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Tending Your Garden: Tips for Fostering Self-Compassion

September 7, 2016

IMG_0509 5x7 WEBPost submitted by:
Healthy Body Image Team Blogger, Strong Momma Heidi

Three and a half years ago, we left our tiny bungalow in South Minneapolis to what I thought would be my dream home in a number of ways. You see, I grew up in a family of farmers, and while my immediate family lived in the ‘burbs, I spent many summers on my aunt and uncle’s farm in northern California, and often thought I’d go into farming myself one day. That didn’t happen, but at the bungalow in Minneapolis, I’d turned a decent corner of our .3 acre lot into an overly productive vegetable patch. I was eager to do the same at our new house in the new suburb, and had big plans given that the plot where we moved is 2+ acres.

The first summer here, I started a small patch of vegetables in what had been the previous owner’s flower garden. It was mildly successful, and I blamed the fact that all of my peppers and green beans died on the soil and poor sunlight. That fall, my husband and I marked off a 12×18 garden, tilled out the grass, put up a 6’ deer fence, and anxiously awaited spring. Once we were finally able to plant, we started rows of tomatoes, carrots, onions, peppers, beans…you name it.

A few weeks later, things were looking good. Little spouts were pushing through the surface of the soil just as they should have been. I talked with my son about the garden we were growing and how he would soon be able to help me weed and pick vegetables. But then something happened. Or rather, a series of somethings over the next several weeks happened as I became a bit distracted by the warming weather, weekend trips to the family cabin, soccer practices, swimming lessons, BBQs. I glanced at the garden now and again as late spring turned to summer, each time expecting to see the plants a little bigger, the small vegetables growing and ripening.

What I saw instead was a garden slowly being taken over by the shade of the giant oak tree in the yard, something we had apparently not anticipated when we selected the plot of the garden the previous fall. It was our first full summer in the house…we didn’t know just how much foliage came in on our trees, just how shady the yard was. I watched as the tomato leaves wilted, the lettuce grew tall and bitter and began to flower. I picked things now and again when the thought occurred to me just as I was in a panic to serve my children dinner before they lost their minds, usually having a window of about 20 minutes after daycare pick up before that happened.

I blamed my dying garden on the soil again. And the fact that the tree blocked too much sun in the afternoon.

But here’s what was actually going on (aside from the shade, of course): Within three weeks of moving to the new house, I had my second child, so I was mothering an infant and a toddler. I started a new full time job that had me commuting to and from the very city we had just vacated. I had started focusing on my own health and wellness, joining boot camp and then eventually CrossFit. I was gluten free and then dairy free and then paleo and then just trying to track my macros. I trained for and ran a marathon. I started a part time job. I wrote a book. I did everything except for garden.
Despite all of these efforts to lose the baby weight, to drop body fat, to see the number on the scale go down, I didn’t feel any happier. Yes, I was losing weight. But I didn’t feel that way. I still felt fat. Still felt the rolls of my stomach pressing against my workout pants, convinced that everyone around me was as fixed on that fact as I was.

I became frustrated at myself when, in those 20 minutes of panicked dinner making, I would pop bits of food in my mouth to stave off my own hunger until my husband got home and we could eat together. Sometimes I ate directly from my kids’ plates if they didn’t finish a meal. Sometimes I treated myself to bites of their dessert. And with each of these “indulgences” or “cheats” I berated myself for not working hard enough toward my goals.

In my efforts to make my new house a home and settle my family in the suburbs, I did not do the work necessary to make a garden grow. I never weeded. I didn’t water enough. I simply waited and hoped that I would get the results that I imaged in my head, that I knew I had the potential to get. But I did not tend to my garden, and so my garden did not grow in the way that I wanted or expected it to. And in my pursuits of wellness, I did everything except for tend to my mental wellness and self-compassion, and so despite losing weight and getting stronger, I still felt negatively about myself. imag2458

This year, I’ve abandon my garden altogether. That is, I’ve abandon where I originally planted it and I’m starting over. I’ve planted tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers in pots on my patio, and I’ve got a small herb garden nearby. I’m diligent about watering them, and it doesn’t feel overwhelming to keep them clear of weeds despite now having soccer and swimming for both children, the cabin, and the general business of summer. We’re planning another big garden for next year, one that will be more carefully mapped out, but for now I’m tending to what I have because I’ve managed it better, and I’ve managed my own expectations around it better.

This year, I’ve also abandon food tracking for the most part. I’ve stopped weighing myself. Most importantly, I’ve made a conscious effort to have self-compassion, to not think of a bite off my kid’s plate as cheating anything or anybody, especially myself. I look at my body as something powerful and beautiful, and I tend to that thought every day, being intentional about my mindset and keeping negativity at bay.

I’m now happier with the garden on my patio than I was with a huge plot, and I’m happier now even though I don’t necessarily see drastic differences on the scale, and here’s why:
Just as we need to tend to the seeds we plant in the soil if we want to see them come to fruition, we too need to tend to the mental seeds we plant when we make efforts to improve our wellness. We need to weed out the negative self talk and instead plant and water the thoughts of positivity. We need to foster growth by tending to what we started with self-compassion. We need to address obstacles or giant oak trees as the arise, and find constructive ways to overcome them. And we need to be conscientious about all of this, which means we have to put effort into our work, not just effort into the physical work of becoming “fit” or changing our nutrition, but into the mental work that goes along with long-term success.

We also need to be mindful of when the weeds are beginning to take over or perhaps our thoughts are a bit starved for water. It can happen slowly, that negative self-talk creeping up around what we’ve worked so hard to sow in our lives, until it’s all we can see or focus on. We need to be mindful of this and then also intentional about taking the time to combat it, to pluck it out and allow the positivity and self-compassion and thoughts of positive body image to grow. And sometimes we need to be open to planting new gardens if the place where we started is now allowing us the long-term success we’re looking for.

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