Nutrition Month – Listening to our Bodies
I’ll never forget the day I spoke the words, “no thank you; I don’t like donuts.” I remember feeling like a bolt of lightning was about to come down from heaven and strike me for such an obnoxious statement. I was raised on donuts, and I ate my fair share (and some) with gusto. Donuts were the preferred treat of both my father and my maternal grandmother, so some of my favorite childhood memories include donuts. When I was in high school, I envied the naturally thin girls who could easily throw back donuts without a care in the world. During my first year of teaching, I frequently used my prep period to run to the convenience store next to my school to get two chocolate donuts and a huge coffee. The coffee was for energy and focus, and the donuts were for comfort. Donuts were a lifeline for me, and I never envisioned a future without them.
Until I changed. Perhaps I ate my life’s quota of donuts in my first 40 years. Maybe because of that, my biochemistry changed. For whatever reason, what started out as a feeling of fatigue immediately after eating a donut eventually morphed into a physical aversion to them. And I had to listen because I was getting very clear signals to not consume those delectable little treats.
March is National Nutrition Month, and, no, I’m not going to suggest that you stop eating donuts, or anything else for that matter. Instead, I am going to encourage you to listen to your body. Yes, that old line: Listen to your body. In a world full of quick fixes and ever-changing nutritional headlines, “listening to your body” appears to lack the equivalent sensationalism. But when you think about how intricately designed we are, and how our cells, tissues and systems are working at once to create health, vitality and life, how does pausing to listen to our bodies not trump the latest nutritional news?
So how do you begin the practice of listening to your body, especially when you might be getting messages to do the opposite?
The world is full of amazing and wonderful things. But that doesn’t mean that every wonderful and amazing thing is right for us at all times, under all circumstances. We can appreciate things in life, and at the same time acknowledge that they aren’t right for us. But how do we get there? We need some sort of filter to figure out what works for our particular body and what doesn’t, and that filter is derived from, you guessed it, listening to our bodies. Listening before, during and after a meal is a wonderful way to determine if what we are eating is agreeing with us, and giving us vitality and energy.
In order to listen to your body while you are eating, you will have to practice slowing down. Geneen Roth posed a provocative question in one of her books. How would you feel if you woke up tomorrow morning and you gained 15 pounds overnight? Part of you may be upset because you weren’t awake to enjoy the process of eating your favorite indulgent foods. Instead, you simply gained weight. And yet, meal after meal, that’s exactly what we are doing: eating without consciousness. We eat quickly and without awareness or appreciation of the food that we are putting into our mouths. We “wake up” from working on our computers to notice that our food is gone. The antidote is to savor that food and the moments you spend eating. If slowing down is a challenge for you, try putting your silverware down between bites so you can focus on the food in your mouth, not what’s on your fork or plate. Another strategy to slow down is to count the number of chews it takes to get through one bite of food. With every bite, aim to stretch the number out so that you savor the food in your mouth (and assist the digestive process at the same time).
Focus only on eating.
One of our French friends was amazed after his first day at work here. His wife asked him how his day was, and he replied, “you will NEVER believe this! Everyone eats lunch at their desks, while working on their computers!” In all his cultural upbringing, he had never witnessed such a disregard for food and the social elements of meal time. Interestingly, after a few weeks, he admitted that he was doing it, too! It’s so difficult to work against our cultural and social habits sometimes. I often think of this when I start multi-tasking during a meal (surfing the web, finishing work, reading a book). It’s hard to close down everything else and focus on my food, but I know if I’m not paying attention, I can’t listen to what my body is telling me.
Even with the computer closed and my food right in front of me, I still struggle with staying present and not letting my mind wander into a “to do” list of some sorts. If you find yourself struggling with this as well, try focusing on the food in your mouth and the act of chewing. Or, pause and take a deep breath. Remind yourself, “in this moment I am eating and enjoying my food.” And when your mind inevitably starts to wander again, just go back to your food, your breath, and/or your chewing.
Circle back to your body.
While the process of turning food into fuel begins with the first bite, it is far from complete once you have finished your meal. Circling back to how your body feels as you process that food is critical to understanding what works for you, and what doesn’t. Notice, without judgement, if the food is sitting in your stomach like a rock, or if you feel light and ready to tackle your day. Notice if you have energy, or feel more tired, after eating. Notice if you feel itchy, have indigestion, or feel a headache coming on. How’s your mood after eating. Are you feeling happy and satisfied, or grouchy and tired? This is definitely a practice that takes time to develop, but I promise, the return on investment is immense.
As you start the process of listening to your body, please know that like anything else in life, it gets easier with practice. It is one thing when someone or some diet tells you not to eat a specific food (for instance, donuts!). It is quite another experience when you decide that you don’t want to eat that food. The latter is what a lot of us coaches call “health from the inside out.” It’s us listening to our bodies and choosing to make healthy decisions because we feel good doing so, not because somebody told us we should. That power is available to all of us. We just have to listen.
– TANYA RUNCI, BA, MA, ADE, CHC | HEALTH ADVISOR