A Step by Step Approach to Listening to Your Body

a notebook, magnifying glass, and hat

What does it even mean to “listen to your body”? We hear it often, yet we still have no idea what it means or how to start doing it.

If we can learn how to use our body’s feedback mechanisms, we can course-correct our health. What if stomach aches, heartburn, and bloating aren’t conditions that develop, but features of our bodies telling us that something is wrong? And with a little digging, we just might find out what’s going on.

How to Start Listening to Your Body

If humans have one skill, it’s recognizing patterns. It’s helped us identify snakes in the bush, lions waiting in prowl, and other extreme dangers. Since we don’t have those same dangers today, many people use their skill of pattern recognition in their work. Day-trading, selling, even writing is all about recognizing patterns. But few people can translate this skill inward to better provide for their bodies.

Over the last 9 years of my nutritional journey, the most important skill I developed was how to pay attention to what my body was needing and not needing. And recently, I’ve taken everything I’ve found and condensed it down. 

Here’s what I’ve learned in three steps.

Step One: Identify

a magnifying glass

This step is probably one of the hardest. It’s tough because it means having to pause whatever might be going on in your day, and turn your attention inward. The problem is work, family, and money troubles are always on our mind. It seems almost impossible to not think about them, or other modern stressors, even for a few seconds. But if you can take one deep breath, then you are capable of moving on in this process.

To get started, some questions I like to ask myself are:

  • Do I feel heavy or light?
  • Am I feeling weak or strong?
  • Hopeless or hopeful?

Of course, you can invent your questions. The only part that is required is to pause your day, just for a few seconds. By setting aside this short time, you can mentally note your current condition. Over time, you’ll identify patterns.

You might find that eggs make you bloated and tired. Or maybe you find fish makes you feel alive, mentally and physically.

Once you start identifying some patterns, you can move onto the next step.

Step Two: Investigate

a woman writing in a notebook on a couch

Now that you have some ideas of what might be giving you energy or what might be draining it, you can probe further.

If it was the eggs that made you feel bloated and tired, then start thinking about how often you eat eggs. Is it daily? Weekly?

What else have you noticed about the foods that you eat?

What might your life be like if you continue to eat those foods? How about without them?

The point here is to start building up a picture. After all, a painting isn’t completed in one stroke (usually). It’s brush stroke after brush stroke until you can see the larger picture.

Write down your observations, or make a mental note. We’re going to use what we’ve learned so far and apply the last step.

Step Three: Test

test tubes with colored liquid

Now’s the time to apply what you’ve learned. Take your mental notes (or physical notes) and test those theories.

If you think dairy makes you fuzzy in the head, test it out. Go a couple of weeks without it, note how you feel, and to confirm, introduce a little dairy again. If your theory is correct, and you feel fuzzy again, you know that your body doesn’t really like dairy.

Final Notes:

a pile of sticky notes with a question mark on it

You might be asking yourself, “Doesn’t this mean I’ll have to give up foods that don’t agree with my body?”

My answer to you is:

Why would you want to keep eating things that take a toll on your body and decrease your quality of life?

If you haven’t noticed by now, this three-step process appears to be a homemade elimination diet. And that’s because it kind of is.

But the coolest part about it is that once you try it out and make it past the two-week mark (this seems to be a magic number for changing gut microbes), you won’t miss those foods.

Of course, if you indulge a little in the two weeks, then you won’t allow your gut to adapt completely. Meaning–you’ll still have cravings for the food that’s likely been making you ill. But even if you just take with you the knowledge of how you react to certain foods, I’d call that a win.

The best part about this process is that it’s repeatable. Draw a circle and arrows connecting each step. Identify, investigate, and test the foods that you’ve long held in question. Know that if you can simply take a deep breath, you can discover and even make it past the two-week mark to build up your health. No one is born knowing everything they need to be healthy; the healthy population just pays attention and gradually learns from it.

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