Put taking care of yourself at the top of your to-do list
When I used to run an art organization, I worked with an opinionated colleague, Melissa, who loved to say, “You know what your problem is? You don’t know how to do you.” In four years, she must have said that to me 500 times. She drove me nuts!
Back then I didn’t give much credence to her astute assessment, but now I know she was right. No matter how much we Solo Moms have on our plates, making our physical and emotional well-being a priority is essential.
Like many of us, I hadn’t planned on raising a child alone. My daughter’s dad departed before she was born, and I was overwhelmed by a new job that didn’t pay very well. My daughter also suffered from severe asthma that was difficult to control. If I wasn’t at the pediatrician’s office, I was figuring out how to pick up my daughter early from day care because she was sick again. Do me? Please.
It seemed like the more I focused on my daughter’s health, the less I took care of mine. Exercise became a thing of the past, my weight ballooned, and I turned to closet eating to handle the pressure; once my daughter was asleep, I’d pull out my stash and put salt vampires and Cookie Monster to shame. That kind of overindulgence remained one of my survival strategies for nearly 20 years.
Taking a walk would have been a healthier choice, but I started experiencing so much leg pain I couldn’t get farther than a few blocks. Instead of seeing a doctor, I purchased some herbal remedies, swallowed far too much ibuprofen, and started buying all my clothes online.
The breaking point came when I attended a professional conference in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Even with a cane, I couldn’t maneuver the steep terrain and spent most of the conference crying in my room. Afraid or not, I had to find out what was wrong.
Turns out the terrible pain in my legs was caused by avascular necrosis, a degenerative disease that caused my hip bones to die. Though it’s unclear what triggered my condition, years of sitting in front of a computer screen munching on cheese crackers certainly hadn’t helped matters.
In 2014, I had both hips replaced. My full recovery took more than a year—but I had an epiphany the first time I rode a stationary bike: exercise actually feels good.
Now I start most mornings with a brisk walk on the treadmill, gardening and yard work have replaced overeating as my favorite stress relievers, and all this increased activity has helped me lose some weight. Best of all, I’m able to do activities with my daughter again.
Bottom line, Solo Moms—if we don’t take care of ourselves today, our long-term health is going to suffer. A recent study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health proved what I’ve learned the hard way. The demands of solo motherhood can negatively impact our health after 50.
If your wellness is not where you want it to be, here are just a few simple things you can do to get back on track.
Schedule those annual checkups. Solo Moms are remarkable multitaskers, but we must see a health-care professional to know what’s going on with our bodies. Whether you’re drawn to traditional medicine or prefer alternative practices, make sure you schedule those annual checkups and screenings. It’s also important to see your health-care provider before embarking on any new fitness regimen.
Get a pedometer or fitness tracker. I’ve been borrowing my daughter’s Jawbone UP fitness tracker for the last few months, and I don’t think I’m giving it back. It tracks your sleep, food intake, and calorie burn rate. You can also set up reminders to get up and move when you’ve been sitting too long. If you can’t afford something with all the bells and whistles, there are pedometers for less than $5.
Involve your children. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Child Care initiative has lots of tips for getting you and your family in better shape. One great suggestion is going for a 30-minute walk three times a week with your family. Pick a park or another calming place in nature. You’ll feel more connected with one another, and it’s great exercise that most of our children need.
Exercise at home. Can’t afford a gym or consistently get to one because of child care? YouTube, most cable stations, and public libraries have tons of free fitness videos. Sometimes when I can’t get out, I turn on the TV and jog in place for 30 minutes. Yeah, I know, not the most exciting exercise in the world, but according to Livestrong.com, it’s still a decent workout.
Got a craving? Surf the web. So you’ve had enough of spinach and need a brownie. Before you go off the rails, check out the Internet. It’s filled with fabulous foodies who transform naughty treats into healthier versions. Simply type “reduced fat,” “sugar free,” or “low carb” before the food you’re craving, and you’ll find a ton of recipes. Just remember to scroll down and read the reviews to find out if the recipe you’re thinking of trying is any good.
Make a weekly date with yourself. I talked to Leslie, a Solo Mom who’s been serious about her fitness for years. She looks great and does isometrics and weight training at the gym, but her favorite way to get a cardio workout is line dancing. Every Friday night, she heads off to her rigorous class while her daughter spends the night with her grandma. I love that Leslie has made this weekly commitment sacrosanct. Sometimes the best way to teach our children the importance of self-love is by modeling the behavior ourselves.
Get support. Working on your physical wellness is the perfect time to do some emotional spring cleaning. A therapist, nutritionist, fitness coach, or online wellness community can help you stay on track. After my surgeries, I had to get to the root causes of my self-destructive behaviors and then release a bunch of toxic situations and people that didn’t support my wellness.
Do my demons still whisper sweet nothings at night? They sure do, but then I hear Melissa’s mantra screaming in my head. At the end of the day, there’s no cookie that’s ever going to love me better than I can.
Ever wonder how other Solo Moms manage self-care? Sister Chat is a confidential space in which to ask other Solo Moms anything.
Denise Kumani Gantt is an interdisciplinary theater artist and author of the poetry collection Conjuring the Dead. She lives in Maryland with her daughter. You can follow her on Twitter at @KumaniGantt.
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