I’ve been married for nearly 20 years, and that’s quite a while. If I’ve learned anything over this past 20 years about relationships, it’s this–if you love somebody you have to take time to listen to them. Sure, it’s important to buy each other presents, and show affection. And yeah, sex is pretty important too. But few things are as important as taking time to really hear what your partner has to say.
Today is Love Your Body Day, and I think that’s wonderful. It’s a day which encourages us to celebrate the bodies we have as they are. It’s a day which encourages us to put diets aside and to spend at least 24 hours not comparing ourselves to unrealistic media ideals of bodies and not beating ourselves up for failing to “measure up”.
But I think we can take this relationship with our bodies a little further than failing to beat ourselves up. And I think one of the most important things we can do to show our bodies love is to learn to listen to them.
Our bodies are mysterious and magical and wondrous. So much of it works without our having to think consciously about it at all. Our hearts beat, and breathing happens. Our stomachs digest food and our bodies break it into nutrients that fuel movements both conscious and unconscious. But for things that we need to do consciously like find food and move our limbs, and lay down to sleep our bodies have a very sophisticated built-in wiring system intricately connected with our brains. And if we become attuned to that wiring system, we can learn so much about what our bodies need.
So many of us have learned to be frustrated by the fact that our bodies get hungry. But I for one, am deeply grateful for it. I am a busy person who is easily distracted. Were it not for hunger, I think I might find myself stranded on the side of the road somewhere completely out of fuel and without roadside assistance. Luckily, I get hungry often and in no uncertain terms. So even if I find it really annoying, I find that I have to take the time to find food on the regular. What’s more, I find that if I take the time to listen, my body is pretty specific about what food it wants. The more carefully I listen to my body, the more attuned I am to what nutrients I am lacking and what foods might best top off my nutritional tank. Sometimes my body craves carrots and sometimes (well most of the time) it craves chocolate. And it seems the more carefully that I follow my body’s menu choices (rather than my brain’s dictates about what I should eat) the better I feel. And when I really listen to what my body wants to eat, and give in by eating precisely as much of those things as my body wants, I am rewarded. My body feels warm, wonderful and satisfied.
Another area where I’m learning to finally listen to my loud-talking body is in movement. Our bodies are capable of amazing abilities to move through space. Not only can we walk across a room or catch a ball without thinking about it, but we can also hike and swim in the ocean and dance. And this is another place where the highly sophisticated wiring in our bodies has a lot to tell us. If I sit too long, my body protests. My back and knees stiffen. I feel pain in my head and neck. On the other hand, if I move too much or too long or in a way that is too intense for my current fitness level, my body sends me messages of pain and fatigue. Now just like hunger, pain and fatigue can be deeply annoying. My schedule may convince my conscious mind that it does not want to get up and move or it may not want to stop moving or it may find it extremely inconvenient to sleep. Thankfully, my body sends signals that are difficult to ignore and I try to find ways to meet my body’s demands by moving or resting or sleeping. And when I get this right, my body rewards me. I feel a lightness in my limbs and a glowing sense of energy when I am well-exercised and well rested.
Our bodies strive for something that is so difficult for us to achieve in modern life–balance. Our bodies tell us when we are eating more food than we need or not enough. Our bodies tell us when we need more broccoli, and when we need buns. Our bodies tell us when to leap and when to laugh and when to rest and when to run. And when I listen, truly listen, to my body, it sings. The energy flows through me and I feel a hum that runs from my toes to the top of my head. That’s what it feels like to be in a loving relationship with my body. It feels wonderful. It’s enough to make me strive to make every day love my body day.
Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)
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Do you have any advice for the person who is trying to learn HOW to listen to her body? How to tell when what you “hear” is really the body, and not something else? After a lifetime of tuning out my body, I find that it’s actually tricky to tune into it.
Hi there. It can be pretty tough at first. We’re so driven by the brain and I have often found that I was “shoulding” all over myself. Part of it is taking time and removing distractions. For a time, I practiced eating alone without the distractions of guest or TV and really focused on what my body was craving and how I felt when I gave into the craving. I also focused on whether I was hungry and at what point I got full. I took a similar approach to exercise, noting when I felt tired and when I felt energized. And I discovered that once I got past the first 10 minutes or so of a workout, my body got into the flow of things and it got easier. It takes time–a lot of time–but for me it was worth it…
Beautifully said. I have also found my body is pretty eloquent, provided I have the patience to listen to it.