Project Body Smart | For women: Is taking care of yourself really that selfish?


For women: Is taking care of yourself really that selfish?

For women: Is taking care of yourself really that selfish?

by JOHN BERARDI, PH.D. | June 17th, 2013

You take care of your loved ones and help them with the details of their lives they’d otherwise miss. You’re a teacher, helper, advisor, and caregiver all wrapped up in one package. But who takes care of … you? Your answer to that question will lead to one of two places: a healthier, fitter, and less-stressed you, or a secured spot on the yo-yo diet merry-go-round.


For the last 6 months, we’ve spent hours interviewing our Lean Eating for Women clients in person and on the telephone. We wanted to find out why they chose to do the program when they just as easily could have hired a local personal trainer, signed up at a CrossFit gym, or bought the latest diet book. And the answer was kinda surprising. Here’s what we found — and how it can help you become healthier, happier, and less stressed-out about your body.



In our interviews, the same stories kept popping up, over and over again.


It’s been estimated that over 60 million families are caring for an aging or disabled person at home, and at least 85% of the caregivers are women. And while this type of caregiving costs both time and money, it also costs women something else: self-care and attention to their own needs. Because 70% of these women are already arriving late, leaving early, or missing work days because of their responsibilities, it’s easy to see how time spent on exercise and personal health are the first things to give.

During our interviews we heard this time and time again. In one case, a client had spent two years caring for her elderly father. She loved every minute she spent with him. But when he passed away, she realized the true toll those two years had taken on her body and her well-being. Not coincidentally, she signed up for Lean Eating the next week.



While men are beginning to help more at home, it’s been estimated that moms still spend twice as much time with their children vs dads. This includes caregiving, teaching, and even driving their children to activities and appointments. Of course, many moms love those extra hours with their children. But there are only so many hours in the day. Exercising, planning a healthy meal, and considering self-care can fall by the wayside. (Many new moms feel like taking a shower is more time than they can manage, let alone going to the gym in the first place.)

Again, this was an extremely common theme in all our interviews. One client stands out in my mind: She’d been driving her son to swim practice twice per day: Every morning at 4:30 AM and every evening after school. She also worked full-time and took care of the rest of her family. She was incredibly proud of who her son had become and that she’d helped him succeed. But when he got his driver’s license and no longer required all of her attention, she realized that the years of putting everyone else first had also left her heavier than she’d ever been before. And sick — her doctor was recommending medication. Interestingly, within weeks she was in Lean Eating.



For women who both work and try to manage a household, time can often feel very short. And it’s not just the actual housework or meal preparation that’s the issue. It’s all the attention, planning, and thinking that goes into holding down what amounts to two jobs. This became evident for one of our clients when her fiancée got unexpectedly transferred to another city. Because she was unable to leave her job immediately, she stayed behind temporarily. Left with some time to reflect alone, she realized how often other things, including her relationship, had come before her own health. And soon after that, she joined Lean Eating.



After dozens of interviews, a central theme kept bubbling to the surface. Women are extremely proud of how much they do for their loved ones. But they also feel utterly exhausted. In the process of putting so much of themselves into caring for others, they end up neglecting themselves. Their own care suffers. Exercise is forgotten, healthy eating is off the menu. They gain weight and lose strength. They age quickly and their health deteriorates. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you pay close attention to the top three lessons our clients have shared, they could make all the difference for you.




As the airplane safety video says, “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” You can’ttake care of others if you’re running out of air yourself. Women are taught that they should always put other people’s needs first. And unless they’ve anticipated and pre-emptively scratched every itch on loved ones’ backs, they may feel guilty about taking time for themselves. As one of our clients said: “I used to feel it wasn’t okay for me to be ‘selfish’. “But now I see it differently. It’s not selfish to take time to go to the gym. It’s not selfish to care about my own health. It’s self-love.”

Doing Lean Eating, she lost weight. She looked and felt better. But more surprisingly, to her, she became a better mom: “The program made me more accessible to my kids — emotionally, physically, in every way. “I feel better about myself and I’m more present for them.”



In our interviews, clients are always surprised to hear that so many other women have stories so similar to their own. They’d felt alone, assuming they were the only ones who felt as exhausted (and in some cases, hopeless) as they did. As one client confessed: “In the beginning, I thought I was the only person who’d ever felt this way. “Now I know that isn’t true, and these feelings are a whole lot more common than I’d imagined. Especially among women.

“But until I opened up about my own struggles, I had no idea.” Since then, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard the following:

  1. “I was doing great until I had my second baby. I just haven’t been able to get back into shape since I had her. I’m so embarrassed and have no one to talk to about it.”
  2. “Until I hit menopause, I never gave it a thought. Then I started gaining weight… and now I just don’t look or feel the way I used to. None of my friends understand. But I don’t want to live this way.”
  3. Between my kids and my aging parents, I don’t have time for me. I can’t work out; I’m too burned out. It’s not fair!”


Countless other women feel exactly the same as you feel right now. It’s normal. And we can help.



Sometimes, the most giving and caring people have the most difficulty accepting help and care themselves. And that’s precisely why the weight and diet woes persist. For most of our clients, it never occurs to them to ask for help. They feel like it’d be an admission that they’re not “good enough” or capable. That they’re not strong enough to do it on their own.

One client kept telling herself: “If I can’t do it myself, I’m a loser. But then she realized: “If I could have done it alone, I would have.” She then felt the power of letting go, of not having to be perfect. “I realized that taking the first few steps… that was enough. I didn’t have to be perfect, I just had to get started.”


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