I have tried every fad diet and trendy workout New York City has to offer. I’ve strictly counted calories, obsessed about everything I ate, juice cleansed, cycled, pilates, personal training, sweaty dance classes, you name it. None of that helped me lose weight. I’ve discovered why: I wasn’t listening to my body.
I wasn’t being loving and nurturing. I was being harsh, critical and extremely judgmental. Why can’t you do anymore jump squats? (I had just done 120 reps, maybe that’s why) Why aren’t you losing weight? Why don’t your abs look leaner like the women you train with? Why do your knees hurt when you run? Why are you so tired? Ugh, what’s wrong with you?
Wow! With that sort of self talk, I’m amazed my body does anything for me!
No wonder I wasn’t feeling like my best self, physically or otherwise. I’ve since learned the biggest health and weight loss secret no one is talking about—listen to your body.
That’s what I wasn’t doing. When my body told me, Hey, I’m exhausted, I ignored it, and pounded away at the gym anyway. When I wasn’t hungry for food, but really yearned for love and needed to do something nice for myself like sleep, take a bubble bath, read a good book or have lunch with a nurturing friend, I ordered pizza instead (and ate the entire pie by myself, sending shame through my entire being.) When my body was craving physical activity, I laid on the couch.
Our bodies are constantly sending signals. The problem is, many of us aren’t listening to our greatest ally. Our minds, picking up on many self-limiting messages and images from the media, thinks it knows best. The key is to have our minds and bodies in sync with one another. Our bodies need to talk to us, and we need to listen.
All the things you can do to find inner happiness require the body; the mind isn’t living in a separate house. I could never fully commit to the best regime of diet, exercise, stress reduction and meditation until I got my body on board and comfortable with it. That meant loving, honoring and respecting my body for all it does for me, rather than criticizing it for not being super-human. It is vital to work with your body and not against it.
Here’s how I learned to listen to my body:
Feel what you feel. Simply ask yourself, “How do you feel right now?” Be honest with yourself. Feel rather than escape through distractions, numbing and denial—drugs, alcohol, food, work, shopping, social media, TV. Now, when I crave my go-to comfort food (pizza), I ask myself why I feel the need to be comforted in the moment. Last night, for example, I felt lonesome. Instead of ordering pizza to comfort me, I called a dear friend on the phone to connect, and FaceTime’d with my niece and nephew. Afterwards, I felt joyful, and realized I was no longer hungry. I made myself some white tea and curled up with a good book.
Accept what you feel. Don’t judge or criticize what you’re feeling. Practice radical self compassion. Instead of beating yourself up for wanting a cheeseburger and fries instead of salad, and shaming yourself with words like, I should eat this and not that, compromise with yourself. I will order crab cakes, for example, something satisfying that is neither super healthy or super unhealthy.
Be open to your body. It’s always speaking so be willing to listen. I do this through prayer and meditation in order to give my body a deep sense of peace, relaxation, ease, calmness, lightness, alertness and energy. When you are open to your body’s needs, you are less likely to pollute it with food, drugs or alcohol you know doesn’t agree with you. You work together as a team with the common goal of feeling good, rather than ignoring each other.
Trust your body. Every cell is on your side, which means you have hundreds of billions of allies. Ground yourself by turning inward and feeling the sensations of your body. Take deep breaths, be aware of your body. I recommend trying pilates or yoga. When you are connected to all the ways your body is working FOR you, you will make healthier choices that support you.
Live your life. Before I eat, I ask myself if I am hungry for food or hungry for something else like love, comfort, stability, validation, etc. I shed unnecessary weight when I stopped obsessing over everything I was putting in my body and rigidly counting calories. When I stopped labeling myself and food as “good” or “bad” and enduring the shameful feelings and emotions that accompany that way of thinking, weight literally melted off my body.
The next time you reach for a “bad” food, feel tempted to overeat or have any kind of craving you feel is wrong, try to stop focusing on the food, and listen to what your body is telling you instead. When out with friends and tempted to order a beer like everyone else, I can literally hear my body gently remind me that beer makes us extremely bloated and sick for hours. I order a glass of wine or iced tea instead. If I only want to drink water when I’m in a social setting and don’t want to deal with any push-back from party-goers, I ask the bartender to put a slice of lime in my drink. People think I’m sipping on vodka, and leave me alone.
Another trick is to ask, “How do I feel right this moment?” Either you are hungry, which is natural, or you feel something you don’t want to feel. Instead of self-medicating through food, try being emotionally available to yourself. Through the practice of checking in with and nurturing yourself, you will eventually stop feeling the need to comfort yourself through food. Journaling has helped me open up and be honest with what I’m really experiencing.
Enjoy what your body wants to do. I choose to ask my body what it needs, and follow its advice without judging, whether it’s sleep, rest, nourishment, physical activity or time spent in nature. If you can barely keep your eyes open, it’s probably best to go home and go to sleep and skip spin class.