By Michelle May, M.D.
Have you ever said, “I have a gut feeling…” or “My stomach is tied in knots!”? There was a time when I wasn’t aware of my instincts—or didn’t trust them. Take eating for example: I usually led with my head.
If I was off my diet, I thought about food all the time. I’d walk to the break room at work or open my refrigerator to see if there was anything good to eat. Then I’d eat standing up or plop down with the whole package, with no awareness whatsoever about what I was physically or emotionally feeling.
If I was on my diet, I thought about food all the time. I’d think about what I was going to eat for each meal and snack and filter everything through my mental calculator: How many calories (or points) was it? How many minutes on the treadmill would it take to burn it off? Still, there was no awareness about what I was physically or emotionally feeling.
Many of us keep ourselves too busy, distracted, and disconnected to hear our hunger and fullness signals, much less all of the other valuable information available to us. Many diet and health “experts” lead us to believe that those signals cannot be trusted anyway. Our own personal experiences with overeating fuel that distrust, though ironically, overeating is merely a symptom of our disconnection from our true physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
As a physician, I’m tempted to explain this physiologically. After all, the gastrointestinal tract has 100 million neurons and 95% of the body’s neurotransmitter, serotonin. But a journey that began by learning to recognize hunger and fullness has taught me to trust my gut instincts in all things. The amazing results cannot be explained by biology alone.
Whether you call it your instinct, intuition, spirit, inner voice, body wisdom, a knowing, listening to your heart, or some other descriptor, it is a powerful and reliable source of information that you can learn to listen to and trust.
In Am I Hungry?® books and workshops, we introduce the practice of listening with a Mind-Body Scan. We use it first to help you identify hunger and fullness, then to become more aware of other signals your body is trying to send you. I won’t go into the details here but the essence of the mind-body scan is to get quiet, breathe, and focus your attention.
While listening to that inner voice can be challenging, trusting its wisdom is the more difficult part. We want to control, second-guess, and overanalyze the possible outcomes. While there’s something to be said for checking in with your head, I’ve gradually learned that when the two don’t agree, my gut is usually right.
THE BODY, MIND, HEART, AND SPIRIT CONNECTION
Let me share just a few of the many non-food related examples from my own life that demonstrate how my inner wisdom has served me. Perhaps you can think of similar situations from your own life.
Self-preservation: I had just entered my hotel room when there was a knock at the door. I looked through the peep hole to see a maintenance man who said he was there to fix a hole in the wall. I looked around the room to substantiate his request and identified a small defect in the wallpaper. Something told me to ask him to come back later. He left but I still felt uneasy. I called the maintenance manager and asked them to wait on the repair until I checked out the following day. He couldn’t find a work order for my room and when I described the man’s uniform, he said it didn’t belong to that hotel.
Congruence: I was recently asked to participate on a committee that had been working on a childhood obesity initiative for several months. During my first conference call, I began to “feel” uneasy. I didn’t agree with the good food-bad food approach they had taken and I sensed resistance when I said so. It was clearly too late to have an impact on the direction they were headed and though I told myself I should stick it out, I could already feel the drain on my time, energy, and spirit. After the call, I took a few deep breaths and decided to trust my insticts to withdraw. I immediately felt better and inspired to share a more positive, less restrictive message.
Clarity: Last month many of you participated in a poll on my new blog at http://www.eatwhatyoulovelovewhatyoueat.com/ to help me select the cover of my next book, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. Your feedback was insightful and frankly, a bit surprising. The majority of you selected a cover with a beautiful heart-shaped ring of cherries. Others felt the cover with the single piece of heart-shaped chocolate was more compelling. I wanted to honor the vote but my spirit keeps insisting that the people who need this book will be drawn to the chcolate, a symbol of the freedom and joy that comes from eating fearlessly and mindfully. While chocolate is unexpected on a book in the diet and self-help section of bookstores, I sense that this cover will tug at the hearts of those who have a painful love-hate relationship with food and are ready to be healed.
PRACTICE LISTENING TO YOUR INNER WISDOM
Whenever you find yourself unsure, struggling, or depleted, take a few moments to be fully present to all of the information that is available to you. Get quiet and listen to your body, mind, heart, and spirit. You’ll feel more decisive, centered, and peaceful. Trust what you hear and act on it.
Eat Mindfully. Live Vibrantly!
Michelle May, M.D.
P.S. Need a gentle reminder to tune-in? Our beautiful, handcrafted bracelets are a beautiful reminder to ask the simple but powerful question, Am I hungry? whenever you feel like eating: http://amihungry.com/bracelets.shtml.