listening to the body

drawing of green body

Last week I wrote about the ideal human diet, and how I don’t believe there is one. I’ve spent more than half my life trying to discover the perfect diet for me, though. And part of that discovery has meant learning how to listen to my body, in order to try and discover its perfect needs.

For someone who’s struggled with disordered eating and body image, however, it hasn’t always been easy to trust my body. When you’re addicted to the neurochemical changes that come from eating certain foods, your mind can play tricks on you. Do I really want this? Or am I just trying to numb my emotional pain with caffeine and dopamine?

It’s also challenging to learn your body’s signals and cues for healthy portions when our culture often teaches children to clean their plates and not waste food, and eat at specific times, rather than when we’re truly hungry. After a while, eating becomes unconscious. How many times have you sat down with a group of friends and eaten much more than you expected, because everyone else was eating, or the food was really good (high in sugar or fats)?

I’ve just come off a huge chocolate binge last week. It started out pretty innocently; I was experiencing a lot of endo pain, and I simply wanted something to make me feel better emotionally. (That something being food.) One chocolate bar the first day became a craving for more the next, and I finished the week a couple of pounds heavier than when I’d started it, thanks to the “food of the gods” (from the Latin name for the cocoa plant, Theobroma cacao, which is Greek for food of the gods).

When I’m caught up in food addiction like that, it takes a lot of focus and inner strength to discern what’s really going on with me, emotionally and physically. The sugar and caffeine rush from the chocolate makes my body feel good, and the physical withdrawal the next day makes me crave more.

Thankfully I also get a lot of intuitions about my body, though. And part-way through the week I realized that all the sugar was making my endo pain worse, and also affecting my mouth – making an old root canal of mine ache. A voice inside me said, “You need to stop this. A chocolate bar every once in a while won’t do you much harm, but you’re really hurting yourself now.”

Unfortunately, with that realization did not come enough immediate discipline to make me stop. But eventually I went all weekend without chocolate (not counting some European white chocolate that an old friend brought me from Germany on Sunday – it had no cocoa in it), and that’s given me enough breathing room to come to my senses again. I’ve also been feeding myself my typically healthy diet – lots of raw vegetables, with a few nuts and eggs. Each time I do, a voice inside my body says, “This is nourishing. This is real food for us.”

Do you take the time to listen to cues from your body about the choices you make in feeding and caring for it? Do you listen to those cues, or fight them? Do you find it difficult to act on what you hear?

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Drawing of green body, December 1997. Water-soluble marker on paper.