The most basic form of self-love is caring for yourself. We have to start with self-care. Let’s get this right out of the way. Self-care is not about drinking your green juice or taking your vitamins every day and always keeping your diet super clean. It’s not about incessant working out or meditating. For some it may be, but that is because that is in alignment with that person. The most important thing is that you do what is in alignment with you. My paternal grandmother ate chocolate and drank coffee every day. For many years she drank alcohol quite frequently. And yet she was extremely healthy her entire life. She passed on at age 94 but never felt like her choices hurt her. She was petite, fit, and happy. Have you ever noticed that there are certain people who seem to be able to eat or drink anything they want without the same result as others who put on weight or feel sluggish? It’s because they don’t pay attention to these things. The emotion around what we do is often more detrimental than what we actually do. What is important is how you feel about the things you do.

I use to think self-care meant being an A+ wellness warrior, which meant that each day I must ask myself: did I drink my green juice? (check); did I do my workout? (check); count my calories? (check); etc. This way of life was exhausting, and I always felt like something was missing. I was trying so hard to control everything around me, my schedule, my body size, my habits— everything was neatly in a box, but my doctor diagnosed me with depression. I hated my job at the time, and I was silently suffering from drug addiction and body dysmorphia. Most of us have something we don’t like about our appearance — a crooked nose, an uneven smile, or eyes that are too large or too small. And though we may fret about our imperfections, they don’t interfere with our daily lives. But my insecurities were my obsession. I couldn’t help but think about my flaws for hours each day. Before my Self-Love Experiment, I couldn’t control my negative thoughts. My insecurities even interfered with my social life as I started to avoid situations out of fear others would notice my flaws. This is an emotional disease that I was suffering from. The fix was finding self-love. But before I started my experiment, I used to be the master of “self–care.” Sure, on the outside I was taking care of myself, by society’s standards, but I hated myself and was depressed.

What kind of life is that?

As you can imagine, this wasn’t real self-care. Because “caring” for yourself is loving yourself. I started to look at what self-care meant to me, and when I was honest I realized I didn’t really like kale salad, I was sick of green juice, and I was burned out with yoga.

Self-care has nothing to do with

what you do but why you do it.

And the only reason we should do anything is because it makes us feel good. Because it brings us joy. I started to use joy as my barometer for self-care. If it brought me joy, I would allow it and enjoy it fully. If it felt forced, I wouldn’t do it. This meant being okay with eating ice cream for breakfast (not everyday of course, but when I wanted it, I honored my desire) because I wanted to, without shame or guilt. But you know, the interesting thing is the more I loved myself the less I craved sugar. Throughout my Self Love Experiment the healthier my choices became, naturally it was never forced. The key is to be present with your joy in each moment, and let that be your guiding compass. For example, this meant canceling my yoga membership so I could have more time for hikes and nature walks. This meant booking a spontaneous trip to Paris to celebrate finishing my book and honoring my hearts calling to celebrate life. Self-care is our foundation; it is our intention and our daily focus. Naturally we want to be healthy, but healthy is not a one size fits all. What makes one person joyful and healthy is not the same for the next.

The word self-love feels funny for the majority of people. Self-love feels selfish. We are not trained to love ourselves. Because we are not use to it, it feels odd and uncomfortable for many of us. But we owe it to ourselves to care for ourselves. I discovered that self-love felt uncomfortable, so I focused on self-care. Self-care is somehow so much easier to approach than self-love—it feels less …. huge. Instead of saying, “I need to love myself,” practice simply caring for yourself. A foundation for any healthy relationship is trust, and if we lie to ourselves, we don’t have that. From there on out I made a promise to always be honest with myself. In my own journey I had every interest in falling in love with myself, so acceptance was the order of the day even in my plus-sized body.

Ask yourself which habit no longer serves you?

Adapted with permission from THE SELF-LOVE EXPERIMENT: Fifteen Principles for Becoming More Kind, Compassionate, and Accepting of Yourself by Shannon Kaiser. © 2017 by Shannon Kaiser. TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House.