By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
I don’t know about you, but I bought that “No pain, no gain” philosophy hook, line and sinker. And boy did I sink. I knew how I was going to “work out” my body before my feet even hit the floor every morning. Regardless of seasons, soreness or sickness, I was going to abide by the “fitness rules” and earn my right to eat and exist. It wasn’t about what I loved to do or how my body wanted to move or rest, it was about fitting into the culture and fitting into whatever size jeans I deemed acceptable at the time. It wasn’t about communing with nature or connecting with my body, it was about burning calories and carbs.
I knew what our culture valued and, by gosh, I was going to fit in. I was going to eat the foods that had been deemed saintly and avoid any foods that had been deemed sinful. And then I was going to reap all that I had been promised: happiness, confidence, love and approval. The only problem was, the system was faulty. The promises were never delivered. Maybe for a minute, as I soaked up all the compliments about having so much “willpower” and “discipline.” But I lived in constant fear of never being enough, veering off my rigid schedule, or when the willful wall would come tumbling down and I’d start binging again.
These days, I’m operating on a different internal program. I actually ask my body, rather than my mind, how it wants to move, rest and eat. And I listen. I couldn’t decipher my answers at first because it was so new to ask my body what it wanted. Plus, the answers terrified me if they were anything other than my internal drill sergeant’s regimens and rules.
If our minds are congested with traffic, we are not likely to hear a response that is grounded in wisdom. Most of us have ingested the diet and fitness industry’s bylaws. And while those rules certainly promise we will live happily-ever-after, they rarely deliver. It takes courage, willingness and lots of practice to weed through the brambles of our brainwashed minds and decipher our body’s wisdom. But it’s in there. You were born with it and you can find it again.
Recently, I was sadly reminded of our cultural brainwashing while on a lovely walk in the forest. The trail I was on was virtually silent, so it was impossible to miss the conversation of two joggers passing me by. The women were in the midst of a conversation that went something like this:
Jogger one: “I hate running. Every part of my body hurts.”
(Just to be crystal clear, this conversation was taking place while she was running!)
Jogger two: “I know. I feel so much better when I walk but I’m afraid I’ll end up looking like my mother if I don’t run.”
Jogger one: “I feel great when I walk too. Nothing hurts. When I run, my knees hurt, my hips hurt, my back hurts, everything hurts.”
And then they were gone. I could almost see the invisible whip at their dusty heels.
Wait! I wanted to call after them! If you hate running, you don’t have to run. You’re scared; and fear needs love and reassurance, not cardio and steamed vegetables. Wait, sisters. You can slow down. You can listen to your bodies. That’s what intuition is. That’s why we have it.
But I get it. I spent decades under the No-Pain-No-Gain Spell. I worked out, regardless of the conditions outside or inside. And while I often felt that endorphin-induced high, the high always went away. I never felt much peace, calm or confidence. I was terrified to skip a day, rest, or modify according to my body’s messages.
Nowadays, I ask my body how it wants to move, rest and eat. Of course, it’s not a perfect system. There are times I have a plan with someone that involves movement or a certain type of food that may not have been my body’s number one choice, and I choose to keep my commitment. But if a plan with another person conflicts with my body’s true needs, I will cancel, reschedule or propose a modification. My intuition runs the show now, and I listen. My mind used to run the show, until I learned that its programming was largely faulty and seriously outdated.
So how about you? Are you adhering to the cultural rules at the expense of your body’s needs? Are you forcing yourself to exercise in ways you don’t even like, or ways that actually cause your body harm? Are you ready for an internal upgrade?
How about asking your body how and when it wants to move, rest and eat? Your intuition might be timid after years of being ignored, but the more you ask, the clearer it will get. As you experiment with listening, you may have some anxiety, possibly the same anxiety that led you to abandon your body in the first place. But this time, you can get support from people who understand. This time, you can learn how to tolerate being emotionally uncomfortable and treat yourself with love and kindness. This time, you can see that emotions pass and old beliefs can be updated. You do not have to forsake your body in order to get love. You can learn how to love yourself and get what you were looking for all along.