I know that I am not alone when I say that I have spent decades struggling with my body.
Most of us have either experienced for ourselves or are familiar with cultures that place so much emphasis on physical appearance.
As a young child, I grew up with a mother who was (and still is) a practicing Registered Dietitian I was active in sports in high school, was a runner for decades, once upon a time spent days counting calories, struggled when I was much younger with an eating disorder and was diagnosed in my 20s with a sometimes-serious rare disease for which I am still occasionally hospitalized.
I wanted to figure all of this out.
I wanted to finally take control of my own health, so I went to a university to learn as much hard science as I could behind metabolism, physiology and nutrition. I attained a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from another school, and also became a Registered Yoga Instructor.
My mind was buzzing with all of this information. I saw so many contradictions, but also similar trends and even some overlap between Western and Eastern philosophy that I was fascinated.
But I was also overwhelmed trying to figure out the “right” approach to all of it. Do I find the perfect combination of running and yoga, complimented by a diet rich in Omega 3s and leafy greens? Do I quit running because my heels in my Downward Dog are not reaching the floor like I would like them to, and maybe I need that because supposedly I really, really need grounding? Do I eat my biggest meal of the day in the morning, according to what some feel is optimal for metabolism, or do I follow the Ayurvedic recommendations and eat my largest meal for lunch?
But then, something happened.
I realized that I was fighting a battle I could never win.
I had been in an extreme power struggle with myself for two decades, with my mission being to basically “conquer” my body and dictate my way to perfect health.
So, I threw in the towel.
I quit trying and decided to just completely chill out, maybe for the first time in my life, and what I have learned since then has been so very eye-opening.
When I was pregnant with my two little girls, who were born very close together in time, I had no idea what I was doing. I had the same approach then (notice a trend?), where as soon as I learned that I was pregnant I went out and bought a stack of books so that I could know exactly what to do and what to eat. I wanted to know the “right way” to be pregnant, because none of my close friends at that time had a baby, and I have no sisters. I had no personal experience from which to draw information and to discern for myself.
I was officially on “Mission: Figure Out How to be Pregnant.”
By this time, my body and I had developed somewhat of a better relationship, and I actually listened to what it was telling me. What it was saying—in a very clear way—was, “I’ve got this.”
I strongly feel that my body had been telling me this my whole life, but I had never really listened.
I had not been respecting my body, I had been managing it.
I was not accepting my body, at best I had been tolerating it.
Sometimes intense workouts are amazing, for the right people, but what I had been doing at times crossed the line into punishment.
I was not loving myself, and I was not listening.
I lacked a healthy power and self-identity, so I chose to control the one thing that I thought I could, and that was the greatest gift that each of us are given in this lifetime—my body.
Our bodies are our vessel, pure and simple, and we have the opportunity to form a give-and-take relationship between our minds and our physical selves that can be truly amazing.
If we take care of our minds, our bodies take care of themselves. Are we feeling stressed? Are we thinking toxic, angry or fearful thoughts? Our bodies respond to this more than we likely realize.
Our thoughts affect our bodies, and our bodies send messages to us—they give us information on where we may need to adjust course, mentally and emotionally.
I will not go too in-depth into energetics here, but a great place to start when it comes to listening to your body is what you eat and how you move.
For example, so many of us have lost touch with how food makes us feel. We want to be told what to eat, when all we have to do is listen—our body willingly gives us feedback on this. I have come to refer to eating as “nourishment” rather than “nutrition,” because—well, that is what it is. And what do we think of when we think of nourishment? We can think of it as a relationship. It is an intimate experience that we are having with something that literally becomes us.
For example, I love chocolate cake. The more chocolate, the richer it can be, the better. Give me a piece of chocolate cake with layers of fudge and maybe even some chocolate chips baked in with chocolate frosting and I will instantly consider you a soul-mate.
But I started to pay attention. I realized that sugar made me a bit depressed, mentally foggy and slightly lethargic.
Is it still worth it to indulge?
I’m not going to lie, sometimes it is not so bad—but the awareness around this leaves us with a conscious choice about how we want to feel, rather than pure inhibition. That changes things a bit, no?
We can develop this awareness around how we feel in response to any food, in the same way that we can discern whether the person that we just went out on a date with is worth going back to for more.
It is a relationship—an intimate relationship.
We can follow this same logic when it comes to exercise. Do we feel like we need to move? Are we feeling sluggish? Sometimes this can mean that we actually need rest, other times it can mean that perhaps kick-boxing is a good idea because our body is begging and pleading to burn away some energy.
This is where we reclaim our power—by learning to discern for ourselves.
When we respond to our body, our bodies respond accordingly—and after adopting this intuitive approach to health, I have never felt better in my life.
I think about it all less—the food, the calories, the weight—because I am no longer taking the approach of knowledge and information, I am taking the approach of feeling and listening.
Yes, I sometimes break into a warrior pose in my kitchen, a handstand in my hallway—or if I need a quick pick-me-up, I set my timer on my phone and plank for two minutes.
Sometimes, I turn on some music and dance—just because I can and because of how I feel afterward. Sometimes my toddler girls join in, and sometimes they look at me as if I just put a shoe in the refrigerator.
Anything works, as long as it feels right and our intentions are toward that of balance.
From here, we just continue to listen and we continue to learn.
We can have grace for ourselves and a healthy love, appreciation and gratitude for both our minds and our bodies.
Author: Katie Vessel
Image: Jairo Alzate/Unsplash
Editors: Emily Bartran; Yoli Ramazzina