Summer parties, BBQs, a few adult beverages. Heck, it’s been forever since you’ve had a little fun — and this past year has been rough — so why not indulge? Why not pile on the treat foods and keep the sangria flowing? While you’re at it, go ahead and stay up way too late. There’s plenty of time to catch up on sleep later.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a hedonist at heart. I believe humans are driven by the pursuit of pleasure. The problem arises when we indulge mindlessly because we believe we deserve it and because it’s been 16 months since we’ve had the opportunity to let our hair down and interact with other human beings within a six-foot radius. Or, on the flip side, are so out of touch with our bodies’ sensations that even simple things like fatigue and hunger become totally overwhelming and unmanageable.
As a health coach, I’ve worked with hundreds of uber-disciplined, well-educated folks who have their macros completely dialed in, yet struggle to see results, as well as those who restrict like nobody’s business during the week or follow the health-fad-du-jour, then give in to a whole weekend’s worth of junk food (and all the guilt, shame, and judgement that comes with it). It’s one of the reasons I’ve become a staunch anti-diet advocate. And why I’m passionate about helping people re-learn how to listen to their bodies.
What Does Listen to Your Body Even Mean?
Everything about our culture encourages us to tune out our bodies’ signs, from advertising that insists we don’t need to put up with headaches, allergies, or indigestion to the glorification of cheat days, pushing through the pain of overexercising, abandoning our own gut feelings for the professional opinion of a healthcare provider, and convincing ourselves that we “might just be thirsty” when we feel hunger come on.
Our ancestors knew how to tune into those signals — they knew how important they were to their survival. And you do too, you’ve just been trained to dismiss the psychological effects of stress, the physiological effects of hunger, and the constant fatigue of sub-optimal sleep. Maybe you’ve ignored these signs for so long you don’t even remember what they feel like. If so, here’s a quick reminder…
Examples of ignoring your body:
- Eating as soon as you wake up because it’s breakfast time
- Staying up for another few episodes on Netflix even though you’re exhausted
- Taking meds the second a headache comes on
- Drinking more coffee because you didn’t get enough sleep
- Skipping lunch because you’re too busy to eat or too worried about what the scale says
- Running for the 17th consecutive day because it’s in your training plan
Examples of listening to your body:
- Waiting until you feel hungry to eat breakfast
- Going to bed even though the movie isn’t over
- Noticing you have a headache and getting curious why that is
- Being aware that you’re buzzed after two glasses of wine
- Ordering dessert to-go because you’re stuffed right now
- Taking an active recovery day when your muscles feel taxed
Learn How to Take a Hint
Your body is constantly giving you signs about your health. Like I mentioned, it’s not your fault that you’ve been trained to tune it out. It is, however, within your power to start tuning in.
Stuffy nose and dry eyes? Brain fog and bloating? Chronically sore muscles? Raging hunger? They’re all signs. Your job is to, at the very least, acknowledge them. And if you’re so inclined, do something about them. Your body is politely trying to get your attention. Start giving it the respect it deserves, and who knows, you might find that your anxiety mellows out, rest days make a more regular appearance, and your hanger-levels taper off.
Even the rheumatoid arthritis patients in this study noticed a difference when they started using techniques to tune into their symptoms. Researchers evaluated the day-to-day pain and stress-related symptoms of 143 participants using three methods: cognitive-behavioural therapy, mindful awareness, and education. After 30 consecutive days assessing their pain, fatigue, perceived control, and anxiety, the group using mindful awareness techniques, including journaling, reported fewer symptoms than those in the other two groups.
Five Ways to Tune Back In
If you’ve spent a lifetime ignoring your body’s signs — or completely overreacting to them, it can be a hard habit to break. But teaching yourself to tune back in is possible. Here are five strategies I use with my own clients so that they can finally stop micromanaging, second-guessing, and overthinking, and really start listening to (and loving) themselves.
- Slow down. Most of us are moving around so fast, we’d be hard pressed to notice when we’re hungry, full, sleepy, or on the verge of something serious. Instead of jumping from one task to the next, crushing your to-do list, overthinking previous conversations, or scrolling through social media, take a few breaths and slow down. When the world isn’t whirring by you, you’re more apt to notice things.
- Just observe. Before you pop another Advil for that headache or grab a third cup of coffee, observe what symptoms you’re feeling. We’re so focused on avoiding our symptoms at all costs that we never have the opportunity to observe them for what they are. Every symptom or sign your body gives you is a hint about how you can better take care of yourself.
- Get curious. Tuning in means asking the right questions. Does your head hurt because you’ve been staring at a computer screen all day and need to step outside for some fresh air? Are you exhausted because you didn’t get enough sleep last night or you’ve been burning the candle at both ends? And in contrast, are you feeling satiated and focused because you ate a protein-forward breakfast?
- Journal it. Writing down your thoughts sets you up for being more present. Carve out a few minutes each day to identify what you’re noticing and if there’s a common theme. You might realize your headache gets bad around 5:00 pm from staring at work all day or that you go searching for something snacky after your carb-heavy lunch wears off.
- Be kind. Ignoring the body’s cues is often a result of the habit we all have of treating ourselves harshly. How many times have you felt hungry, but convinced yourself you could hold out ‘til dinnertime? Or felt tired, but because you don’t want to be “lazy” you just sucked down a venti coffee? Think about how you’d talk to a friend in this situation. You’d probably offer to make them some food or suggest a nap. Part of listening to your body is being kinder to yourself.
What’s Your Body Trying to Tell You?
Diet culture may have taught you to ignore or micromanage your body’s signs, but you can learn to listen, trust, and respect your body again. Things like hunger, fatigue, stress, and soreness are trying to get your attention for a reason. Start tuning in and see what happens.
- Slow down
- Just observe
- Get curious
- Journal it
- Be kind
What about you? How do you deal with listening to or ignoring your body’s cues?