Taking care of a body can be really confusing. As more and more data and tech is developed to manage our bodies, it’s tempting to buy all the latest tools and compare and check our stats religiously- but trusting trackers, food logs, and external body ideals can actually erode trust in our own body and in the signals it gives us. When we wait to eat until a food journal gives us permission to eat, or keep exercising until a tech device tells us we can stop, we ignore the voice of our own body’s wisdom signaling hunger or tiredness.
Our body’s voice, like all voices, responds to being ignored in two ways: by growing silent or by growing very, very loud.
If ignored long enough, our internal cues of hunger, fullness, pain, tiredness, etc. can fade to indiscernible cues. When we ignore this internal voice for an extended time, the voice may burst through: hunger turns into an uncontrollable urge to binge, pain ignored turns into a breakdown-injury, or our unnoticed fatigue delivers us to the doorstep of burnout or breakdown.
In the clinical treatment of eating disorders, a major part of recovery is learning to rediscover and listen to a body’s internal cues. This practice can benefit all of us, as we all exist in a culture where inner wisdom is at best discounted (and at worst, vilified as “the enemy” of health). I firmly believe that being able to mindfully notice our body’s signals is not only essential for whole-body health, but is also inextricably linked to the intuition that helps us navigate the world safely.*
(*Humans have the ability to scan people and situations for danger. Most of us learned to ignore this intuition- and instead were acculturated to “be nice.” Modern research affirms old wisdom, however, demonstrating that trusting your intuition can save your life.)
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A habit of tuning out our internal cues when it comes to food and movement can make it much harder to tune into that system of inner knowing when we really need it (like in relationships, in getting medical care, or in situations where we need to assess our personal safety).
In case no one has told you lately: YOUR BODY IS WISE. Your body is not the enemy. It does not require being caged, restricted, or controlled. It deserves to be treated with the care you’d give to someone you love: Let it take up space. Don’t ignore it when it’s talking, and if it’s just whispering, pause to listen- because its voice matters.
One commenter on Instagram brought up the counterpoint that sometimes bodies have “cravings due to habits and addictions, not out of actual need.” This is a point worth addressing- as I think it’s important we tease apart how “noticing” body sensations does not mean automatically reacting. Like any language, it takes time to learn how your body speaks, and the ways in which it might be confused. Let your wise mind engage with the wisdom of your body (and, as appropriate, the wisdom of professionals) to respond with care.
Let your wise mind engage with the wisdom of your body (and, as appropriate, the wisdom of professionals) to respond with care.
I actually do believe all bodies have wisdom- even when the wires are crossed or the body seems to be asking for unhealthy things. All bodies speak wisdom, but many bodies have been almost completely “rewired” through how our culture (and often our families, and sometimes traumatic experiences in our body) taught us to relate to our bodies and our food intake.
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Cultivating trust in an internal authority doesn’t automatically mean denying external authorities, or that suddenly we give ourselves over to every sensation we feel, but actually means the start of a long process (for many of us, with the help of a therapist or dietician) to learn to listen and unjumble those signals.
The goal of listening is to grow the capacity to be able to mindfully feel, acknowledge, and choose how to respond to our body.
Image description for screen readers:
Internal vs. External Authority
Image of a brunette, short-haired person with a concerned expression holding a phone, which is buzzing. They also have a fitness tracker on their wrist, which is also buzzing.
On the person’s left is a purple banner that says “External.” Below this is written: “An external authority asks us to ignore internal cues (hunger, pain, etc.) in order to achieve that authority’s version of a good body.
There is a black doodle of a fitness tracker with the words “Fitness tech: apps, fitness bands, counters, food journals, etc.” next to it.
There is a doodle of a magazine and a nutrition book with the words “Data: from both pop-culture and academic research” next to them.
There is a doodle of a polaroid picture of a person’s body with their dog next to them, and the words “Comparison to other bodies.”
There is a doodle of a notepad with the words “weight,” “BMI,” and “clothing size” written on it with checkmarks next to each word. The phrase “Body scale measurements” is written with this doodle.
On the right of the person is a purple banner that says, “Internal.” Below that is written “An internal authority asks us to learn to pay closer attention to our body and its needs in order to develop trust between mind and body.”
There is a doodle of a thought bubble with a stomach drawn with the words “H.F.A cues: Hunger, Fullness, and Appetite” written next to it.
There is a doodle of a heart with hands hugging it and the words “Inner wisdom and intuition” next to it.
There is a doodle of a muscular arm flexing with the words “Energy level and strength (+other body feedback) next to it.