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June 23, 2017

I Believed a Healthy Lifestyle Meant Being Thin, Until I Learned to Listen to my Body.

*Author’s note: This blog post is not intended to advise children. I’m trying to focus on those of us who no longer require guidance on healthy food choices from a parent.

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In the 21st century, living a healthy lifestyle has taken on a narrative that is rooted in our appearance rather than in how we feel.

I believe that to truly live a life of wellness we need to start coming back to finding what feels good for our individual bodies rather than turning to dangerous diet fads and crazy workout plans.

No one diet, workout, fitness trainer, or food trend can magically lead us to a healthy lifestyle. Especially when that one magic thing isn’t sustainable for us to continue and make a part of our lives. The magic we are seeking outside of ourselves can be found within, through listening to our bodies’ needs.

Listening to yourself ultimately means finding what feels good for you as an individual in order to lay the foundation of a healthy lifestyle that excites and inspires you to live a sustainable life of wellness—one that’s good for you and the planet.

At first this can seem like an alien idea because the majority of us are disconnected from ourselves. The idea of listening to our bodies’ needs can appear crazy and may, at first, make us all feel uncomfortable. But, with practice and time, we can start to understand ourselves on a deeper level and begin to truly listen to our inbuilt wisdom.

When I first began living a healthy lifestyle by listening to my body, I was challenged to understand what foods and workouts my body wanted, needed, and loved. I spent many previous years dealing with eating disorders and mind frames about being “healthy” that had all-consuming rules like “eliminate carbs,” “cut out fats,” and “don’t eat any sugar.” Following such restrictions or, in some cases, trying to bring myself to a place where I simply listened to my body wasn’t exactly realistic.

I first had to educate myself on some foundational aspects of good health. For example, processed foods and sugars: I learned what a healthy sugar is and what an unhealthy sugar is. I learned that cutting out all fast food is a healthy lifestyle change and not an unhealthy practice because I educated myself on what was actually in fast food. By educating myself, I developed a baseline of understanding about what healthy choices are. From there, I began to practice mindfulness by reconnecting inward through simple exercises throughout my day, such as finding silence for two minutes in a bathroom stall at work and noticing how my body felt in that moment.

All of these small practices of mindfulness were what led me to go beyond following diet labels and crazy workout plans and return to simply relying on my body’s cues. By listening to my body, I came back to the truth of what “living a healthy lifestyle” meant to me, which is beyond losing weight and having a six-pack. The path to health and wellness is found by listening to how we feel from the inside out. This is the only way we can ignite a real glow from within.

When we truly listen to our bodies, we start to chose foods that make us feel good and give us energy. Doing this will enable us to have a healthy relationship with all foods, including treats and chips. Because, by listening, we are constantly in tune with our bodies and thus we know that our bodies aren’t going to want or need treats and chips for every meal.

That being said, when we do treat ourselves, we can still make a healthy choice, which is what our bodies want. Instead of eating packaged cookies, we can eat a moderate amount of homemade cookies that are filled with good sugars, oats, and raisins, perhaps. Listening to our bodies is the ultimate way to live a healthy lifestyle because it’s just that: a lifestyle, not a special diet or workout plan that can and will most likely set us up for failure.

The success of the diet industry is based on having repeat customers, and, friends, I don’t want us to be repeat customers anymore. What I want for us is to feel body confident from the inside out, and a big first step towards that is consciously tuning up our health. This idea of listening to our body may be daunting at first; like I said before, it has taken me awhile to get to the place I am at today where I can tell if there’s an imbalance and what I need to do to fix it. But I know we can all do it!

To help you get started, I want to share the tools I used to help me begin listening to my body so I could live a healthy lifestyle.

The foundation of learning to listen to our bodies is rooted in consciousness and the way to make conscious decisions is through stillness. I preach about meditation a lot but this is because meditation (unlike that one diet or workout fix) does actually work (almost) like magic. When we start finding stillness physically, mentally, and emotionally, we have more mental space to check in and find what feels good for us.

Of course, seated meditation isn’t for everyone. Other ways to find stillness with the mind are going for a walk (without the distractions of music and conversations), yoga, and even just finding silence in the car before we go and buy groceries. Finding stillness sets the stage for us to be open to finding truthful answers about ourselves.

The second tool I’ve found is asking myself self-reflective questions. The best way I have found to do this is by journalling out my thoughts and feelings around answering these questions. I love how this tool kickstarts my curiosity when I feel like my body, mind, and/or spirit are stuck in a funk.

Here are five favourite questions I ask myself to help me listen to my body:

1. What does a healthy lifestyle look like in my world?

For you, maybe this means eating more plant-based foods and going to weekly swimming sessions, or maybe it means doing Pilates. Who knows, maybe taking up pole dancing is your ideal exercise as long as it excites you. Remember to find what feels good!

For me, a healthy lifestyle is centred around doing yoga, dancing, hiking, and eating local, organic food—lots of veggies, and less meat. At the moment, it also includes eating lots of bok choy. However, next month it might be kale.

This is a fun question to get you envisioning and checking in with what you truly want and what’s going to get you excited, which brings me to my next question:

2. What’s going to get me excited to live a healthy lifestyle?

In order to answer the first question, hopefully you’ve brainstormed some ideas. Filter out the ones you are most excited or curious about and make those happen.

At this moment in my life, I am bringing diversity into my exercise routine and the ideas I am most excited about are naked dancing (in my own home) and kickboxing. Confession? I think I just want to do kickboxing so I can feel like a badass.

3. What’s preventing me from feeling healthy?

The stories we tell ourselves can prevent us from truly living the lives we desire and deserve. Becoming aware of the stories you tell yourself that prevent you from living a healthy lifestyle is important because then you can work on changing those stories to more healthful and truthful ones.

For many years, I told myself I would only be healthy if I was skinny. Today, I focus on a story that tells me weight doesn’t define health.

4. How does this make me feel?

This question is super important because asking yourself this question after you work out or eat grows your awareness.

How does it feel when you eat a delicious plate of roasted veggies? Do you feel energized and nourished? Do you feel dissatisfied with the flavour? Maybe some more herbs can be used to spice them up. Maybe roasted veggies aren’t your thing. Or, maybe you feel nourished from all the nutrients that those root veggies contain. Another factor might be that your taste buds are used to sweet things and need some time to adjust. The answers are all cues for you to check in about how you feel.

Consider how you feel when you eat a bowl of chips. Was it great going down but you felt a little sluggish afterwards? Maybe now you know it’s perfectly okay to eat a bowl of chips as long as you’ve noticed how you feel and what that food is doing to your body. Chances are your body is going to want some chips once in awhile and that’s awesome: who doesn’t love chips? I know I do! Eat in moderation—meaning, don’t self-restrain and don’t eat in excess. Instead of none or a full bag eat a small bag. It’s all about finding a middle ground.

Remember to be kind and gentle with yourself during this process. It’s taken me years to figure out what my middle ground is.

5. Does this align with my mind, body, and spirit? 

There’s a lot I could expand upon here, but I’d need a whole separate blog for that. So, for now:

I’ve talked a lot about the physical body, but a healthy lifestyle includes nurturing the mind, body, and spirit. There is a great deal of science proving that the mind and body are linked and that everything holds a vibration. Consider the following: How is your food raised? Who makes your food? Does the food contain chemicals that could harm you?

The answers to these questions help you start the process of getting to know the food you eat and, let me tell you, the more you know about your food, the more your body starts understanding what it wants. Your body is not going to want food that’s been processed or modified—it’s going to want food that’s alive.

When we find what feels good for ourselves, living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t seem so stressful or difficult; it’s actually a lot of fun and enjoyable because we have brought vitality back into our lives.

The essence of learning to listen to our bodies is to develop our intuition and to then let it guide us. There is no “can’t eat this,” “can’t do that”—it’s about eating when we are hungry, eating what we want, and following an exercise plan that works for us as individuals.

Overall, it’s about finding what feels good, and that may differ a little from person to person.

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Relephant read:

When I was 12, I had a Healthy Lifestyle. When I was 13, I had an Eating Disorder.

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Author: Ally Canales 
Image: Angelina Litvin/ Unsplash
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Sara Kärpänen

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