Principle 4 | We can trust our bodies to guide us toward healthy eating. Our bodies are equipped to tell us when we have had enough to eat or when we need food in order to continue functioning optimally. When we learn to recognize our bodies’ natural signals to hunger or satiation, when we pay attention to how our body responds to particular foods, we will know how much, what, and when to eat without resorting to external cues such as rigid, restrictive diets. We will naturally move between days of celebratory eating back to moderate eating as our bodies crave foods that optimize digestion, energy, sleep, and clear-thinking. However, many of us live in a state of disconnection with our own bodies (as well as a state of disconnection with others and even our own hearts!) For many, this disconnection stems from unresolved trauma or emotional injuries that were too much to bear at the time we endured them. We stopped listening to our own signals as we (or someone else) subjected our bodies to neglect abuse. Disconnection (and its cousin, disassociation) is often the human organism’s way to survive and protect itself from events that exceed its capacity to cope at that time. Many of us have also silenced our inner bodily wisdom by tuning in too heavily to external signals—social media, standards of beauty and the “ideal body,” the dizzying array of fad diets and nutrition gurus, even the voices of disapproving friends or family who dictate what we should weigh, eat, or feel.
The good news is that we can reclaim the body’s built-in mechanisms for recognizing what it needs to thrive. We can recover the body’s ability and motivation to reject what is harmful. Something inside each of us longs for health and vitality. Like a flower that will poke through the earth and reach for the sunlight, we are hardwired to move toward life. When we are no longer under the threat of trauma, when we have embarked upon on the healing path and are surrounded by safe people and supportive environments, we can more easily tune into bodily wisdom. We can learn to trust and honor our bodies again. We can reconnect with the healing life force within us. This leg of the healing journey will take longer for some than for others. It will involve re-engaging parts of the body that have been disowned due to shame, fear, or self-hatred. Re-engaging the body requires nutrition and movement. Thus, a balanced approach to self-care will include some form of exercise as part of its nourishment. Movement is all that is required. This may include, as appropriate, gentle exercise (such as Hatha yoga), rhythmic exercise (such as jogging or dance), or empowering exercise (such as weight training or martial arts). Our bodies will also tell us what we need when it comes to physical movement. Paying attention to the impact various forms of exercise have on your mood, sense of vitality, and energy levels will help you discern what your body craves. Some days, I run to upbeat and empowering music with a local running group. Other days, I crave the sound of silence punctuated only by the chirping of birds on a trail run. On mornings when my body whispers that it needs a dose of gentleness, stretch, and centering, I go to a yoga or Pilates class. As with food, listening is key.