06 May Body Wisdom – What does ‘Listen to your body’ actually mean, and what has that got to do with Weight Loss, Banting and Keto?
by Victoria Webster, Clinical Psychologist
It was a Sunday just like any other, except for one thing: on this particular Sunday there was going to be a spectacular Mexican themed “all fall down” binge. Tacos, quesadillas, nachos and, of course, margaritas were to be the culprits involved. I didn’t plan it (I promise) but I will take responsibility in saying that I allowed it to happen. By the end of this Sunday, the aftermath of the sugar and carb frenzy started to creep up on me and I had a headache, felt tired, bloated and my stomach was aching. To my amazement, despite my stomach feeling like it was being stretched out like a balloon about to pop, I still continued to make some poor food choices right up until the end of the evening (you know, the old, “well, I might as well keep on going” justification).
On the way home I felt pretty annoyed at myself and wondered why it was that my body was such a whining pain! Why do I have a body that is broken, reacting so sensitively to every little thing I do? I wanted to tell my body to mind its own business and let me live my life. While having this tantrum in my head, something hit me like a ton of bricks (or maybe it was the nachos), and it was this: my body is telling me exactly what I need to hear.
Body whinging or body wisdom?
This was a sobering reality (the tequila was also starting to wear off): I realised that my body was reacting in the best way it could to the situation I had put it in. I was feeling so lousy because my body had to work overtime to digest all the food and was furiously making sure I didn’t slip into a sugar coma. There was nothing wrong with my body at all, it was doing its job and letting me know that it was less than impressed.
If I had taken the time to pay some attention to it along the way, I could have made some different choices. It was not telling me that I wasn’t allowed to eat all the nachos, quesadillas and tacos — I can eat those things any time I want — but it was letting me know that those choices didn’t feel so good. My body was telling me that I have a choice, and suddenly I felt a lot better. My body is not the enemy here, in fact the opposite is true; it holds a lot of wisdom if I only would just pay attention.
Body wisdom and emotions
Managing and regulating emotions does not come easy. It can be difficult to sit with uncomfortable emotions and food can be a quick fix solution to getting rid of, suppressing or ignoring emotions. The thing about eating our emotions away is that if we do not process them and ultimately express them, our bodies are left to hold onto them. Our bodies can store our emotions for us and often this leads to unwanted physical or emotional side effects.
Imagine an animal that has just got out of a life-threatening situation (think of an impala who has just escaped the clutches of a lion), it will shiver and tremble for a while after the trauma is over. This shivering allows for the animal to release stress and tension from their bodies. Sadly, we often don’t allow our bodies to release our emotions, trauma and stress, and this can manifest in sore backs, necks, headaches, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome and many other physical issues that are really an emotional response that has nowhere to go.
What we resist will persist, and if we listen, our bodies can show us the things we need to work on in our emotional lives. Our body’s aches, pains and complaints, especially when it has to do with our guts and stomachs, can be a guide to what emotions we need to regulate and manage. Usually if something is off with our gut it can indicate that something is off with our minds.
Body Wisdom and Mood
Here is a little phrase to write down and stick on the fridge: food influences mood.
Sugary and carby foods will often send us on a rollercoaster of ups and downs. We can get so used to the rollercoaster ride that being constantly uncomfortable in our own skins can be the norm. If we can listen to our bodies, listen to how we are feeling physically and emotionally, we can start to learn what foods work for us and what foods send us into emotional spirals. With some practice in being more mindful of our physical and emotional selves, we can learn a lot, not only about how the food we eat impacts our emotional world, but how eating too fast or eating at certain times of the day can impact us too. Just eating too fast can put our bodies into a stress response and heighten symptoms of anxiety and depression. Conversely, eating when stressed, anxious or depressed can interfere with our digestion and hunger signals. Slowing down and eating mindfully allows us to listen to what our bodies have to say about what we are putting into them.
Body wisdom, hunger and fullness
I have noticed lately that a lot of labels on food (especially health related foods) say: “eat to hunger”. I do understand what this means but if it was this easy, everyone would do it and never put on weight. Sometimes eating until we are full, and stopping there, can feel like a foreign concept. I think we have been taught not to trust our bodies from constant dieting, calorie counting and eating high sugar foods that trick us into thinking we are never full. And from eating to suppress our emotions. However, with practice and patience, we can start to recognise hunger again and learn when we are full, when we are hungry, and when we are just trying to feel better. For some people, the idea of being hungry or full can feel quite scary because it is associated with dieting or overeating. Trust in your body’s wisdom to help figure out when you are truly hungry or full.
Body wisdom and toxic nutritional beliefs
“The fat in this food will make me fat”. This is an example of a toxic nutritional belief that sends us into instant stress mode and makes us panic around food. There are so many of these beliefs that have been so deeply entrenched in us and affect our relationships with food and our bodies. We can spend so much time in fear around food that we forget to listen to our bodies and what they actually need. Let your body be your guide on this one, noticing what really happens when you eat that fat (of course you might need to run a medium-term experiment, allowing your body to adjust). Let your body help you to challenge these old and outdated beliefs that keep you stuck in old behaviours patterns. Sometimes we need help in starting to listen to our bodies and having someone to help us notice the signs is incredibly valuable. Sign up for the RMR Coaching Program to get one-on-one guidance from someone who can help you identify this wisdom.
So, I want to say gracias to the Mexican fiesta. It reminded me to pay attention to my own body wisdom, because for a moment there I forget I had the wisdom built in already, as it is in each and every one of us! It is so easy to forget that our bodies are so much more than just parts attached to our heads, that they can tell us a lot about our physical and emotional worlds. It is also so easy to think that we are “broken” because of what we experience, but if we listen closely enough, we will no longer hear whinging but wisdom instead.