How to Listen to Your Body
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Listening to your body is important not only for your physical body, but for a healthier mindset as well. It means taking the time to be attentive to the mental, physical, and emotional needs of your body. I’ve felt the urge to ‘listen to my body’ more closely for a while now, but have only recently begun putting it to practice, making it a habit. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a lot simpler than you think.
For most of us, it can be quite easy not to listen what our bodies are telling us. All too often we drown out its messages with external distractions from day-to-day life. Whether it’s stress from work (or the world right now), our phones, or another person, we tend to lose the sense of listening to our body’s needs. Once this becomes a habit, we easily give into unhealthy cravings, choose to listen to our irrational excuses, and continue a cycle that is most likely not our ideal lifestyle.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when your body truly does need to rest, or you really might not have time to go for a walk.
The point is, the only person who knows that, is you. That’s why it’s so crucial to listen to what your body is telling you. Otherwise, you’ll continue to ignore your own needs, or be influenced by other people’s behaviors, whether they’re good for you or not.
The main takeaway of listening to your body is that it takes time to hone in on. It’s a journey and many times, it’s trial and error. You learn along the way. All I ask is that you remain open to questioning your routines to discover what you may be missing, and doing what works for you, no one else. It just might be a lighter, more refreshing way of living.
The physical cues we receive.
Our bodies are born with natural ways of alerting you to what it requires. If your stomach growls, you’re hungry. If it gurgles or hurts, it’s upset. Sometimes it’s a bit more complex. Maybe you get a headache a few times a week, experience digestion issues frequently, or a rash always pops up before a work presentation. If these things happen, do you listen to those messages when they arise? Often, these are the cues that are more obvious. Possibly a stress rash, digestion issues from certain foods, or caffeine headaches. But some people have learned to tune them out, or have overrode the signals their bodies are telling them with their engrained habits.
What happens when you eat dairy? For some, you know it upsets your stomach. Others, you know that, but choose to ignore it most of the time, and eat dairy daily regardless. Or maybe, you continually get headaches, but are unsure of the cause. You take medication and it goes away shortly after.
Whenever you get a headache, rash, or an upset stomach, your body is alerting you. It’s in this manner that I like to treat those alerts like an experiment. I think back on what I ate that might be different, if I used a new product on my skin, or if I’ve drank enough water.
In the example of the consistent headaches, have you tried cutting caffeine, or alcohol? Or drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water each day to see if that helps? Sometimes you won’t know the answer right away. But rather than ignore it, or immediately resort to a pill to ease the discomfort (when the situation calls for it), try to be attentive to what your body is telling you. Take an investigative approach.
For example, if you get back pain frequently, instead of immediately blaming it on your age, or job, look at your posture. Could it be improved? Could you invest in a more supportive desk chair, do rehabilitative stretches, or practice yoga more often? Do you lift heavy objects correctly (using your legs), or use your back to do so?
I realize you may be doing these things and still have back pain. However, I know a great deal of people who will continue to have aches and pains, yet not take actionable change to improve it. Be attentive to the signals your physical body sends you, and remain open to the ways in which problems can be solved. Not everything needs a pill to be remedied, as many times, the pill is not treating the root of the problem.
Yes, your cravings are telling you something.
When you make a meal, making it balanced helps to not lead to regrettable food choices later. For me, it’s including a healthy fat, source of protein, and fruit or vegetables in every meal. I also tend to eat less meat and I know that my body thrives when I’m incorporating whole foods into my diet. When I haven’t drunk enough water, I reach for more snacks when I should be reaching for my water bottle. Before I’d taken the time to understand all these things about myself, I snacked more than I should’ve, ate more carbohydrates than I needed, and didn’t feel satisfied from my meals.
Take the time to understand what makes you feel good after you eat.
It also helps to ask yourself what you’re in the mood for before you eat. If you’re about to make mac n’ cheese, why? Are you doing it out of habit, because its quick, or are you in the mood for something salty? The point is that you should be satisfied after your meal, and determining why you’re eating something will help you become satisfied.
If you were craving something sweet but you’d decided on the mac n’ cheese, you’d probably end up eating the mac n’ cheese, and then having a cupcake after because that’s what you really wanted. And you might beat yourself up because you ended up eating the whole box of mac n’ cheese and two cupcakes.
Being able to acknowledge ahead of time that, “Yep, I’m craving something sweet. I’ll make some pancakes and top them with fruit,” will help you to not only make a better choice in the first place, but avoid an unhealthy one later. Or, you could choose to make a batch of healthier cupcakes, instead of reaching for traditional ones. Cravings are not inherently bad. Most of the time, you can make whatever you’re craving healthier, or simply eat it in moderation.
Slow down while you eat.
One thing that makes listening to your body simple, is slowing down! Sit down for your meal, instead of chowing down in the kitchen right after it’s done. Take your time. I realize not everyone has that luxury for every meal, but for at least one of your meals, slow down while you eat.
When is the last time you took a whole 20 minutes to eat your lunch? Eating the entire time (slowly) and savoring each bite. We like to distract ourselves with our phone, work, the next thing to do, or are too busy taking care of others while we eat. Learn to be present with your food. Even if you only have 5 minutes to focus solely on your meal, use all 5 minutes only on that dish or snack. Your body will be so much more satisfied with what you’ve nourished it with if you do, I promise.
Learn when and how to get moving.
When you have the energy to workout, do it. Now is the perfect time to figure out when your body is the most energized and motivated. I’ve realized if I don’t workout before 3 PM, my motivation significantly decreases. After that time, it becomes all too easy for me to make excuses why I shouldn’t workout. And most of them are completely irrational. “Well, it’s going to get dark out soon.” (Uh, not until like 9?) “I worked out yesterday, so I should be fine if I skip this one today.” (Even though I know that I can’t workout the next day.) “Oh, well I have to make dinner and have other things I wanted to do, so I won’t have time.” (When clearly, I have enough time.)
Figuring out your ideal time to workout is half the battle. Not giving in to excuses (like the ones above) that you know aren’t valid is the other half. Some days I don’t have the time to get a workout in before my desired time frame. It’s up to me to motivate myself to do it when I do have the time. I could easily give in to the myriad of excuses my brain tells me, but I know that if I just do it, I’ll feel so much better! And better yet, I learn to develop the discipline to not listen to those initial thoughts of why I can’t.
On the other hand, another part of listening to your body is being able to determine when those excuses are justified. I know, it might seem a bit confusing, but it’s not. Say I woke up and immediately felt that my muscles were quite a bit sorer than usual. The day before I did an intense strength training workout and happened to go for a bike ride later in the day, and my muscles were feeling it. I had another intense strength training workout planned for the day. The question is, is it practical for me to do another one of those workouts? My body is telling me that it worked hard yesterday. It’s up to me to listen to that, and evaluate if I can still do another one of those workouts, if I should take a rest day, or if I’d be better off doing some light yoga to help my muscles recover. Regardless, only I would know if I’m just putting off the intense strength training session because I’m giving in to the excuse that I’m sore, or if I should do yoga instead.
Keep in mind that there are MANY more ways of listening to your body. These are a few examples to get you thinking. I can tell you from personal experience that if you don’t try to experiment with your diet and moving your body, you’ll most likely be stuck in the same loophole. You only get one body, and no one is going to listen to it for you. With the world at a bit of a stand-still, it’s a great to time question your routines. Why do you do the things that you do? Out of habit, or because you’re listening to your body? Time to find out!