Here is a concrete, no fluff, list of ways you can connect more deeply to your body so your choices can be made clearly, intuitively and in alignment with your intentions.
But first – make sure this initial list is checked off = because if you’re struggling to listen to your body and one or more of these things isn’t happening or happening well, then that needs to be addressed before anything else:
✓(for women) you have a regular menstrual cycle, which is 28-35 days between bleed days
✓you’re not on birth control. If you’re on hormonal birth control I strongly suggest you stop and begin charting your cycle using the Flo App or something similar and use other forms of contraception
✓daily bowel movements and frequent urination – not excessive (ie. you’re hydrated)
✓you sleep 6-9 hours regularly – failing to get adequate sleep regularly is a major source of disconnect in the body. Lack of sleep interferes with hormone balance and skews the decision making process (ie. you’re more apt to gravitate to foods that are high in processed sugar for a quick pick me up or comfort foods to soothe an over or under-active nervous system which is likely offset by excessive caffeine).
✓you’re not living with chronic fatigue or an autoimmune condition
✓you’re not in an abusive relationship (physically, emotionally, mentally) – Our relationships are major sources of misalignment merely due to people pleasing and self-sacrificing. We all do this to some extent. Even the most selfish of us people-please for selfish reasons.
✓you’re of sound mind and spirit, ie. BPD, Bipolar Disorder or any classifiable mental illness warrants special care. This is not to say someone struggling with depression, for example, cannot listen to their body. Body awareness may relieve symptoms of disconnect however if someone is on medication for a mental illness, they are most likely to benefit from emotional regulation even if temporarily.
✓you don’t drink alcohol in excess, ie. more than 3 drinks per week
✓you have a healthy libido
Now for the master list. To listen & heed:
Is it hunger or is it boredom?
Is it okay to exercise when I’m hungry or should I eat something first?
Does all hunger need to be fed?
What if I never “feel” hungry but eat anyway?
How do I eat in a way that gives me energy without weighing me down?
How do I feel satisfied?
Sometimes I eat a lot, how do I do that without feeling guilty?
How can I be confident in my food choices?
How do I know it’s my body talking and not my conditioning?
Can I “eat intuitively” and still lose weight if I need to?
Seeing what your body needs vs. feeling what your body heeds vs. choosing what your body wants. This is a process of making the Unconscious ☞ Conscious
▽ start slowly, the body is subtle
▽ always drink a glass of water upon waking up and throughout the day; doesn’t matter if its cold, hot or has lemon in it – just hydrate
▽ MOVE: sweat, dance, swim – anything! If you don’t move your body thoughts, emotions and feelings remain stuck and your body becomes much less capable of communicating clearly (and listening becomes harder). Exercise first thing in the morning for the sake of connection – late day exercise is beneficial too but you’re more likely to exercise and feel less weighed down on an empty tank. If this means waking up earlier in order to have an improved relationship with yourself, it’s well worth it.
▽ while you’re at it, practice YOGA consistently. Not to master poses but to connect to your breath. To find your feet. To stretch beyond limitation. To humble yourself. To devote kindness to a room full of strangers. Yoga will change your life, and like therapy, find the best teachers you can. Don’t assume all yoga teachers are the same. Don’t settle and when you find your teacher, follow them. I wouldn’t be where I am without Bhavani Maki – as silly as this sounds she gave me my big toes. Without my metatarsals I’d have no alignment and without alignment I’d have no intention because I wouldn’t have been stable enough to know what it is I wanted.
▽ chart your cycle (if you’re a woman of child baring age) – every day of your cycle is different. EVERY DAY! If you see that you’re 6-9 days from bleeding, there’s a reason you’re more hungry. The first week after bleeding is the best time to initiate new projects and undertakings. For example, starting a new diet or habit will be most successful during your follicular phase (first two weeks after bleeding) because during this time your hormones are the most balanced. Once you enter the luteal phase (the last two weeks before bleeding) you become more sensitive, irritable and impulsive.
Whether it holds an evolutionary advantage or is just a random act of nature, the amount of estrogen in your system could affect whether you’ll be able to forgo immediate pleasure for later rewards. Source
Self disclosure: years of struggling with an eating disorder could have been prevented if I had known that my cycle was dictating my mood, energy and hunger. I ignored my body out of sheer will and heeded diet advice from magazines (granted it was “healthy”). Self control only lasted so many months before my body took flight. I began binging on the weekends because I reached a point where my body took over my executive functioning. I was recycling my shame in a negative feedback loop which took years and training to overcome. My life revolved around what I ate, how perfect it was, guilting myself for making imperfect decisions, exercising and then starting over again – what a small existence – this is not life! When we refuse to honor our brain chemicals by ignoring them the body feels ignored and retreats to survival mode. Funny thing is my life today emulates a lot of how it used to: food and movement but that is to say that we can heal through the same mediums that were once detrimental as long as we address our thinking.
▽ sit quietly and undistracted – ask yourself: “What would feel really good today? What choices could I make that would both satisfy my desire to eat AND feel satisfied? What foods would enhance my sense of self (your sense of self is: your personality, your desire for creative energy, your motivation, your inspiration)? What could I eat – and what might I need to shop for – that’s in alignment with my intentions. An example of this might look like:
Wake up: water, walk the dog, coffee (almond milk latte, espresso blended with coconut milk & maple syrup etc)
Movement: yoga, fast paced walk, jog, strength training etc
Breakfast: large green drink – 2 quarts (banana, kale, apple & lemon), air fried tempeh & avocado
Snack: apple & a handful of almonds, plant based yogurt, iced green tea with honey or stevia
Dinner: lentil pasta & marinara with extra vegetables, zucchini, summer squash & olives + nutritional yeast (have 2nds)
Snack: 3-4 pitted medjool dates drizzled with tahini and sprinkled with ginger & cinnamon
Reflections: what I ate made me feel _______. My choices were/weren’t in alignment because ______. What I could do better or improve tomorrow is _________. What I really enjoyed about this day of eating was _______.
*Other great options for mealtimes can be found in my Cookbook and Therapeutic Eating Guide.
This is the meal plan I followed for 2 years while in a 12 step recovery program – while it wasn’t intuitive by any stretch it was balanced to boot and trained my mind to eat consistently and get out of my own way. This meal plan was also designed for my body type, height and weight.
3 meals a day, no flour, sugar or snacking between meals:
Breakfast: 8 oz yogurt or 4 oz protein, 1 oz oats or puffed cereal, 1 piece of fruit
Lunch: 6 ounces of raw veggies, 6 oz cooked veggies, 4 oz rice or potato, 4 oz protein, 1 tbsp oil, 1 piece of fruit
Dinner: same as lunch.
Allowable drinks: decaf coffee, tea, water, unsweetened sparkling water.
Additionally, I went to meetings, devoted my will to the god of my understanding and had a sponsor who helped me remain accountable. While I don’t follow this program any longer, it was extremely helpful at one of the most imbalanced times of my life (20-22 years old). I left because I saw it as part of my evolution and not as a sustainable way of life. 12 step recovery ultimately led me to yoga which led me to motherhood which led me to my masters degree in marriage and family therapy and now here to you.
▽ REMAIN CURIOUS, heeding your body is a muscle in itself. It takes practice and trying new things. What worked in your 20’s may not work in your 30’s / 40’s and 50’s. Heck, what worked 2 months ago might not work now. You have to wake up to yourself as if you know nothing and apply a beginners mind. Rather than look at yourself and body with disgust you have to look at yourself with utter fascination – you’re so interesting! Example: Wow, it’s so interesting that I _____. Oh wow I didn’t know that if I did _X_ that _Y_ would happen, I wonder what happens if I do _Z_ instead. I see that this choice made me feel more tired than energized, I wonder how I’ll feel if I do ____ tomorrow. Wow! That felt so good! I want to try that again and maybe add ____ spin to it. ETC.
▽ UNDERSTAND YOUR ATTACHMENT STYLE – I’m not going to go into huge detail here but there are 4: secure, insecure, avoidant and disorganized. Your attachment style becomes most apparent in your intimate relationships or lack thereof. If you think this has nothing to do with your hunger, think again my friend.
▽ BE SELFISH IN YOUR FORGIVENESS. Your relationship to food and your body is ON A CONTINUUM: this means that you’re never the same and need to constantly make adjustments. There are foods I enjoy now that I loved in my teens and 20’s but how I eat those foods now has changed because my thinking has changed. I’m softer, kinder, gentler and more inquisitive than I ever was when I was younger. This approach lends your body forgiveness and forgiveness is your most powerful emotional tool – don’t forgive for anyone or anything else, do it selfishly.
▽ you can listen to your body AND lose or maintain your weight. Just because you’re trying to be kinder and more gentle with yourself doesn’t mean that you’re a pushover and destined to forfeit tone, strength and sex appeal. I’m a living testimony – I care a lot about my personal appeal, I admit, but my idea of perfect is my own ideal, not society’s. If you take one thing, any thing, out of this post I hope it’s this: eat your cake in the most figurative sense. This is why I created Therapeutic Eating. Just because I needed to change my relationship to food and my body didn’t mean I had to gain 15-20 lbs and accept a body I didn’t find sexy. We all have our own idea of perfect which is why perfection isn’t necessarily unattainable, it’s that perfect can be argued. I believe I’m perfect, I believe you’re perfect, and that looks different to the both of us which is perfect 😉
▽ Hunger pangs, hunger cues, ghelin, leptin and hormones. It’s easier to navigate a rumbling tummy than it is low blood sugar. Low blood sugar literally tells the brain that your glucose stores are depleted and your brain needs food. Don’t try and starve your way out of low blood sugar (go ahead and table intermittent fasting. It’s so detrimental). You’re better off having a small snack or an earlier lunch or dinner than to starve yourself through a meal. That said, if you’re not feeling low blood sugar and your stomach isn’t rumbling – then go ahead and put off eating for a few hours until you feel a cue. There are many factors involved in obesity (which is why judging anyone for being “fat” is inimical 1. they don’t need your judgement and 2. it shows lack of compassion). The Standard American Diet has normalized drinking soda in the morning and nachos for dinner. Once you omit packaged, processed and highly generic foods from your diet your body can begin to heal from the inside out. I suggest simply by omitting meat, dairy and gluten – from there it becomes easier to navigate what foods to choose. If that’s too harsh, try only having meat for 1 meal a day, substitute your cheese for vegan cheese and go gluten free. Baby steps after all…
▽ HANGRY – angry hungry. Eat something to balance your blood sugar and for goodness sake, do not consume caffeine in this state. An apple and almonds, a rice cake with avocado, a plant based yogurt, a protein bar, a sweet potato, ants on a log, carrots & hummus – anything. Hangriness is harmful and is too easily preventable with basic responsibility.
▽ stop diet shaming. The reason I eat plant based is because it’s extremely expansive even in its limitation. The only thing I don’t eat is meat, dairy and gluten. Everything else is game, even sugar. I use the plant based model to navigate what to eat because it gives me the freedom to choose within a framework and omits the nonsense. From here choosing what and when becomes easier. If you don’t want to eat plant based that’s fine! Your diet has to make sense to you. If you notice that it doesn’t feel good it’s not your fault, it’s simply because the diet was a temporary fix and unsustainable. Try something new. You’ll know it’s the right fit when you not only love what you eat but can’t imagine yourself deviating. I haven’t eaten meat or dairy in years – I don’t care to. That’s how I know.
▽ Consider joining my Quarterly Body Reset which happens every February, May, August and November 1-10th or working more intensely in a 60 day Transformation.
That was a lot of information but guess what? We’re all so complex. I believe you have the capacity to heal, cultivate deep inner self love and the resilience to see that play out in all your affairs. You’re here GROW – so water yourself (but don’t oversaturate, sometimes you need to dry yourself out, aka let a lot of the societal brainwashing evaporate from your mind) – notice in what environments you thrive and which ones you don’t. You got this. I support you.