Listen Up! Your Body Is Trying to Talk to You

By Jean Antonello, RN, BSN, obesity and eating disorders specialist and author of The Great Big Diet Lie, How to Become Naturally Thin® by Eating More, Breaking Out of Food Jail and Naturally Thin® Kids,

Body Signals

The term body language refers to a physical communication system which aids, and sometimes contradicts, what you say. It includes gesture, posture, facial expression, and vocal resonance and pitch. Body signals, on the other hand, do not involve communication between people (interpersonal) but rather communication within one person (inner-personal). Specifically, it is the physical part of you “talking” to the mental part of you.

Obviously, without your mind your body cannot literally speak. However, a communication system requires only a set of understandable symbols in order to be effective. Some of these symbols, or physical sensations, include thirst, hunger, cravings for certain types of food, satiation, and nausea, as well as temperature sensations, pain, dizziness, muscle tension, etc. Everyone’s body has such a “language” and depends on it for survival. But, many dieters have experienced a communication breakdown with their bodies. Why does this breakdown occur? What happens between the typical food- restricting dieter and her body to damage this once-healthy communication system?

There are three main reasons for this communication gap. They are the same problems as those that cause interpersonal communication breakdowns.

1. Misinformation

Dieters everywhere are taught to eat less food one way or another and often to exercise more in order to lose weight. It is commonly believed that people who are overweight can safely and permanently lose weight by drastically reducing their food intake and diet companies loudly support this idea in their advertising. But it is not true, and dieters everywhere are being duped into believing and paying for false hopes. They are not generally taught the long term dangers of ignoring their hunger, eating far less food than their bodies require, and rapid weight loss, which is always temporary. And so, they blindly follow diets as prescribed for as long as their bodies can tolerate them. As a result, they become intellectual eaters, ignoring their bodies’ signals for the most part and eating by the book and by the clock. This is not how we are designed to eat and it puts a lot of stress on both the body and the soul of the dieter. Consequently, dieters almost always end the diet and regain lost weight.

2. Mistrust

The next problem is mistrust. The deprivation dieter does not trust her body, especially her hunger sensations. This is in part due to misinformation as well. We have all been taught that we overeat for psychological reasons, that our hunger is not really hunger and must be ignored and explored for other underlying issues. We are taught to take a walk when hunger strikes, or drink water, or journal. Dieters definitely do not trust their hunger!

3. Faulty Listening Skills

Dieters often do not listen to their bodies’ attempts to communicate. Hunger, headache, weakness, and irritability are all counted as part of the price they must pay to lose weight. They work hard at ignoring these symptoms, because listening to these signals is natural. It’s instinctive.
Unfortunately, poor listening skills always lead to the deterioration of a relationship. Instead of being a friend to her body, the determined dieter becomes its archenemy, trying to outsmart its “unreasonable whims.” But these whims are simply its normal needs signals.

The ultimate result is a complete communication breakdown between a desperate dieter and her determined body. The ironic part is, she has built a huge barrier between herself and the key to her lasting thinness: her own body signals. Communication can be reestablished, but it takes time, effort, and the new found trust that comes with understanding.

You and Your Body Can Get Thin Together

Instead of fighting your body’s needs, with strict dieting that can only last for so long, why not try to cooperate with your body for a permanent change? This doesn’t mean eating anything, anytime you want—that would be irresponsible. It does mean tuning in to your body’s hunger and satisfaction signals—really listening and responding to them. There are only two principles to follow: Never, ever go hungry, and never eat poor- quality food. You must listen carefully to your body. There’s nothing instant about this prescription. It’s not quick weight loss like you see on the magazine covers, but it is something you can live with for the rest of your life. Now, isn’t that different?

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