Listening To Your Body

frustrated with my body

Talking with a friend this morning who is doing a 30 day eating challenge, following a primal (similar to paleolithic) food plan who has noticed something curious that she wanted to explore.

First some background: she is following the program closely, and is feeling great. She admits that one of the reasons she’s feeling great is that she’s eating regularly – as a single person there are times she just can’t be bothered to cook for herself so she eats whatever’s in the fridge or grabs something easy from the local supermarket.

Following this food program, she’s eating very regularly – “all the time”, she says.

And she’s tracking all that eating closely using an online tool. She enters all her food into the website and the site then calculates how much fat, carb, protein and overall calories she’s eaten.

So she’s feeling very ‘in control’, noticing she’s sleeping a lot as you’d expect with her body learning to use food a little differently, and her energy levels are steady though not yet up to where she wants them to be.

The curious thing was that last night, around 10pm, she finished entering the day’s food details into the website, and she had apparently not eaten enough fat or protein, and had some calories ‘left over’ from her 1700 calorie daily allowance.

So she went scrounging in the kitchen and came up with a handful of macadamia nuts, which she promptly scarfed down. And then she felt uncomfortably full – and realised she hadn’t been hungry, but had simply eaten because she had ‘leftover calories’.

Why did she do that, she wondered? Why did she trust that the website knew more about her body than her own body did?

Are We Conditioned To Not Listen To Our Bodies?

When we’ve been in the habit of dieting for so many years, losing touch with our bodies’ wisdom in exactly this way is just one of the unexpected side-effects. We learn to trust ‘the book’ more than we trust our bodies, because we all know that if we trust our bodies and stop rigidly monitoring everything we put into our mouths, our bodies will get out of control and then ……….

And it’s the ‘then’ that has us reaching for our wallets to buy the newest bestest solution: then we’ll be fat, then we’ll be unattractive, then we’ll be a failure, then we’ll be unworthy and unacceptable and then our lives will be over!

But what if our bodies really did know how to regulate appetite without us needing to think about it obessively?

It seems to me we’ve survived very successfully for hundreds of thousands of years without the weight loss industry, but since we’ve had a weight loss industry, we’re all fatter than ever!

A real paradox isn’t it? What do you think, I’d like to know – just comment below…


  1. Anonymous on January 6, 2011 at 1:21 am

    Interesting insight! My hubby just started a medical weight loss plan right after Thanksgiving, so it’s interesting to see how that works for him. He’s lost about 15 pounds so far, and hoping to lose at least 20 more.

    • Anonymous on January 6, 2011 at 1:43 am

      Amy, when you say medical, what do you mean?

      • Amy on January 6, 2011 at 4:03 am

        He’s under a doctor’s supervision.

        • Anonymous on January 6, 2011 at 10:16 pm

          Okay that makes sense, good that he’s getting the results he wants 🙂

  2. Lenore on January 6, 2011 at 1:36 am

    This is really interesting Sandy, I am doing a sugar detox at the moment and it has been interesting to watch my ‘appetite’ change. BY change I mean I am not constantly looking for food, I all of a sudden find myself hungry and realise I haven’t eaten for hours and it’s past my traditional lunch time. I am also noticing the variation in energy level I get when I eat or drink different foods.

    Love my bodies own wisdom and am looking forward to developing an even better relationship with it!

    • Anonymous on January 6, 2011 at 1:42 am

      Exactly Lenore – and I think that tracking what we eat might be useful for some people, but over the years for me, tracking what I was eating became a way for me to see where I could ‘cheat’ the diet. LOL. Can we say ‘dysfunctional’? Which is exactly what the Minnesota starvation study told us is a normal response to food deprivation, of course – cos the body’s wise 🙂 I think I might be getting it, at last 😀

  3. vestavictoria on March 31, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    It’s totally insane the way we allow others to tell us what and how much and when we should eat. And yet that’s what nearly everyone does nowadays – apart from those few people who are getting super-rich promoting their snake oil diets and “healthy eating plans”, who probably know it’s all hooey anyway. All the utter anguish it results in – makes my blood boil!

    • Sandy on March 31, 2013 at 8:10 pm

      Jan, we do what is ‘normal’ don’t we? This kind of ‘just tell me what to do’ thinking is something we learn and don’t even question, till something makes us go what the? Great to have another ‘what the’ on board 😉

  4. Linda on March 31, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    The big question is: what is Normal? Do you mean normal= what is good, normal for my body. Or do you mean= what other people usually, normally eat?
    Because this is the reason why people in western countries cant stop controlling what they eat – if they start to eat according to the local eating habits, they might get fat.
    I think HABIT is the key!
    I lived in different countires in my life (India, Germany, USA, England and now in my homecountry, Hungary (a small eastern european country). And what I noticed is that althuogh I kept eating always the same way (I am vegetarian, eat at least 5-9 portions of vegs and fruits, drunk protein shakes, eat raw nuts. And every day I wat something I feel my body desires, it might be a healthy version of tortilla, or pasta or grilled cheese. And I do eat sweets, altough it might be curd with honey or fruits. But I never drink fruit juice or drinks with added sugar or sweeteners and never eat junk food or deep frozen, processed food) So the point is that this is Normal to me and I think I eat 90% really healthy. But I was regarded differently in different countries. In India my eating habits were completely normal, and I looked like an average person (I am 1,75cm and 64kg, so my BMI is 20,8). In England they were surprised why I dont eat chips every day, why I dont like the sweetened white sliced bread with butter and why I dont like to drunk cocktails with lots of sugar and why I rather prefer red wine. In the USA they told me: you are so skinny! They were surprised why I dont eat 5l popcorn with 1l coke when I want to watch a movie at the cinema. (In my childhood there was no possibility to buy food at the cinema and even nowadays the noise people make when they eat popcorn in the cinema distrubs me…) I dont understand why having an ice cream means to Americans to eat often a whole bucket (!) of that frozen, sugary liquid (and then comes the whipped cream and the nuts and the chocolate cream on it etc.) (continued below)

    • Sandy on April 1, 2013 at 5:48 am

      Linda, your post wouldn’t fit into one comment so I’ve split it up – it’s a limit of this system, sorry.

      You’re correct – a ‘normal’ western diet isn’t particularly healthy! I think it’s hilarious that the Standard American Diet has the acronym SAD. It really is SAD that our ‘normal’ diet has become loaded with sugar and other highly manufactured food-liks substances. Eating food filled with refined sugars definitely disrupts our body’s natural ability to monitor its calorie needs, which I’ve talked about elsewhere and people like David Gillespie have written about in Sweet Poison. So perhaps a good distinction is a high sugar diet is ‘usual’ in many Western countries, but it’s not ‘normal’ for humans? And it’s our habit to do what’s usual in our families, in our culture.

      If exercising for two hours a day is usual in yours, then you keep doing it. Most exercise experts I know suggest that the 30 minutes fives times a week is sufficient to keep a good level of fitness and massively reduce the risk of conditions like diabetes, and that this level of activity is all that’s really required to do the job. Many studies have shown that small bursts of movement will give greater fitness than one long session. For example, sixe five minute walks during the day will increase fitness more than a single half hour walk will.

      We have tended to collapse thinness and fitness together in the last thirty years or so; one does not exclude the other and one does not have to be present for the other to automatically apply. Meaning that a thin person isn’t always also fit, and a fit person isn’t always also thin – I know many extremely fit people who would never classify as thin, for many reasons (sometimes even that they eat ‘too much’ sugar). Think people get diabetes and cancer and high blood pressure too, they are not only nor are they always related to body weight, despite how often they are linked in the mind of popular culture. It’s worth mentioning here.

      And that said, the whole driving force of the body acceptance movement is that your body is YOUR body, and you can do with it whatever you want to, there is no obligation to accept ANYONE else’s opinion, no matter how well intended or qualified they are. So if working out for two hours a day feels great to you and your body, keep doing it. If your friend wants highly sugared coffee more than she wants to give up sugary foods so she can perhaps be thinner, there’s no reason she should stop. I think we all need to learn to stop complaining about our weight though – that’s called Fat Talk – and spend a little more time and attention being kind to ourselves – that’s the world I want to live in 🙂

    • Linda on April 1, 2013 at 5:50 am

      (Linda continued)
      I spend every week 10-12 hours at the gym and do hard cross-over training. Not only to keep my body in shape, but because my body is crying for exercise and this way I want to prevent diabetes, high blood pressure etc.
      This was normal when I lived in Brazil, over there women spend much time on shaping their body. But in the USA people told me: this is too much, 5times 30 minutes is enough. And people in the USA dont have hard workouts, often they were just walking on the running machine.
      I met my best friend last week (now I am 38 and we have known each other since the age of 14). She kepts gaining weight throughout the years.
      We went to Starbucks, she ordered a Big latte with lots of milk, sugar, whipped cream, syrup and nuts on the top. (This is what I mean, she ordered something that is ‘normal’ to have when you go to such a place) While I had a green tea without anythnig inside.
      She looked at me and told : ‘See, the genes make the difference. Just look at me, I cant lose weight, even now I only have a coffee to offset the cake I had before coming here. And look at you, your body doesnt change, although years passed by.’
      I looked at her drink she perceived as a simple ‘coffee’ which contained about 650calories and then at my tea with zero calories. And i knew that I worked out 2hours previously, while she didnt.
      So people nowadays generally live such an unhealthy life that you need to be conscious to see that normal for the society is not normal for your body.
      But once you start to follow a healthy diet, you will learn to trust your body and will not have to control your eating habits, becasue your body will give you clear signs of what is good and what is not good for the body.
      (Recently my mother ate chips and I took 2 oieces and told her ‘hey, this tatsets awful, it is somethnig with no nutrient and I jsut feel this salty-artificial taste. How can you eat that?’)
      So I would suggest people in western countries to think before they eat something ‘could people in e.g. Mongolia eat such thing? And if the answer is no (sine over there people dont eat processed food) then you shouldnt eat it!

  5. Kristie Eccleston on April 2, 2013 at 4:18 am

    I believe the reason we don’t listen to our bodies is because of programs exactly like the one your friend is on and other similar ones like weight watchers, etc, etc etc. Where someone else is telling us what, when and how much to eat. Or we track and control calories and grams of fat, protein, and carbs. We are lead to believe that experts have the answers instead of our selves. I wish people would realize how damaging it is to listen to anything or anyone outside of yourself about what you should be eating and how much you should be exercising. Programs like that are my pet peeve. I teach people to throw out the influences and listen to their own bodies, most women find it extremely difficult but after they do the work it’s very rewarding.

    • Sandy on April 2, 2013 at 5:45 am

      Kristie – exactly! And by the way, people don’t need to listen to me either – even when I write about my own clinical experiences or research into the new dodad, in the end it’s all just my opinion and not more valid than their own. As you said the KEY is that each person is THE expert on their own body, mind and spirit. I think this journey of learning to love our bodies, and then to go beyond that to body bliss 😉 is really a journey back to finding ourselves and our trust… and I get that’s what you’re doing too, showing a path back to our own power. We should have a chat – maybe you’d like to do a guest post here sometime? Email me if you’re interested?

  6. Linda on April 2, 2013 at 6:35 am

    Hi Sandy,
    I think human bodies function quite much the same way, so if someone doesnt follow the ‘usage instructions or recommendations’ then the body will not function perfectly. Just like when you pour sugar into your car. If there is a little, maybe your car will work, but too much will destroy it. And therefor I think we should accept the opinion of qualified people regarding our eating habits.
    I agree with you: we should spend a little more time and attention being kind to ourselves – in my view this means that we should be more disciplined and NOT harm our body or harm it less. This means eating less sugar, refined food etc. Because pampering ourselves with something sweet, unhealthy on weekends, celebrations is nothing else than emotional eating. It is quite simple to differentiate real hunger from emotional problems – when I feel sad or nervous I go for a walk with my dogs. The fresh air helps me to calm down, seeing my dogs enjoy the moment also help me to get back to the present. While emotional eaters keep the original problem and in addition they even have guilt feeling after binge eating.
    Discpipline is needed for all areas of life if you want to achieve something: in your career, relationship, wealth etc. So if you want to have a healthy body, then you have to set limits and dont cross them. But this is not a struggle. On contrary, to me it is a calming feeling to know that there are rules, habits in my life that guide me. The same way as I know that I will not exceed a certain speed limit with my car because that would risk my life (health).
    Regarding fitness and thinness, yes there are expections, but generally thinner people are fitter than fatty people.
    And to be honest, 99% of overweight people simply dont feel good in their skin. Even my friend I mentioned in my comment who drinks 650kcal coffee with sugar – she hides her body when we go to the beach and is always jealous of her husband. Many fat women dont admit they dont like their bodies, but after losing weight they tell how bad they felt with extra weight. Or they overcompensate it with trying to be always happy and loud and funny.
    And the way your body looks is telling a lot about your personality: how much you are disciplined, you much you have high standards, how much you can achieve goals, how much you respect your body.
    Your body doesnt know ‘excuse English’ – people at the gym keep telling me that my body hasnt changed throughout the years. This is because I do work on it: I dont eat more food at Christmas, I dont eat cakes on weekends, I go jogging even when I go on holiday. If I dont then my body, and more importantly my health would show it.

    • Sandy on April 2, 2013 at 7:12 pm

      Linda – we listened to experts tell us that it was critical to our health that we cut out all fat – the lower fat the better. Then we listened to experts say that actually vegetable oils like canola were health-giving. Then they said that artificial sweeteners were much healthier than sugar. And on and on and on. And all without telling us who was funding the programs, who was funding the research, and who was benefiting by the increased sales of the manufactured foods they poured onto the supermarket shelves with massive, massive campaigns telling us that these foods were critical for our health. It has taken decades of grass-roots activism to even start to reverse some of those beliefs, we have a LONG way to go. Interestingly, we didn’t have an “obesity crisis” before the low fat lie started to change our eating habits.

      I’m quite surprised about your statement correlating fitness and thinness – please point me to a study which says that thin people are generally fitter than fat people. I’ve read hundreds of studies and I’ve never seen one that proves your statement though I would be very willing to read it. I do however know many many thin people who are unfit and unhealthy, many many thin women who smoke heavily because it controls their weight, many women who routinely vomit up their calorie-counted low fat meals or who spend hours at the gym damaging their bodies with over-exercise, because they’re so terrified of being fat. So perhaps this is an opinion of your own?

      Regarding your choice to not eat sugary foods because it’s important to you to have a thin body, I applaud you for being clear about your choice and your discipline. For me eating sugary foods more than a couple of times a week has a terrible impact on my mood, so I choose to limit my intake of sugar. That’s because I know my body, I know how it responds to sugary foods. I also know that if I eat food made of wheat more than a few times a week I get a lot of indigestion. That’s because I’ve learned what my body prefers. I have a friend who feels lethargic when she eats chicken, it took months for her to solve that. Chicken doesn’t affect me like that. That’s because my body is different and unique, just like my friend’s, just like yours. But it takes time and attention to figure out these things and no expert can tell anyone about these unique differences without expensive and detailed testing of each individual; we are all our own best expert in our body’s responses to different foods.

      And even when you know your body’s responses, it is a choice to eat the food or not. Not every person (and not even most people) who eats sweet foods is an emotional eater. Not every person who responds to stress by eating food eats sweet food. Some people like to eat sweet foods because they simply enjoy the taste of sweet foods (and in fact the flavour ‘sweet’ is one of the five flavours we *need* for good health, according to holistic health practices). To say that all people who eat sweet food are emotional eaters is like saying that every person who drinks alcohol is an emotional drinker (ie: an alcoholic) – actually no, many many people drink alcohol because they like the taste of it, have one or two drinks and are satisfied with that, they don’t need or want to binge on alcohol. Eating sweet foods doesn’t mean that you’re eating emotionally or being undisciplined.

      Most of the sugar we eat though – a huge percentage – is ‘hidden’ in low fat foods, in cereals and breads and salad dressings and many other foods that are marketed as healthy. So the answer here is education about what food is actually nutritious for the body, not just about what foods have low fat|carbs|whatever. And by the way, that education should come from people who are not being paid by the big food companies to sell their processed healthy-seeming foods with misleading marketing messages.

      And lastly, I do actually know a lot of “fat” people who do actually feel comfortable in their own skin. Some of them even go to the beach and don’t care what anyone else thinks about their bodies. And some don’t go to the beach at all because they don’t like the sand and the sun. And they have good success in their relationships, their careers, with their families. Some thin people I know are depressed, sick, living on prescription drugs and are unemployed. This is not because of their weight. So being thin is not an automatic guarantee that you’re disciplined, goal-oriented or destined for success.

      I wonder what this says about their personality? I’d have to ask them, because if I thought I knew what their size said about their personality I can 99% guarantee I’d be wrong because every single person on this planet is different, despite what our thin-obsessed media has to say about it.

      I get that the way your body looks is an important part of your identity Linda. Your rituals around food help to make you feel calm and in control. That’s how you choose to manage your body and your life. It’s your right to do so without judgement.

      It’s also other people’s right to not put so much of their energy into carefully evaluating and controlling their food, and not be judged as undisciplined, unhappy, lazy or deficient in some other way.

      I would encourage you to read about what really makes a body healthy though – actual studies or detailed commentary on studies, not just popular media interpretations of studies. Every study I’ve ever read about health is very clear that unless you are at either extreme of the BMI your weight has almost no ability to predict your health. That means that when you look at a person’s body and think you know something about their health based on your opinion of their size, you’re making a judgement based on your opinion.

      When people do judge others’ health, discipline or personality based on the size of their body, that’s called bias – which is the nice word for it. The not so nice word is bigotry.

      Your body is your body Linda, your choices are your choices. To pretend that what you believe about your body is true for 99% of people is … misguided.

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