During those dark days of potty training, an oft-heard refrain around our house was “listen to your body.” Sure, we took our children to the bathroom at regular intervals, but our ultimate goal was for them to internalize the urge to go and then take care of business on their own.
We are (mostly) through that stage–until round #3, anyway–but we continue to use that phrase with regularity as it applies to so many situations.
Oh, you’re upset and flailing about because you’re overtired? Listen to your body and go to sleep.
What? Your tummy hurts after snarfing down that second serving too fast? Listen to your body and slow down.
I’m sorry your head hurts. Listen to your body and drink some water.
We are born knowing how to listen to our bodies. Babies intuitively know when they are hungry and when they are full…and don’t hesitate to let us know. I remember constantly reminding myself to “trust your baby” after my second child was born. She knew what she needed and when; she was good at listening to her body, and I just needed to listen to her.
But somewhere along the line, we lose this ability to listen to our bodies. We rely on the clock instead when it’s time to eat or sleep, and we trust the size of our portion or the buzz of our alarm to tell when it’s time to stop. Of course, a lot of this is dictated by external factors and demands on our time, but what if we could take a page out of the newborn playbook and learn to listen to our bodies a little bit more again?
Maybe it’s because I’m approaching a milestone birthday this year, but being in tune with my body has become more of a focus…and more of a necessity. I’ve never been the wild and crazy type, but as I’ve gotten older, my body is less forgiving than it used to be. Gone are the days when I can split a pizza with my roommate at 10pm and not feel bloated for an entire day afterward. No more celebrating a wedding/birthday/Tuesday with a beverage or several and not feel like I was hit by a bus the next morning. Heck, I can’t even watch my kids on a merry-go-round without getting a headache.
Yet, with these grown-up growing pains has come a growing awareness of what my body needs to feel fully functional. I am starting to connect the dots between how I feel and how I fuel my body and how much rest I get. It is often easy to tell if a child is hungry or tired by the way they act (out). Guess what? Sometimes adults need snacks and naps, too.
I recently listened to a podcast (because that’s what old people do) about not following “food rules.” Things like breakfast is the most important meal of the day, eat protein at every meal, don’t drink caffeine after 2pm, etc. Initially I balked because many of these so-called rules are things I consciously (and often unconsciously) abide by. I do eat breakfast every day, and I don’t sleep well if I have something caffeinated too late in the day. I’m a rule-follower; how dare this podcaster debunk my precious rules!
Once I calmed down a little, however, I realized that the rules I do follow are rules for me specifically. I often wake up hungry, so I really do need to eat pretty soon after getting up. Two of my three children are the same way–we are the “hangry” ones in the family. But my husband and oldest daughter can happily subsist on coffee or water respectively for quite a while before needing to eat. And that’s okay.
Last year, in the early days of quarantine, my husband participated in an elimination diet to address some underlying health concerns. No better time to give up both coffee and beer than in the beginning of a global pandemic! Ugh. But he did learn some things about what his body needs (one of which is coffee). Does that mean that I should also eat a can of sardines for lunch every day? That’s a hard pass.
This is why conventional diets don’t often work. They don’t cater to the individual needs of our bodies. We are all different, and therefore our bodies are all telling us different things…at different times and in different seasons. I have taken Fit4Mom Memphis exercise classes for years, and one (of many) things that I love about the program is that it meets moms where they are on their respective motherhood journeys. In fact, instructor and new owner Margo makes a point to start each class by encouraging us to listen to our bodies. “Take a break when you need it. If it hurts, don’t do it. If it’s feeling good, get after it.”