Compassion Part 2: You only get one body. Listen to it.
Does the food you eat, the exercise you do and the sleep you get make you feel good?
The answer for a lot of us is sadly not. I want to share with you how being curious about my body helped me understand her better and show her a little compassion.
If you’ve read my last post about giving up the booze, you’ll know I’m not shy when it comes to an overshare. Until recently, this was TERRIFYING for me but I’ve had some really positive messages from friends so here we go… In a nutshell, this post is about listening to your body, being curious about what you do with it, what you fuel it with and, most importantly, how this makes you feel. This might all sound like basic stuff but so many of us don’t eat when we’re hungry, exercise when we feel like and sleep when we’re tired. We abuse our bodies. It’s just the norm.
The idea of eating intuitively is not new and I won’t try to take credit for it. The first time I came across it was in Mel Wells’ book: Goddess Revolution. If you’ve read my slightly gushy post about honesty and inspiring women, you’ll already know I’m a huge Mel Wells fan. I am not kidding when I say this book CHANGED MY LIFE. Cheers, Mel, you absolute babe.
What made me read this book?
When I read this book, I was in Canada studying abroad. I didn’t know anyone before I went and, as I was still a student, I had loads of free time *nostalgic sigh* which meant I had loads of time to ‘develop my self’. This basically meant I ploughed through book after book (mainly self-help books and fiction books for middle age women about divorce and family life. I don’t know why but they really get me).
Anyway, when I wasn’t buried in a book targeted at suburban housewives, you’d find me at the gym. I lived next door to it which was amazing. I worked out every day for the first time in my life and I loved it. I found classes that made me feel like a hero and made friends that made me want to go. Plus, I didn’t know anyone so I never worried about bumping into people in the gym. I think that was actually huge as it gave me the confidence to try things that would later help me when I used the uni gym where it felt like I knew EVERYONE. This is only a problem with this is that I look like a tomato that’s been in the microwave when I come out the gym.
Why did I need to hear this message?
So I was working out a lot and feeling great but my relationship with food was not good. At all. It never had been. I’d spent the previous year in London skipping breakfast, surviving on lattes and snacks. Sound familiar? I’d cook healthy food at home (I’ve always loved to cook) but I’d gorge on free chocolate and always feel like I needed a “treat” to get me through the day. Then when I got to Canada, I was stuck on a campus where you couldn’t buy groceries. You had to do a decent walk, then take a bus and lug heavy bags of shopping back. I also had no cooking equipment so it was a bit of a nonstarter.
I had no choice but to buy all my meals from the food outlets on site. Picture this: they have a mall on campus filled with food places; at least 3 burger places, 3 Tim Hortons’ coffee and doughnut houses, Thai food, Mexican food, pub grub, a fro-yo bar, a salad bar, and a specialist poutine place (Canadian speciality: chips, gravy, cheese curds and onions). Ironically, I’m sitting writing this in Fairfield Social Club in MCR, debating whether to pop downstairs and grab some vegan poutine from one of the food trucks…
The poutine can wait. This message can’t.
But I’m in the flow so anywayyy, the options weren’t particularly healthy and it was SO DIFFICULT to eat fresh food. Especially, as, at that point, I had gone back to eating veggie so my options were even more limited. Perhaps you can relate? Ever been on a holiday or staying with relatives where the options were all unhealthy or unappealing? So my relationship with food got worse. Add to this that I began stress-eating again, getting through bags of chocolate coated almonds while spending late nights writing essays. It felt like I was undoing all my hard work in the gym. I felt SO GUILTY. And I’d make myself sick in the communal toilets, crying in the bathroom stall and hoping no one came in. I’ve never told anyone this.
I knew I needed to change something. I just needed to be more disciplined and get my shit together. But I couldn’t. And so I failed and failed on and off as I had for years. Then one day I saw Mel Wells’ book on Instagram as a friend was recommending it. I was intrigued so I downloaded on my kindle and I read it on the bus to Montreal. In. One. Go. I couldn’t stop.
Everything Mel said resonated with me. From the idea that I kept failing at controlling my eating, to using food to deal with stress, anxiety and even happiness, to her motivation for fixing her relationship with food – that she wanted to be a good example for her children one day.
I got it from my momma.
The ‘why’ for Mel was wanting to demonstrate a better example to her future children. My mum has been incredible over the last 2 years and totally transformed her relationship with her body. I know first hand what a difference family and friends make. I was brought up with big portions and always assumed people ate to be full. I realised that I’d always eaten for the feeling after eating. For me, this was a big belly hug. It was being full and feeling comfort.
It might sound silly to you but realising that food is fuel for your body and not your mind was a revelation. Instead of eating if food was there, I began being curious about when I was eating, what I was eating and how I was feeling. It didn’t instantly stop me stress eating but I began noticing that when I felt stressed or anxious, I’d crave “naughty” food.
I learnt the difference between hunger and cravings and came to terms with the idea that I didn’t need to “be stricter” with my body, I actually needed to be more compassionate to her.
Like yours, this is the only body I’ll ever have.
Eating for a healthy body and mind
The moment you stop focusing on the number of calories you’re eating, or whether you’re eating “good” or “bad” foods (I won’t rant about those terms being ridiculous here), you’ll start to get curious about how food and your relationship with your body makes you feel. This is how you’ll see lasting change.
Think about how you feel before you eat.
- Are you eating simply because other people are? You don’t have to eat if you’re not hungry!
- Are you stressed or anxious or bored? Can you meditate or do something to address this feeling? Eating won’t make it go away.
- Will you still be hungry in 15 minutes time and is the hunger coming from your belly as opposed to your brain or tongue? If so, it’s probably hunger as opposed to a craving.
Think about how you feel after you eat.
In terms of what you’re eating, “comfort food” may make your brain feel good as it feels like a treat after a long, stressful day at work but consider the following questions:
- Does it give you energy or do you feel lethargic?
- Does it make you feel satisfied or does it make you bloat?
Exercise works the exact same way! If you HATE running, it makes your body hurt and you’ve been doing it for months. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? If the answer is training for a charity marathon, please do carry on. If not, think about trying other forms of exercise that actually make your body and mind feel good!
Simply noticing how you feel physically will make a world of difference to your life, I promise. Now, obviously I’m only writing a blog on this. Mel has written a whole book just on eating so there is so much more I could say. All I wanted to do here is tell you my story and hope that it helps you to use to curiosity to build a better relationship with your body if this is something you feel like is holding you back in life. So go, read the book and let me know what you think!
Ultimately, we all want to feel good because hey, when you feel good, you look a million times better, lady.
P.S. I’ve been thinking about poutine since I walked in here an hour ago and the craving is most definitely coming from my belly so I’m going to get them…. BRB.
Holy sh*t. They are amazing. And I don’t feel guilty because I’m eating intuitively and there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” when it comes to food or eating days. Thanks Mel for releasing me from my vicious cycle and helping me use curiosity to heal my relationship with food (and enjoy this heavenly poutine which was every bit as amazing as when I was back in Canada!)