How do you know if you should eat one more bite of that pie or push yourself for one more rep with the barbells?
Many of us struggle with knowing when too much is too much, whether it is with our eating habits, exercise habits, or even sexual habits. I think for many of us it is easy to go wrong because we are completely out of tune with our body.
Think about it. How often do you check in with your body each day? How often are you bombarded with media, food, and marketing each day telling you what is good or bad for your body?
As soon as you open your eyes in the morning, you see the brand name on your phone or alarm clock. You know you are supposed to start your day tired and have a cup of coffee to get going because your whole life there have been commercials telling you so. You choose a healthy sounding cereal because the box says it has “9 essential vitamins and minerals!”. You can rest assured it is health food because the name on the box contains “Wheat” or “Flax” or “Bran” or “Healthy”. It probably also has more sugar than you need in a week but forget about that because there is a famous athlete on the box and he sure seems happy! If a famous athlete would eat it, then it must be good, right? The milk you choose must be healthy because there are pictures of happy cows on it and the box says it is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. You have no idea if you are deficient in either of these, but that’s okay because Happy Farm milk has you covered.
This is just the first few minutes of your day. How much is the rest of your day manipulated by tradition, media, flashing signs, billboards, and bad habits? How does the world screaming at you all the time affect your ability to listen to your own needs?
This is not only about food. Think of the last time your father or grandfather threw out his back because he was trying to lift more than his body was willing to allow. Think of your exercise fanatic friend who tore her hamstring by not listening to her body telling her how much of a stretch is too much. And, yes, think of the American struggle with sugar and obesity because we have a hard time discerning when (or what) to stop eating.
Sometimes we make bad decisions because we have no idea what our body wants or needs. We are not trained to listen to ourselves. We seem to be trained more and more to listen to anything but our own bodies and minds.
Always being on the right side of listening to my body is definitely not a skill I would say I have mastered yet, but I am becoming better at listening to my self. Here is what works for me (most of the time):
1. Meditation. Quiet solitude to hear my thoughts or turn down the volume of the world is an essential part of my week. I try to meditate daily. Just 10 minutes of silent breathing, I find, centers my emotions, helps me think better, and gives me a small boost of energy!
2. Stopping at “satisfaction” instead of “excess”. This is a work in progress for me, especially around food. I grew up, like many Americans my age, being taught to “clean my plate” and warned there are “starving children in Africa” so I should eat everything I am served. With restaurant food portions (and prices) out of control, that becomes an increasingly difficult challenge. When there is not enough food to box up and take home but enough to make me feel like I am wasting money by leaving it, I would normally tend to just eat what is left. Now, I am trying to stop when my belly is satisfied instead of stuffing myself. Sure, food is delicious and I want to enjoy it but the penalty for leaving some on my plate is far less damaging to my wallet than it is to my health.
3. Being “consciously wasteful”. It has taken me a long time to be okay with leaving food on my plate, but now it is almost a game when I am at a restaurant. I know the food portions are far above what my body needs so I try to eat enough to be sure I am satisfied and box up enough for a second meal. If there is not enough for a second meal, then I am okay letting it go to waste. It goes against everything I was taught as a kid, but It is a lot better to throw a little food out than to live with diabetes or low self-esteem. Also, leaving a little food behind is a great way for me to practice self-discipline. When my stomach says it has had enough (there are no more pangs of hunger), then I know it is time to stop and everything else is simply excess.
Of course, I apply the same principles beyond food. Stopping at satisfaction when I exercise makes it more enjoyable and I am likely to return for more. Being “consciously wasteful” by giving away or throwing out anything I have not used, noticed, or missed in the last year helps me live a cleaner, more spacious life (in less space!) and frees me up to enjoy more time doing other things.
It all centers around the same principle: staying in touch with my body. My body feels the clutter and depression when my apartment is untidy or filled with trinkets that no longer serve a purpose. My mind feels both the physical and emotional weight when I do not like the belly I see in the mirror. My feet ache not from being on them too much, but from not taking care of them when I am, by not stretching them and exercising them properly, which brings us back to exercise. The circle continues and at the core is meditation, a simple moment of breathing and not thinking about anything other than breathing for at least a few minutes a day.
Today’s lesson: When I listen to my body, I hear less noise in the world and more of what is actually important around me.