lake and a skyline that kept my heart vibrantly alive. It was a horribly painful transition. But my gift to myself was an unlimited membership to a Bikram yoga studio. I went daily. 90 minutes a day I sweat and focused and breathed (and locked my knee). I learned, every day, that the pain was temporary. And I carried that wisdom with me outside of the studio. And it proved true.

This blog has so far been a reflection of my intellectual opinions on academia, politics, labor, media, etc. But if you look to your right, you’ll notice that most of my blogroll is devoted to health and fitness. This is a huge part of my life and one I don’t want to be embarrassed about, because it’s not punk enough, or because it’s only for those with privilege, or because meditation takes too long. It’s just too good not to share. And it’s just too important not to devote time to considering how we can extend healthy living to those with less conducive lifestyles than mine.

Because of this, I’m going to create a weekly blog feature called “Wellness Wednesday.” On Wellness Wednesdays, I’ll talk about some aspect of healthy living. Sometimes it may be a recipe, sometimes a new fitness routine, and sometimes I’ll wrestle with tough questions about access and the politics behind health and wellness. I hope you’ll join me and maybe feel compelled to disidentify with your own form of bourgie-hippieism.

.love. <3

11 thoughts on “On Self-Care

  1. Christine Harrell says:

    Darn yuppies and bougie-hippies. It is annoying when they like the same stuff you do. :-/ It’s like, “I’m not a yuppie, really! I just really like good food.” But just because you like the same external objects as someone doesn’t mean you have the same internal beliefs…

  2. binya says:

    oh lady, of course i love this post+i won’t write everything i want to, otherwise i would be babbling on forever :)

    as a fellow health+wellness nut (and as someone embarking on the journey of a holistic health practitioner), i am constantly feeling torn between camps: the “bourgie-hippies” who don’t acknowledge oppression and privilege (couldn’t agree more with what you said about that visualization+abundance crap. ugh.) and parts of the radical community who often toss issues like health+wellness (and the accompanying varied modalities) aside as trivial, not ever applicable/helpful to most folks and at times, even counter-revolutionary (people have often asked me why i have chosen such a “bourgie” field and have told me that i should focus my life’s work on the “more important” issues at hand).

    comments such as these remind me of just how far health, wellness + holistic medicine have fallen from where they should (and need) to be. i spend much of my time carving out whatever space i can within my communities (the radical/queer/working-class/communities of color i belong to) for dialogue on bringing self-care into our struggle for a better society. a variety of issues such as body-hate, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, addiction, diabetes+heart disease (not to mention a million more) disproportionally affect working-class communities and communities of color and yet these are the very groups that hardly ever have access to the resources that can help them heal+prevent those issues from happening in the first place. we need to reclaim our bodies in more ways than one…by fighting for self-care as right for all people, we can bring health+wellness back into our communities and become healthier, happier and (most importantly) more empowered to build the revolutionary struggle!


    • rebelgrrlacademy says:

      omg. your response gave me chills! i love how you talk about bringing this into disenfranchised communities. it *can* be empowering, so true!

      i don’t remember if i commented about this, but i read that you get to help with the queer night at your yoga studio…that’s SO GREAT! i would love to hear more about how that goes.

      there was some talk about starting free yoga for queer and trans folk here in mpls, but it sort of fell apart…i’m feeling inspired to take it on again!

      you’re the best, i love that we are so in synch. : )

  3. Lachrista says:

    My question is this: I’ve been attempting to eat better (and live better) for a while. I feel like I eat way too much processed crap. In your experience, do you think it’s best to do a “cold-turkey” type of thing, and just eliminate all of the bad shit, or do something more gradual? Any advice on this would be much appreciated, lady!

    Also, when you’re not cleansing, what types of meals/snacks do you generally prepare?

    This post has totally motivated me to get back into the “healthy” swing of things! Grazie!!!

    • rebelgrrlacademy says:

      Hey Lachrista,

      If you’re thinking about doing an actual cleanse, Dr. J recommends doing up to two weeks of “elimination diet,” meaning not eating anything on the “no” list, but not necessarily following the liquid/solid/liquid routine, and allowing yourself more room for snacking and desserts. So, in a way, I guess that is cold turkey w/ no processed stuff. The bad stuff in my diet before the clease was sugar in desserts, sugar in granola bars/protein bars, juices, and a million other things you might not realize have sugar, because they put that junk in EVERYTHING. I also ate a shit ton of bread and also processed soy like tofu and tempeh. I gave that up cold turkey and, like I said, have rarely looked back. If you’re worried because you have a lot more junk in your diet currently, I think it’s still safe/easy enough to stop it all right away. Some folks that I engage with on the CLEAN community forums had *horrible* diets and stop and feel amazing. Both Dr. J and Kriss recommend throwing out all the bad stuff in your kitchen. This feels so wasteful, but it’s ultimately a good move because eating shitty stuff isn’t going to feed hungry people…..

      When I’m not on the cleanse, I don’t have a totally perfect meal plan, since I tend to work out first thing in the morning and not really want a big lunch if I know I’m going to have a substantial dinner (which I tend to have with my partner). Truthfully, my days usually go like so:
      -wake up/work out/clean/shower, usually not done until 12ish
      -make a smoothie
      -snacks before dinner EITHER (not all): fruit, veggies and hummus, occasionally a larabar or clean protein bar (not a whole lot of those out there), almonds/nuts
      -dinner is usually a meal consisting of a grain (like quinoa or millet or brown rice) and lots of veggies and usually some kind of bean. in the winter, i’m a soup addict, and have a lot of great soup recipes. also, big salads with beans and tons of veggies.

      So I don’t always do a perfectly balanced three meal a day kind of thing, but I believe in Dr. J’s rule about leaving a 12 hour window between your dinner and your breakfast, and that it’s best on the body to make breakfast a liquid meal. So that’s how it tends to work out for me. When I’m on a better schedule and am up for doing juice or smoothie before a workout, I have a smaller version of my dinner meals for lunch, which is probably the better plan.

      Hope that helps! When I made the decision to change eating habits, setting my yoga intentions on that was helpful too. : )

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