- Anna F Jolliff, Counseling Intern
Body Love Part 3: How to start trusting your body.
On trusting something other than your own BRAIN.
One of the premises of intuitive eating is that, if we listen to our bodies, our bodies tell us what we want. And yet, many of us with histories of disordered eating fear that if we truly listened to our bodies, they would simply say "I WANT EVERYTHING." Now, if you were recently or are currently in a state of caloric deprivation, it is quite possible your body DOES wan't everything, and really ISN'T picky, so long as whatever you choose is calorie dense. More on that in a future post. For now, the question is this: how do we learn to trust our bodies -- particularly when we are afraid of what they will tell us?
Some Spiritual Stuff that Might Not Work for You, but it Doesn't Need To
Some of you may be familiar with twelfth-step literature. Although it's commonly applied to overcoming addictions, these steps can work for lots of people with lots of different problems. And though the twelve steps are historically a spiritual practice, you need not be a traditionally spiritual person to benefit from the steps.
In working the steps, some find it useful to create a "Care of God" list. People write down times they've been under the care of someone or something they did not understand. Times when they've felt inspired, protected, guided, or simply held by something bigger than themselves. The purpose of the list is to help people develop even a small amount of trust in something beyond the calculations of their own brains.
The idea is this: perhaps if we can cultivate a sense that we have been truly taken care of - by God, or the Universe, or the collective unconscious, or by anything other than our own huffing and puffing - perhaps we will then be inclined to trust that mysterious thing. Human nature, after all, is to trust that which protects or cares for us. But a tradition of [routinely misapplying the tenets of] empiricism means we also usually need to see what we choose to call “evidence” before making this leap.
I hope that my arguably “woo-woo” language hasn't scared you.
Because this post isn’t about trusting a higher power; it’s about trusting our bodies. I suggest that we create a "Care of the Body" list. If we can acknowledge the times that our bodies have shown up for us, we can learn to trust them more. Developing an attitude of trust in your body is ESPECIALLY important in a culture which tells you, for example:
1. When you feel hungry, you're actually just thirsty. 2. When you eat "too much," you just haven't used small enough plates. 3. When you want carbs, that just means you're addicted to carbs, and you should not actually want them.
Those are all mini "lessons" I had learned by the time I was 12, by the way. I learned, like many of us, that I cannot trust my body very early in life. I adopted the perspective that I can “master” my body with my brain - a brain which knew far too early in life the exceedingly useless fact that celery has "negative calories."
The list above could alternatively be titled, "Why you can't trust your body." This list exists implicitly in many of us.
So let's fight fire with fire, and make a different kind of list very explicit:
Why I CAN trust my body Or Evidence that I am under the care of my body.
1. When I am tired and overworked and yet I refuse to take a break, my body goes to great lengths to force me to slow down.
(I.e., my brain stops. I get sick. Work ceases to be an option. Bingo: the needed break ensues.)
2. When I began restricting my calories, my body took control. It prompted me to think non-stop about calorie-dense foods. It prompted me to plan imaginary meals. It held on to body fat.It effectively prevented starvation.
(Years later, my body as caretaker still bristles at the threat of deprivation.)
3. When I am unsafe - with the wrong people, in the wrong place, or at the wrong time - my body faithfully sends out alarm signals to my brain.
(For me it's a stomach ache. I've seen it look like a migraine or neck pain. What's yours?)
4. When I stopped controlling food with my brain, my body did a beautiful job of stepping in: my cravings alone created a delicious, variable, and intuitive (non)diet.
(And no. This has NEVER meant I eat "mini meals" of "green-light foods" five times a day. Unlike my brain, my body doesn't play those games.)
Those are some of my examples of why I can trust my body -- my "Care of Body" list. These are times when my body was taking care of me better than my brain. I encourage you to create your own list, and jot reasons you can trust your body in the comment space below!
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]