When we were children, paying attention to our bodies was easy for us. When we got hungry, we ate; if we had a bunch of energy we went outside and played; and if we were tired, we slept. But somewhere along the way, as we got older and were expected to do more, be more, produce more, we may have lost that connection with our bodies. We’re so busy these days we’ve learned to just ignore what our bodies are telling us.
This may have been helpful in the short-term, but it can be devastating when it comes to our wellness. When we lose touch with our bodies, we don’t pick up on the cues that can help us. Let me give you a few examples:
We don’t pay attention to what our bodies are telling us about our health.
Often, we ignore the signs our bodies give us that something is going on. For instance, I saw a news story about male breast cancer. One of the men being interviewed said his doctor just happened to ask, “Is there anything else you’re concerned about?” and he mentioned a small lump he had had on his chest for months. He had just ignored it. The doctor said they’d better check it out just to be safe, and it turned out to be breast cancer.
Of course, it might not be things that are quite so serious, but that could impact our health if we don’t do something about it before it becomes a problem.
This can be especially true for those of us who live with a chronic condition. We may just tell ourselves, “that’s just another weird symptom of my _____________” and ignore the signals our bodies are sending out.
Get back in touch:
We definitely don’t need to be paranoid about every little pain, lump or bump, but we do need to take note of anything unusual. All of us have probably had a twinge or dizzy spell from time to time, but if it’s something that happens over and over again, you may need to pay attention. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor.
Houston Methodist Hospital has a great article, 10 Signs You Should Go See the Doctor, (1) that outlines some times you should definitely visit your doctor. As they say, though, the list is not exhaustive — if you feel something is “off” go ahead and mention it to your doctor. The earlier we catch problems, the easier it is to treat them successfully.
We ignore our bodies when they tell us it’s time to rest.
Do you remember that line from a movie (I don’t even know which one) that said, “I can sleep when I’m dead”? That seems to be the attitude these days. We have so much to do, and not enough hours in the day. We over-commit ourselves consistently. We think if we’re not “doing” we’re not adding value to the world. You know what? It’s okay to rest.
In fact, rest is vital to our wellbeing. Sleep is what allows our bodies to do their repair work. It may be one of the most under-estimated actions we can take to improve our wellness. It impacts everything — our physical health, our stress levels, our decision-making ability….the list goes on….
So do yourself a favor, and listen to your body when it tells you to rest.
Get back in touch:
Your body can let you know when you need more sleep, but if you’re not paying attention, it can be easy to overlook some of the signals it’s sending you. Here are a few signs you’re not getting enough sleep:
- Slowed thinking
- Low energy
- Mood changes
- Worsened memory (2)
- Feeling excessively sleepy during the day
- Weight gain
- You fall asleep almost immediately OR you take more than 30 minutes to fall asleep (3)
- You crave junk food
These are just some of the more subtle signs that you might not be getting enough sleep. Paying attention to how you feel throughout the day and noticing any mood, physical, or intellectual changes can help you know if you might need to work on getting more (or less) sleep.
We forget what it feels like to be hungry — and full.
Believe it or not, many of us have lost touch with our hunger and satiety cues. We don’t know what it really feels like to be physically hungry. Sometimes we may eat simply because it’s mealtime or eat everything on our plate just because it’s there. And of course, we may eat for other reasons — we’re tired, angry, sad, lonely…. We may be eating instead of dealing with our feelings.
We may eat mindlessly at our desks or while watching TV — or maybe we ‘forget’ to eat at all.
Not only do we not know when we’re hungry, sometimes we don’t realize when we’re full. It’s so easy to eat past the point of fullness if we’re not paying attention. Part of that is because it takes about 20 minutes for our brains to catch up with our stomachs when we’re eating. It generally takes about 20 minutes for our satiety signals to kick in.
Another part of it, especially when we’re engaging in emotional eating, is that we may just not “hear” what our body is telling us at all.
Get back in touch:
One of the simplest things you can do to get back in touch with your body’s hunger cues is to ask yourself one question before you eat anything. That question is “Am I hungry?”
How do you know if you’re really hungry? The physical signs of hunger vary from person to person, but they may include your stomach growling, low energy, feeling shaky, etc. (5)
Of course, you want to find the “sweet spot” between eating ‘just because’ and getting to the point where it’s negatively affecting you. You don’t want to wait until you’re shaky and out of energy before you eat, but you do want to make sure your stomach is telling you it needs food.
The second part of the equation is determining when you’re full. Checking in with yourself and how you’re feeling throughout your meal can help you get back in touch with what it feels like to be full (without being overstuffed).
If you have trouble eating to “full” without overeating, one simple trick to help you initially can be to eat to what you feel is 80% full. That means you feel you could still eat more, but you’ve eaten enough to nourish your body. That gives your brain time to catch up with your stomach and send out the signals that make you want to stop eating.
Do you listen to your body?
It sounds odd to hear that we can be out of touch with our bodies, doesn’t it? After all, they’re with us all the time. The problem is that as we become adults, we get busy with our lives, and feel the pressures of needing to ‘get things done’ so we start to just ignore the signals our bodies send us.
Getting back in touch with our bodies can help us , not just physically, but in all dimensions of our overall wellness.
How in tune are you with your body? What helps you stay in touch with what it’s trying to tell you? Please share!
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(1) 10 Signs You Should Go See the Doctor, https://www.houstonmethodist.org/articles/should-i-see-a-doctor/
(2) Sleep Deprivation: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment, https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-deprivation
(3) 5 Subtle Signs That You Need More Sleep, https://thesleepdoctor.com/2021/08/26/subtle-signs-need-more-sleep/
(4) The Essential Guide to Food for Health, Nutrition, and Fitness Coaches, www.precisionnutrition.com
(5) Are You Really Hungry? How to Understand Your Hunger Cues, https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2020/april/how-to-understand-hunger-cues