Maybe you read the title of this post and thought, “Isn’t the whole point of Embrace:Me to embrace the body you have? Isn’t that title a little bit redundant?” Yes and no. Yes because the whole point of Embrace:Me is to embrace the body you have; no because tonight instead of talking about our physical bodies, I want to talk about our bodies’ needs and how we deal with those.
My struggles with food are well documented on this site and elsewhere and so it will probably come as no surprise when I say that I have a very hard time trusting my body’s hunger signals. Today, for instance, I waited until I was exhausted, fuzzy-headed, dizzy, and experiencing pretty bad hunger pangs before having anything to eat. I’d had breakfast, lunch, and two afternoon snacks, and even though dinner time was approaching, I felt like I shouldn’t be hungry. So I chose not to eat.
A choice like that is ill-advised and careless for anyone; a choice like that for someone with a history of an eating disorder can be disastrous. The problem is that even though my body is sending me very clear signals (“EAT SOMETHING”), the message gets wrapped up in all my anxieties about food. By the time it registers, it’s more than a simple command to eat. Instead, it’s an ED voice monologue: “You’re hungry, you should eat something. But why are you hungry? You’ve had two snacks already, you shouldn’t be hungry. Don’t eat anything, you don’t need anything to eat. You’re just being greedy, and eating something now will make you fat. Besides, what would you eat anyway? There’s nothing you could eat that would be healthy, you don’t have access to anything that you should be eating. You don’t need any junk food, better to just keep on feeling hungry. And don’t you feel in control? Doesn’t that feel better than eating would feel?” Nasty, tricksy voice. Just in case you need reminding: that voice does not have your best interest in mind.
Things would be much simpler and much healthier if we could hear our bodies, and respond to what they need without our thoughts interfering. This was a major topic of discussion this evening between me and my therapist, and during out session we established how I need to work on listening to my body, and accepting what it’s telling me. One way of doing this is to break things down into their simplest components: “I’m hungry. I need to eat dinner.” Doing this eliminates the interference we get from all the shoulds, shouldn’ts, and what ifs that come into the picture once we start to over think things. Once we manage to separate our body’s needs from our mind’s irrational (and sometimes rational) standards, we put ourselves in a better position to treat ourselves with the love and respect we deserve.
Accepting and embracing what our bodies are asking for isn’t just applicable when it comes to hunger, either. There are all kinds of situations in which our thoughts conflict with what our bodies need or want: how often have you felt guilty about taking a day off from working out even though you were feeling really tired? Next time some of these conflicting thoughts come up and make it difficult for you to pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you, try to quiet them. Break down the message you are getting from your body, and see what you can do to respond. The thoughts may not go away (especially not immediately), but over time they will get quieter, and embracing what your body is asking for will get easier.