I hear the phrase “listen to your body” thrown around pretty often lately. But since it’s a slightly enigmatic concept, most people don’t really understand what it means or why they should do it. In magazines and social media, you will often see fit, beautiful women holding green juices or eating peanut butter talking about “listening to their bodies.” This naturally leading to the assumption that listening to your body is some kind of diet or anti-diet, but that’s dramatically selling it short.
“Listening to your body” actually just refers to learning how to tune into the way your body talks to you. You’re constantly receiving messages from your body in various forms like hunger, thirst, pain, pleasure, lust, sickness, and the desire to find a bathroom. Every single message is physical; we feel them physically. Some messages feel pleasant, and some feel unpleasant, but that doesn’t mean that the message itself is actually good or bad. In our culture we have such an aversion to feeling uncomfortable or unpleasant feelings that our first impulse upon feeling them is often to suppress those messages as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, when you automatically suppress your body’s messages, you miss out on what the message was here to tell you.
Let’s take appendicitis for example. If you suddenly experience severe abdominal pain and spike a high fever, you go to the doctor to see what’s going on, and you get diagnosed with appendicitis. You probably get treated with either antibiotics or surgery. In this case, the pain and fever were your body’s message to you, and your response was to explore what the message was trying to tell you. It turns out your appendix was trying to say “Hey, I’m infected; help!”
But what if instead of exploring what the message meant, you just ignored it? What if you just took a bunch of painkillers and fever-reducers to suppress the message, and carried on as usual? Most likely, despite “feeling better,” the infection would continue to get worse until you found yourself dealing with a potentially life-threatening ruptured appendix. Listening to your body in a case like this one could actually save your life.
Unfortunately, people rarely seek out solutions for messages that are less loud and clear. Society has us convinced that it’s normal to feel broken and shitty most of the time. Most people live with chronic fatigue, headaches, low back pain, anxiety, and/or poor digestion. They suppress and ignore their body’s messages as best they can, never stopping to explore what the message is there to teach them.
Here’s the truth: humans are meant to feel far more vibrant and wonderful than most people feel nowadays. But you can’t achieve optimal levels of energy and health without learning how to listen to, and interpret, your body’s messages to you. Some messages are easy, like appendicitis. Some may take years of exploration and serious detective work. But the benefits extends far beyond what you’ll find in fitness magazines. Here are some less expected ways your life improves when you learn to listen to your body:
1. Feel less crazy around food
Many women have completely screwed up hunger and fullness signals, thanks to years or decades of intermittent dieting. Many of my clients have spent their entire adult lives suppressing and ignoring their body’s messages around food in an effort to lose weight, and they come to me completely unaware of what it actually feels like to be hungry or full.
As you might imagine, being able to hear your body when it says “I’m hungry” and “I’m full” makes it a helluva lot easier to know when to eat and when to stop. It also makes it easier to know what to eat. Imagine knowing the difference between real cravings and emotional/boredom cravings, and being able to consciously decide which ones you’ll act on!
Doing the work (and yes, trust me, this one often takes a lot of work) to hear and understand your body’s messages around food and eating will make it easier to lose and keep off weight, remove guilt from the eating equation, and erase chronic stress around food. Instead of trying to adhere to random set of rules and restrictions, it becomes mind-blowingly simple: what does my body want right now, and will that make me feel good?
2. Less pain
Many people sit at desks all day, and move only during their workouts. It’s impossible to completely undo the physical stress of a lifestyle like that, but by listening to your body, you can keep the damage to a minimum. Lower back pain isn’t a lifetime sentence, for example. It’s just a message that something needs to be explored and adjusted. Often that means changing the way you sit, stand, move, sleep, or train.
Also, you’ll be less likely to get injured as you increase awareness and start to explore yourself. You’ll move better, get stronger, and become more unbreakable as you listen to how your body feels in each posture, movement, and position.
It’s important to mention here that our society will try to convince you that everyone has chronic pain, and that it’s totally normal to feel broken from your mid twenties on. I challenge you to not accept that, because it’s simply not true.
3. Better workouts
Learn the difference between “good pain,” and “bad pain,” and you’ll know when to safely push yourself at the gym, and when to dial it down a notch.
What does it feel like when you body is craving rest, versus when it’s craving a workout? What does it feel like for your glutes to be firing and functioning properly in a squat, versus your low back or hip flexors to be doing most of the work?
Tuning into your body gives you better information to work with, which leads to better overall durability, as well as stronger muscle contractions. This means better, faster, and safer results at the gym.
4. Better health
Your body tells you when you need to slow down and relax, often in form of subtle signals like tiredness and flareups of old chronic issues. If you ignore those messages, it’ll send louder messages in the form of sickness, injury, panic attacks, or mysterious and seemingly random physical symptoms. By paying attention to your body’s messages, you can avoid a lot of those health issues by catching them early and figuring out what you need, to re-balance and bring yourself back up to 100%. That can mean anything from getting more sleep, prioritizing alone time or intimate bonding, remembering how to truly unwind, or practicing more self-care.
Beyond avoiding sickness though, learning how to tune into your body will also give you the information you need to elevate your day-to-day health from “I feel fine” to “I feel amazing.”
5. More pleasure
One of the side effects of habitually suppressing the body’s uncomfortable messages is that you also automatically suppress a lot of the pleasurable messages! Learning how to tune back into pleasure will helps you identify and pursue more of what feels good for you, bringing more immediate joy and gratification into your life! This applies to movement, sex, friendship, hobbies, and pretty much everything else.
Plus, the brain will strengthen any neural pathways you make it travel down frequently. That means the more you practice tuning into your pleasure messages, the louder and stronger those messages get. (Read: you will be able to experience more intense pleasure.)
6. Sharpen your emotional intelligence
Emotions are physical. They show up in our bodies, so habitually tuning out your body’s signals means you also tune out your emotions! That makes for some seriously confusing adulting. (What do I want to do with my life? Who do I want to date? WHO AM I?!)
Don’t put your brain in charge of shit it’s not qualified to do. It’ll do the best it can, but being in touch with your emotional landscape is crucial if you want to be able to make informed decisions that help you build a rich, fulfilling, authentic, and joyful life.
Start thinking about your emotions. Where in your body do you feel sadness? How about anger? Joy? What does each emotion feel like? Is is cold, warm, soft, or hard? Does it have a color or texture? Is it tight and small, or big and open? Does it move around or sit very still? Get to know your emotions as physical experiences, and then start noticing when they show up.
This will offer you some CIA level intelligence when it comes to what you need and what’s going on for you. Maybe your brain doesn’t know you’re mad yet, but the cold tightening feeling in your belly when you see your partner says otherwise. Access to this data will truly transform your life.
7. Stronger intuition
Much like emotions, your intuition happens physically; that’s why we call it a “gut feeling.” Learning exactly what your intuition feels like will allow you to identify and trust it quickly and effectively. If something feels “off” to you about a person or situation, but you’re not in tune with your body’s signals, you may be confused and believe you simply have indigestion. By taking an antacid to suppress the discomfort, you might miss the opportunity to quickly get yourself quickly out of a bad situation.
8. Increase your autonomy
The brain will strengthen whatever neural pathways you frequently use, meaning the more you listen to your body’s messages, the louder those messages become. You want those messages to be loud AF, because that means you never again need to listen to anyone else who thinks they know best what you want or need. The latest diet trend can’t screw with your head if you’re filtering everything through your body’s messages. Neither Dr. Oz nor fear-mongering fitness magazines can mislead you, if you’re listening to and trusting your body. If some celebrity starts an “only eat blue foods” trend for example, you won’t have to blindly fall prey. You can simply use your body’s data to inform you. Do you feel good when you eat red, brown, yellow, and green food? Yes? Great, then this diet trend probably isn’t for you.
9. More self-trust
The louder your body’s messages get, the better of a job you can do exploring and addressing whatever it is that needs to be explored and addressed. With practice, you’ll very likely feel more energized, empowered, stronger, happier, hotter, and healthier. With all of those things comes trust in yourself. This is huge, because self-trust is the enemy of anxiety and insecurity. Doing the work to listen to your body’s messages allows you to feel safe, peaceful, healthy, vibrant, joyful, and deeply fulfilled. Knowing that you did that work lets you relax into yourself, trusting that you and your body are always on the same team, and that the answers are always inside you.