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Taking back your Health: Listening to the Body

The United States is a world leader.  Nevertheless, our health is at risk.  Fully half of the population is either diabetic or pre-diabetic, a quarter has one or more autoimmune diseases, and other chronic conditions abound.  These statistics represent only the tip of the iceberg.  Many of us “don’t feel good” and are “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”  We label it “aging”—but is it really?  Looking at the elderly population makes it seem as though poor health is an inevitable part of growing old—but what if one could age without chronic illness?

We believed science could help, but “scientific findings” have supported many of the practices that currently make us sick.  While there is “good science,” published findings generally support marketing over health.  “Healthy” dietetic recommendations have included multiple servings of grain every day, limited the eggs we consume, limited the quality of good fat in our diets, and contributed to the increasing toxicity of our world and food supply.  Meanwhile, food manufacturers have added sugar, bad fats, and other addictive substances to our diets. Years of eating this way have left many of us with both obesity and poor nutrition.

I believe we can take back our vitality at any age by avoiding sugar and processed foods and listening to our bodies. The body’s job is to keep us healthy and on the right path.  It knows what helps or hinders.  Relying on the body as a guide can lead us to wellness and vibrancy.

Listening to the body, however, is an art.  The same marketing forces that misled us about food and healing have created a false sense of what listening really looks like.  Specifically, we expect immediate feedback from everything we do.  For example, when we take antibiotics, we usually know whether they are working within a day.  When we take stimulants or pain killers, we may see results in only 20 minutes.  By contrast, when we make lifestyle changes ranging from eating to exercise, the response from the body may take weeks. But the difference is notable—sustainable energy and vitality.

My decision to overcome a chronic illness allowed me to gain skills as a body listener.  I can offer the initial strategies to you as a road map.  We are all individuals, so some of my strategies may require adjustment to work for you.

This being said, see your medical doctor without delay if you have a severe physical injury, are bleeding profusely, cannot breathe, have a high fever, horrible pain, or are experiencing a possibly life-threatening emergency.  For these issues, seeing a medical doctor for acute care can save your life; for most other concerns, just listen to your body.

Five early steps of body-listening 

  1. Assume all sensations and emotions are valid communications.
  2. Bodies don’t communicate in your spoken language but with physical and emotional sensations—the body’s vocabulary.  Rather than reaching for drugs to relieve an ache or coffee to reduce fatigue, be curious and wait quietly.  What is the body trying to say?
  3. Place these sensations in context by recognizing when they occurred, how strong they are, how long they last, what you were doing when they started and how they changed as your behavior or situation changed.  Include factors like medications, exercise, food you ate and water you drank.  This will help you understand the message.
  4. Try changing your immediate behavior, watching comedy, or listening to music you love. The body has strong opinions about everything.  Remember the boundless energy of your first infatuation or how tired you felt when you struggled to complete a boring or time- wasting task?  Sometimes sensations are merely your body’s “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.”  If changing your behavior or thinking changes how you feel, you are closer to understanding the body’s message.
  5. When you ask your body if something helps, do not expect an immediate answer.  It takes time before exercise leads to stamina and strength or nutrients lead to discernable differences in the way you look or feel.

This month, I challenge you to experiment with listening to your body as a way to start reclaiming your health.  Use the first two steps.  Before you reach for coffee or a pain medication, recognize it as a communication and stop to ask the body to clarify its message.  Fatigue or pain may be legitimate complaints that suggest a need for behavioral change.  Getting more sleep may be inconvenient—but sleep is when the body heals.