How to Listen to your body

I have a box of girl scout cookies in my freezer.

I put them there after eating a sleeve on thin mints on Saturday, and half a box of peanut butter patties on Sunday.

March is a dangerous month, guys.

Tonight I was feeling hungry and I thought about the cookies. It was after 9 and rather than cook something (if I could scrounge something up from my barren cupboards), why not have a few cookies? I could just sneak in and grab one. Or three….

The thing is, it isn’t about the cookie, or the cookies, or the bite I could take. It’s that my body was telling me something, and I needed to listen. My body didn’t want a cookie. I did, or felt like I did. But my body? It was just hungry! And really freaking hungry at that because you know how much I eat in a day? Not nearly enough.

For years, I have been hearing my body’s need for food–for nourishment!–and have instead eaten sweets. I don’t have to eat a meal. And that means I don’t have to chop or wash or cook or think at all about what to make. And I don’t have to think about spending money or worry about how much is justified and which restaurants are ethical. I just eat a piece of candy and all the options disappear.

Is it anxiety? Is it a disorder? Is it simply that I am easily overwhelmed with decisions? Yes?

All I know is that making this decision day after day for years has left my body in a lousy state. Not a terrible state, just a lousy one.

I’ve recently gained several pounds. My brain has gotten foggy and my ability to think through things, to remember recent days and details, is seriously diminished. I often wake up tired–not just sleepy, but lethargic. My skin is breaking out. And now my damn clothes aren’t fitting right. Some not at all.

I am not happy. I am not happy with how I look. I am even less happy about how I feel. Most of all, I am disappointed in myself. What am I doing?

It’s hard for me to make good food choices. I’m a sensitive soul with strong values, anxiety, and one hell of a time integrating my opinions and beliefs with my actions. I take in lots of information all the time, and have a terrible time processing it. It works for me as a writer. It’s awful for me as an eater.

But. Why can’t I just let it be hard? Yes, the cookies are tasty. Yes, they’re so convenient. Yes, it will stop the hunger. But only for a few minutes, and then it will be back. Or, it won’t be back. Instead, as it’s done before, it will stop asking for fuel and nutrients and instead put my body into power save mode. I’ll go to bed feeling sated, but I’ll wake up with a headache, heavy eyelids, and no will to move. Then, the hunger will return.

It will bring with it little cells with their tiny signs and they’ll march around my stomach and shout about better working conditions, and all the ruckus will get the synapses in my brain all fired up and so when I do finally drag my tired self out of bed, I will probably eat breakfast. I will feel so proud of myself, and the influx of food dropping through the sphincter will quiet the protesters before I’m even done with my plate and, feeling sated, I will head out to work.

At work, I will become so busy fulfilling tasks and so stressed about completing them on time that hours will pass without me noticing I haven’t eaten. It will be nearly 4 before I eat again, and again I will feel proud of myself for prioritizing my health. I may even pat myself on the back as I walk out of Chipotle with a Barbacoa Salad.

Later that night, when I am home and my husband has been fed and the time is coming for me to think about putting on my pajamas and crawling into bed, I will want to eat again. I’ll take a few gummy bears, a handful of chips, a swig of soda. I’ll feel sated. I’ll sleep.

It will be several days before I pause long enough to see how little I’ve actually consumed.

I took this to the page earlier this week. I’m on week 5 of  The Artist’s Way and so I’ve been doing morning pages religiously for just over a month now. I asked what I should do? What on Earth am I getting from this? Why is it so hard?

The answer floated to me today. Two answers, actually.

The first: Do the hardest thing you can think of. I know that sounds very broad but it was very clearly about exercise because I was reminded how much I hate doing repetitive tasks and how bored I get with working out but how much fun I have being active, and how hard I trained and how good I felt doing the Savage Race two years ago. I have in mind precisely what I’m going to do, but I’ll talk about that another time.

The second came tonight in the kitchen as I was thinking about those cookies. Anna, you can eat the cookies. Of course you can eat the cookies. But your body is speaking to you, and you know very well it’s not asking for cookies. If you eat them, you will once again be ignoring your body. You have made it clear that ignoring your body has made you unhappy. So, enough with the deliberating and make some damn zucchini. 

And I did. I also sliced an apple I’ve had sitting on the counter and ate it with peanut butter. I even drank several glasses of water.

It’s not easy to listen to your body. Listening to your body means that you’re going to have to do some tough things. It’s going to require you to be good to yourself. That’s how you know it’s your body talking. Your body will always tell you to be good yourself. You will ignore this and ignore this and ignore this for years and years, for so long that you won’t even be able to hear it, that you’ll think surely your body will have given up making this request.

And then, in a quiet moment in your kitchen, you will hear it. It will be so faint you’ll be certain you imagined it.

But no. That’s your body.

All these years of your abuse and neglect, and still it compels: be good to you.

Sometimes it reminds you of zucchini and apples. Sometimes it asks for water.

Whatever the language, its message remains:

Be good to you.

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