What is Your Body Yelling About Now?
(March 27, 2018)
There is a useful nugget of wisdom that we in the Health and Wellness biz (“H&W” for the uninitiated) just love. You can drag it out any time you are talking and lose your train of thought, or maybe suddenly realize that what you just said was really stupid, and you need to cover yourself quickly. It’s this -- “just listen to your body”.
Everyone within earshot will suddenly look very serious and nod wisely in agreement with you. Which is fine, as far as it goes. You did say something pretty smart and useful, after all. But then, more often than not, they go out and do the exact opposite.
Huh. Why is that? I think that it’s because their body is telling them something that they think that they don’t want to hear. Something that they are pretty sure that they wouldn’t want to do, and so would prefer to not even know about it in the first place.
I used to know this guy. He had very stubborn migraine headaches that we were able to make very little progress with. Since with migraines that is very often the sign of a food sensitivity, I was able to get him to go on an elimination diet (no small feat in itself) to find out if that was indeed the case.
Which it was. And his problem food turned out to be beer. He stopped drinking beer for several weeks and had not a single headache. A H&W miracle! So. Give up beer, no more headaches, right?
Well, evidently not. The last I heard, he was back drinking beer and doctor shopping in the hopes that he could find a medication that would give him the same relief that he had had when he had actually fixed his problem
Appalling, of course. But not at all uncommon. I could come up with at least a hundred examples of people refusing to listen to very clear messages that their body has sent them. You see it all the time. (Especially with you people with insomnia. You absolutely will not do what you know that you need to do.)
The reason that everyone sagely nods in agreement with you when you say, “listen to your body”, is because we all know that when it comes down to what is actually good for us and what is not, our bodies are much smarter than our brains are. Your body has a billion years of evolution behind it, after all, whereas the smart part of your brain has only about a quarter million. And your own personal brain has only a couple or maybe a few decades, most of which were, admit it, mostly poorly spent.
So when your body feels bad, you KNOW that you are doing something wrong. And conversely, that if something makes it feel good, that you should do more of it. So why is this information often so hard to act upon?
The answer that is usually offered as the solution to this paradox is that people can’t pass up instant gratification. They go ahead and drink that yummy beer now, even though they know it will give them a headache later, because they don’t have any self-discipline. Of course any normal human has more or less trouble bypassing something that feels good NOW for something that is maybe going to happen LATER. But I think that there’s a little more to it than that.
Here’s my thought on this. That thing you’re doing that’s giving you a problem – you’re pretty sure that if you give it up, you’re going to have a worse problem. Because that thing that’s bad for you? It's a solution to something that is a far bigger problem than the present difficulty. And THAT is where actually listening to your body, plus those gorgeous frontal lobes, is going to make all the difference.
Here’s what I mean. Why won’t Beer Boy quit drinking beer when he knows that it’s giving him a headache? Here’s a list of possible reasons:
1) Drinking beer is how he winds down. Being in a knot all the time would be worse to him than having a headache. Or maybe;
2) He drinks beer after work with friends, and that experience won’t be as companionable without beer. (There’s no lonelier experience on earth than being sober with a bunch of drunks.) Or maybe;
3) He was able to lose 30 pounds by drinking two beers instead of eating dinner, and he does NOT want to gain that weight back.
Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s pretty simple, really. Your problem has a solution that you won’t accept, because your problem is not the real problem. It’s a solution, to a much bigger problem. And that is why you can’t fix it.
So I have a suggestion. Check into what your body is feeling. And for the moment, just stop there and experience it. Next, try to figure out why you’re experiencing that feeling. And if at that point the reason that you are experiencing that feeling is a situation that you feel you can’t change – think about it a little bit more. Because Beer Boy:
1) Might be able to wind down by working out. Or maybe;
2) He could find something else manly to drink with his friends that won’t result in them making fun of him. Or maybe;
3) Chugging a quart of water and eating a TV dinner would be just as satisfying.
Anyway, the point is, figure out what the underlying problem is and then try to find another solution to it that isn’t as toxic. You may find one. You may not. But at least you’ll know what’s going on, and while you’re doing that, there’s always hope. Or there is as long as you are listening to your body, anyway, because it is always giving you useful information and it will never, never, never shut up.
--dr. diane holmes
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