“Do you live in your body?” (Part 1)

“Making Peace with Food & Your Body”

Do you live in your body? That may sound like a strange question, but in the past 25 years of developing and teaching my “Making Peace with Food & Your Body” approach, I have noticed that very few of my clients with eating issues feel comfortable in their bodies.  Or are even aware of their bodies much of the time.  Many of us tend to live from the neck up.

We know we “have” a body. We do the basics for it. We feed it, although not always what it needs. We force ourselves to go to bed because we know it needs sleep, although we often override those needs with our pleasures or our to-do list. We brush its teeth because our parents got us into the habit (and maybe as adults, we got ourselves in the habit of flossing, at least before our dental cleaning). But many of us treat our bodies as a commodity, a necessity, a machine that gets us from one place to another, gives us pleasure – and sickness and pain (and then we get mad at it!)  

Many people care for their cars better than they care for their bodies! 

Take a moment and consider the question “What is the quality of your relationship with your body?”  Do you take breaks to give your body rest and nourishment or do you push through pain and fatigue?  When you wash or put moisturizer on your skin (and do you moisturize, use sufficient sunscreen – in other words, protect it) – do you slap it on or do you touch your skin lovingly.  We all need loving touch, not just babies.

I’ve read that the way that we treat our bodies is related to the way we were treated as children.  If we were cherished, our feelings and needs honored, we are more likely to honor our bodies’ needs and treat them with care.

Developing a caring relationship with my body and learning to inhabit it has been a process.  I learned to dissociate as a child to help me get through trauma.  I’m grateful that my body-mind automatically did that, when I didn’t have the tools to cope with overwhelming emotions.  But whatever worked initially (like using food for comfort) became the default.  Until we decide to change the default. And learn the skills that allow us to do that.

There is a section in my book, “Conscious Eating, Conscious Living” called Making Peace with your Body.  I talk about two basic components to making peace with our bodies:               

  • examining and changing the way we experience and treat our physical bodies
  • examining the sources of our negative body image and challenging those distortions.

 And, since it is a workbook, I ask the reader to answer questions to get a deeper understanding:

1- How well do you take care of your body (stretching, exercising, giving it enough water, oxygen, nourishment, rest etc.

2- If you engage in body bashing, what precipitates those episodes and how does it affect you?  Does it make you depressed or precipitate a binge?  I suspect it does. Does it encourage you to eat healthier long-term?  Probably not.

3- Are you willing to accept your body and treat it well even if you don’t lose weight?  If not, what are your fears about accepting your body as it is?  (If you’re afraid that accepting your body will precipitate an eating frenzy and weight gain, the research shows the exact opposite.)

4- Do you fully inhabit your body or do you ignore your body’s need for love and attention when it is tired or sick or injured?

Writing this last question, back in 2001, when I wrote the 1st edition of “Conscious Eating, Conscious Living,” I knew that it was important to live in our bodies. But I was just learning how.

In Part II of this newsletter, which I will write and send out next month, I will share with you what I have learned and what I’ve been practicing, with myself and with my clients.  If you’d like to learn more now, I recommend Jonathon Foust’s course on CD or MP3 called “Body-Centered Inquiry,” which you can order from Soundstrue.com

In the meantime, if you’re willing to try an experiment: 

Every day, as often as you think of it, ask yourself “How do I feel?”  “What do I need?”  I started that practice 25 years ago, when the only ways I could manage my strong emotions was to stuff them, distract from them, or complain about them (and whatever had triggered them). This practice of self-inquiry was my first step in knowing and befriending myself, my feelings and my body (where our feelings live.)

I never could have imagined that self-inquiry and connecting with the wisdom of my body would lead to such deep fulfillment. I wish that for you too.

More in a few weeks.  In the meantime, take good care of yourself. 

All my best,

Barbara.


Do you Live in your Body (Part II)

How to Inhabit your Body

Why is it important?

Our bodies give us information about what we’re feeling.  If we are outer-focused (like most of us are) and aren’t attuned to our body’s signals, we can miss its signals of what we feel (I really don’t like that person, I don’t feel like going out tonight… ) And  we easily override its messages, like its need for food, rest, touch etc. We live by habit, or to please others, or so we don’t trigger our inner critic.

If we want to lose weight, inhabiting our bodies is key. If we don’t recognize our hunger, we can wait too long to eat – and then it’s difficult not to overeat.  If we aren’t paying attention to the sensations of our bellies filling up, again it will be hard not to overeat.  (Of course we have to give ourselves permission to have this delicious food again when we really want to eat it or we will need to get it all in NOW!) I call this “eating from the inside-out.” 

When we were babies, we loved and trusted our bodies.  Most of us ate when we were hungry and turned our heads away when we’d had enough. Dieting taught us not to trust our hunger and our fullness. (And, in disconnecting from our bodies, we also disconnected from our feelings which live in our bodies.)  Instead, we turned to calories or points to guide us.  And if you’d prefer to be a Weight Watcher lifer who is guided by points, that works for some people.  But for those of us who rebel against being regimented,  wouldn’t you like to know and trust your body again?

Are you reluctant to inhabit your body?  I was.  There is deep knowing in the body.  It’s said that our thoughts can fool us, or contradict each other, but the body doesn’t lie. 

One of the most important things I do as a therapist is to help my clients know and accept themselves. And it starts by recognizing, and becoming curious about our emotions.  Think of feelings as the embodiment of those emotions. 

If you’re scared of your feelings, I get it.  I was too. 

If you don’t know how to be with them, you can learn.

I’m going to suggest 2 simple practices.

1- Every day, many times a day, drop in and ask yourself “How do I feel?  What do I need?”  If we’ve been living our lives responding to our task list and other people’s expectations and needs, checking in with ourselves is essential. 

2- If you discover that you’re upset, uncomfortable, ill at ease, numb or anything besides calm, happy or neutral, try Tara Brach’s wonderful question “What’s here now?  And can I be with it with kindness and compassion (and I would add curiosity.)

If you really want to try a 3rd practice, pay attention to how you touch your body when you wash it, put on moisturizer.  Is it rushed, haphazard or nurturing touch? Would you be willing to experiment with touching it like you would for someone you love?

Next month, I will send you Part II of “Do you live in your body?”  Generally, I only send these newsletters 2 or 3 times a year.  But since learning how to make friends with and inhabit our bodies is so crucial for our health and well-being, I’d like to share other practices that I and my clients have found helpful in making peace with our bodies.

With Warmest Wishes,

Barbara

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