I can’t remember the first time I heard the phrase, “Listen to your body.” Maybe I read about it in Intuitive Eating. Or heard it from one of the many therapists I saw in my 20’s. Regardless, I know my immediate response was “what the hell does that even mean?”
What does it even mean to listen to your body?
A fish doesn’t know she’s swimming in water because she’s never been surrounded by air. Telling someone who’s spent months, years, or even decades cutting themselves off from their own body’s signals to “listen to your body” is sort of like telling a fish to notice the water. It doesn’t even register at first.
A Culture of Disconnection
Dieting, cleanses, even “clean eating” cause disconnection with our own bodies.
Your body is the home your soul will reside in your entire life.
Sadly we’re often trained to tune out the signals our bodies send us. We’re sold the motto, “No pain no gain.” We’re told over and over to push through pain and focus on our goals. To never stop trying. Not to give up. No matter what.
We’re urged to ignore signals our body is in pain or needs rest. Focused on doing, achieving, and succeeding, little emphasis is placed on teaching children how to feel their feelings, listen to their bodies, and follow their drives.
Diet Culture Reinforces Disconnection
There’s no doubt our society is obsessed with an unrealistic thin ideal. Diet culture bombards us with messages every single day. We’re sold the lie: if we diet and lose weight, we’ll be healthier. Happier. More worthy. Attractive. Loved. At the same time we live in a society that continually treats people differently according to their body shape, size, and color.
Most of us cope with this pressure by giving in. By jumping on the new “lifestyle change.” By going on a diet, eating “clean”, working to control our bodies, and trying to lose weight. To fit into the unrealistic ideal.
Not only do diets fail 95-97% of the time, lead to weight gain, and often to eating disorders… they also actively disconnect us from our bodies.
It’s impossible to follow a diet and to listen to your body at the same time.
Weight Watchers, Noom, Paleo, you name it. Clean eating, clenses, intermittent fasting. ALL harm our ability to connect with our bodies.
Diets, clean eating, fasting… they all teach us to eat according to a clock and a list of allowed food rather than according to signals our own majestic bodies send us.
They teach us to measure our food using points, scales, and invented serving sizes. Instead of listening to our own body cues. Diets teach us to ignore our hunger signs. And our cravings. To try to trick our bodies into not feeling hungry when they in fact are hungry.
Just look at ANY other living creature in this world. They’re able to survive, grow, and thrive by listening to their bodies and feeding themselves. You don’t see squirrels counting their acorns, or deer worrying about the calories in the plants they eat. That’s because they rely on their senses to find food and the signals their bodies send them about how much to eat. Even ancient humans survived by their instincts. Their drives. Cues. And Signals. They listened to their bodies.
Why It’s Important To Listen To Your Body
Your body is brilliant and carries innate wisdom.
If you can learn to quiet the noise all around you- the noise of anxiety, of diet culture, of your mom, and of the advertisers, of media… then you’ll be able to once again hear your inner wisdom. Yes… it’s scary. It’s hard. And it may sound impossible. But it is not.
Recovery is about reconnecting to your body and listening to her.
Listening is a Skill, and You’re Already Doing It
Would you be surprised if I said you’re already listening to your body? How do you decide when to go to the bathroom? You listen to your body. What about when to fall asleep? You listen to your body. When you get a cramp in your leg, you instinctively stretch your muscle. Reach for a blanket when you get the chills- again you’re listening!
Your body is not broken and you’re not incapable.
No matter how long you have been struggling with food, you can reconnect to your body.
Why Learn to Listen to Your Body?
The main goal of your body is to grow and survive. Tuning into these natural urges, sensations, and drives not only help us survive. But helps us thrive. And feel good. When you begin to listen to your body, you can build back her trust. You can reconnect to the innate wisdom she holds inside.
According to set point weight theory, your body has a natural weight it constantly attempts to get back too. When at this weight, you’re able to fuel her without obsession. Your body is healthy and your weight remains stable.
When you attempt to drive your body below her natural set point weight, several harmful things can happen. You may get on the yo-yo diet roller coaster. Periods of restriction are often followed by binges. In some cases anorexia is triggered. No matter the outcome-it doesn’t end well.
Listening to and responding to our body’s needs is the easiest way to find our set-point weight. Which, in turn, sets us free from food and weight obsessions.
Okay, so let’s say you agree you want to give this “listen to your body” thing a try. If you’re anything like me, you’re wondering how to even begin.
How to Start to Listen to Your Body
Tune in and Trust
The very first step towards learning to listen to your body is to start noticing. Pay attention to the sensations in your physical body. Starting with the top of your head, mentally scan your body, noticing any feelings and sensations. Is there any pain? Any tightness? Do body parts feel warm or cold?
Our bodies constantly give us information. Our senses provide us with input through our bodies all the time. Notice what you hear, see, smell, feel, and taste.
Also consider the idea of trust. Your body holds wisdom and knows innately what you need.
You just have to learn to pay attention to her. The more you respond to your body’s needs, the easier it will become to notice them.
Mindfulness practices are an excellent way to become connected to your body. The key to mindfulness is focusing on this very moment.
Being mindful means you’re deeply connected to the present.
There are many exercises that can help you develop the skill of mindfulness. Just like any other new skill you are learning, the more you practice it, the better you’ll become at it.
Yoga or some other form of movement
Practicing yoga is an excellent way to get more in tuned with your body. Embodiment, or really feeling into and experiencing sensations in our bodies, helps us listen to and respond to our needs.
Many people who struggle with dieting and disordered eating have a tumultuous relationship with exercise. Often we engage in movement with the sole purpose of shrinking or changing our bodies.
When we learn to practice yoga or other forms of movement with the intent of connecting to our bodies, we have an entirely different experience.
For some people, yoga is the type of movement that connects them most to their bodies. For others, horseback riding, martial arts, or rollerblading may be the key. Think outside of the box, and consider trying something new.
When I was deep in my eating disorder, the idea of trying a belly dancing class would’ve sent me into a panic. What a gift it was the first time I tried it in recovery and enjoyed a new way of connecting to the body part I had most hated in the past.
We’re all unique humans and what worked for me may not work for you.
The magic of reconnecting happens when we let go of movement and exercise as a form of contorting our body shape and size, and instead use it to connect with joy and pleasure.
It Takes Time
When you’ve spent months, years, or even decades disconnected from your body, it will take time to reconnect. Give yourself permission to take this process one moment at a time. Patience with yourself will only help the process.
With persistence and consistency, you can reconnect with your body and tap into her wisdom.