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.

I’ll just have a slice of cheesecake to go, thanks.

I woke up angry today.

Anger is new to me, and it’s the scariest thing. Everything else I feel is just that–like running my fingers over a rough surface–but anger feels like a monster inside of me. It’s a separate being inside of me, and I know neither how to release it nor to tame it. I only feel the heat of it, the intensity in my chest. Does everyone feel this way Because if so, the world suddenly makes enormously more sense.

I didn’t fly into a rage. I didn’t even wish ill on the other commuters on the freeway. But, sitting in the quiet morning light, I kept replaying in my head the same scene: walking over to my husband–who was in bed sleeping–and yelling at him for making me so angry! What did he do?

I haven’t a clue!

He was a little ornery yesterday, a little antagonistic. Completely normal behavior for him, by the way. It just happened to fall on upon which fell several other things–poor diet, headache, stress, feeling out of control of my life and lost about my future–and there I was, ready to pummel him with my pillow.

I didn’t, though. I held back. I reasoned with myself that that was a terribly unfair thing to do to him, and also a scary one. You shouldn’t have to worry about your wife yelling you into consciousness unless someone has been shot, and it’s you.

Don’t get me wrong: this was definitely the right decision. I would go back and choose the same thing.

And yet.

And yet.

I could have done something with that anger. Anger can be channeled into creativity. I know it can, and I don’t know how.

Last spring, my husband and I got in a big fight–or maybe it was a small fight–and I was so mad at him I couldn’t bear to be in the same room. But I also couldn’t bear to tell him how angry I was, so I let him fall asleep and then I crept downstairs to the couch. A mix of anger and the light from the downstairs windows made it difficulty to fall asleep, so I decided to watch Lemonade. I turned to it for her soothing voice, for the poetry, the visuals. I wanted to take my mind off the anger, to be distracted enough to fall asleep, but instead I watched the whole thing. It had never struck me how angry she became, how angry she let herself become.

I had always resonated with one piece early in the album. She’s suspended in water, submerged, just beginning to wake up, to rise up, and she tells a story familiar to most women, about self-contortion, passivity, containment, and trying to make yourself something else, ignoring your own voice for another’s.

This time, I saw that the basis for the entire film was uncoiling that need. And to do it, you must feel love, desperation, apathy, hurt, introspection, and yes, rage. Oh, the rage! I never imagined how cathartic it could be. What a relief it was to see her yell and swear and seethe on camera, to flip it off, and to never apologize not even once. She never blames herself or wonders what she did wrong, or questions what the other woman has that she doesn’t. She is so mad she’s practically on fire with anger, but she stays so cool. She doesn’t become passive, and she doesn’t shrink. In fact, she doesn’t do much at all. The song isn’t really about her.

Her job is to stand there and rage.

It’s only later, much later, that she returns, forgives, goes back upstairs to bed.

First, rage.

I don’t know how to feel that kind of rage, and I certainly don’t know how to channel it. It’s so much easier to eat the cheesecake.


I’ve long feared anger for its destructive potential, but maybe I need to mine it for its creative power. Maybe next time, instead of imagining yelling at him, I write the scene.

What else has anger created?

I tried to change.
Closed my mouth more.
Tried to be softer, prettier, less awake.
Fasted for 60 days. Wore white.
Abstained from mirrors.
Abstained from sex.
Slowly did not speak another word.
In that time my hair I grew past my ankles.
I slept on a mat on the floor.
I swallowed a sword.
I levitated into the basement.
Confessed my sins and was baptized in river.
Got on my knees and said amen, and said I mean.
I whipped my own back and asked for dominion at Your feet.
I threw myself into a volcano.
I drank the blood and drank the whineI sat alone and bent and begged at the waist for God. I crossed myself in thought.I saw the devil.I grew thickened skin on my feet.I bathed in bleach and plugged my menses with pages from the holy book–
But still inside me, coiled deep, was the need to know.

It’s modified because I’ve never needed to know if someone was cheating on me. I just needed to know.

Choose Anger, Not Cheesecake | Monday Wisdom

“That makes me very angry,” we might write instead of eating the last piece of cheesecake. The cake is a sedative that dulls our emotions while anger is a spark that can be used as creative fuel. Entire books, plays, and operas have been written out of anger. The creative arena is the best possible arena in which to express anger. Anger gave us Picasso’s Guernica. Anger gave us Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Properly channeled, anger is a lodestone for creative endeavors.”

–Julia Cameron, The Writing Diet

(I would also add Beyoncé’s Lemonade to the list. I am so grateful she used it as creative fuel.)

Health Tip For The Woman Too Busy For Good Choices

health tip for busy women

I’m busy and tired. I’m working and schooling and my days are long and exhausting, and my weekends are often split so I don’t get two days back to back (I hate that!). Whine whine whine.

Today is Monday and I went to bed late (I need a good 8 hours of sleep, beginning before midnight) and woke up tired and hadn’t prepared myself any food for the day.It was a busy day, I was on the go ,and I didn’t have time to eat well. I got lunch from Chipotle but by the time 4:00 rolled around, I was itching for a Snickers bar.

I was driving from class back to work and was about to pull into a Walgreens when I remembered the rule I made for myself the last time I made this decision: Don’t do the worst thing.

That’s it! That’s all you have to remember. On a crazy Monday like today, that is all you must hold yourself accountable for.

So I made the less bad decision of eating a slice of pizza instead.

Not great, but not candy.

(And then tonight on a salad run at the grocery store I picked up–and scarfed down–a bag of Taki’s. sigh.)