EDITOR’S NOTE: Karen Lukanovich is a coach – and Olympian. This article has been developed and expanded from an original article on Karen’s blog here. It helps us understand the importance of taking care of our bodies as an important part of our self-care. There are some additional resources for coaches (at the end of the article). Enjoy.
All too often self-care seems focused on simply managing our time better and ensuring we have time for relaxation – and ourselves. While this is important, we must also take care of our bodies. In fact it’s essential to our overall well-being.
In this article I share the concept of managing a “Body Budget” as a foundational component of self-care for every kind of coach to consider when working with their clients.
First, what is our “Body Budget”?
Neuroscience informs us that the brain’s most important mission is to predict our body’s energy needs in order to keep us alive and well; the ultimate in self-care.1
As humans we’re a complex mind-body system where the body and mind influence each other. In other words, to have sufficient energy and the healthiest mind possible, we need to take care of our bodies.
How our body maintains stability is called allostasis, or our “Body Budget” as neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett has coined the term.
Why does maintaining a balanced “Body Budget” matter?
Imagine your body budget is like a bank account where you are continually making withdrawals and deposits.
Our brains don’t differentiate between mental and physical withdrawals. So, to our brains, physical withdrawals from our body budget; working long hours, running a marathon, disordered sleep or a poor diet; or mental withdrawals such as fear, worry or anxiety, are all withdrawals from the same system.
If we make too many withdrawals (and not enough deposits), our body budget will become unbalanced and we may experience negative outcomes such as:
- Low energy and fatigue
- Increased stress and anxiety
- Difficulty managing emotions
- Lower resilience
- Feeling overwhelmed
And chronic imbalance (persisting for a long time or constantly recurring) leads to bigger negative outcomes such as illness, chronic inflammation, chronic pain and depression.
According to neuroscientist and founder of The Neuroscience School Dr. Irena O’Brien: “If you’re eating a poor diet, not exercising or not getting enough good quality sleep you’re not going to feel well no matter what self-help tips you follow.”
So, can we surmise that ground zero for human performance is a healthy diet, good quality sleep and regular exercise?
Body Budget and Human Performance…
We can’t argue with the fact that our behaviour produces our results.
But below the surface of our behaviour, we have thinking, feeling, our emotions and our physiology (the way our body functions).
In this pyramidal visual representation, our physiology is our foundation, a key driver of our performance or results.
Our physiology impacts our emotions which impacts our feelings which impacts our thinking, our behavior – and finally our results.
So, our physiology underpins our entire life.
Consider a time when your Body Budget was unbalanced:
- How did you feel? What were your thoughts and behaviours and how did that affect how your day went? How well did you manage your tasks, interactions with others and so on?
- What could you have done differently to manage your Body Budget?
Next, let’s explore the basics of how we can derail, and how we can help ourselves, why it matters and important actions we can take when our body budget is unbalanced.
Balancing Our Body Budget
Let’s start by reviewing the important foundational triad of good quality sleep, exercise and diet!
1) A Healthy Diet
When I asked expert Dr. Delia McCabe, neuroscientist, psychologist and author of “Feed Your Brain; 7 Steps to a Lighter, Brighter You” for a contribution to this article, she happily complied with one of her favorite quotes:
“Thinking (cognition) occurs across a vast, sensitive and sophisticated neural network comprised of cells, chemicals and compounds ALL of which rely on nutrients to function optimally. Optimal brain nutrition therefore needs to be top of mind for anyone who wishes to nourish, nurture and protect their precious and irreplaceable brain.”
Neuroscience research shows that a healthy diet also slows down cognitive aging and memory atrophy (decline/wasting away). We can gain an improvement in cognitive age of up to 7 1/2 years when following a healthy diet long term – a significant increase in longevity.
Additionally, the gut-brain connection is a two-way street and they influence each other. Therefore, good digestive health improves psychological well-being and psychological well-being improves digestive health.
Proper hydration is also critically important for optimal brain and body functioning. Drink water to keep your brain well hydrated and all your cells in peak condition. It should always be your very first choice of fluid. The general rule to follow, as to how much water you should be drinking per day, is to drink 300 ml for every 10 kg of body weight, or 10 fl oz for every 22 lb.
Healthy diets will have these factors in common:
- Low in sugar and processed foods
- High in vegetables, especially leafy greens
- Some protein, whether meat, fish or a non-animal alternative
For a helpful website with inspiring recipes and more information, check out the resource box below.
2) Good Quality Sleep
The recommended amount of sleep for adults is between 7 and 9 hours, although one hour on either side may be acceptable.
Sleep contributes significantly to the process of learning and memory. It’s linked to neural restoration and physiological maintenance across multiple brain systems.
Conversely, sleep loss is linked to deficits in cognitive functions and impaired emotional function – including our emotional regulation. And as ‘sleep debt’ accumulates over time, our performance becomes progressively worse.
We can’t simply “catch up” on missed sleep by sleeping in the next day or on the weekend. However, some of us will be happy to learn that a daily, brief afternoon nap can improve cognitive deficits after restricted sleep, and that napping can enhance learning and memory.
The Sleep Foundation provides a wealth of information and specific strategies to improve sleep loss or tackle sleep disturbances, depending on the individual challenge. See the resource box for a link.
3) Regular Exercise
Did you know that exercise is a Level 1, Grade A treatment for depression and anxiety? Along with a healthy diet and getting adequate sleep, exercise is a simple way to improve our cognitive functioning, psychological well-being and keep our brains healthy as we get older.
Neuroscience confirms that exercise leads to changes in both the structure of the brain and the way it operates. Together these changes boost learning in kids, give adults an edge on cognitive tasks and protect against depression and cognitive decline.
According to ParticipACTION Canada, healthy adults aged 18-64 years should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Muscle and bone strengthening activities are also recommended twice per week.
Exercise can include low intensity activities: walking, hiking, gentle yoga or be high intensity such as running and mountain biking. Engage in activities that you enjoy and work with your lifestyle – this way you ‘re more likely to keep it up and stay on track.
So, how to restore our Body Budget? Well, it’s simple:
Start with the essential triad of good quality 1) Sleep, 2) Exercise and 3) Diet!
And then make time for activities that make you feel good, such as time with friends, yoga, reading a good book, getting outside to go for a walk or hike.
Here’s my plan. To maintain my Body Budget I will:
- Be sure to check-in regularly and cover the basics: a healthy diet, get good quality sleep and exercise.
- Make time to read and meditate and get enough “quiet time” to relax, lower stress levels.
- Take afternoon naps when needed.
- Do activities with friends or solo that I enjoy to make me happy and keep me engaged.
- Get outdoors! Hiking, walking my dog, swimming, skiing, kayaking to feel energized.
In order to perform and feel our best, our physiology needs to function at its best, so, when you feel “out-of-whack”, always do a Body Budget check-in first.
Be safe and well everyone.
With gratitude, Karen
I would love to hear how you manage your body budget in the comments below.
Contributing author: Karen Lukanovich, PPCC, NCCP, MBA, Olympian and Business & Personal Coaching for Women. Passionate about partnering with women entrepreneurs, business owners and professionals to overcome obstacles and focus on what really matters to achieve their goals and create a personal and professional life in which they can thrive. Learn more about Karen at www.summit2summitcoaching.com and connect with her on Linkedin.
And if you like this article on self-care and resilience strategies, you may also like:
- 7 Effective Strategies to Build Resilience in Trying Times by Karen Lukanovich
- Balance & Self-Care: Are We Doing Enough For Our Clients?
- Coaching Tools 101: The Balance and Self-Care Toolkit – How and When to Use These Tools!