When I was a child, I thought my body was perfect: My arms were strong enough for the monkey bars, and my legs were perfect for spinning around and around. But when I was 10, I overheard family members (who shall remain nameless) call me “chubby.” Seeing myself through new eyes, I began to worry about the size of my jeans and what I ate.
Then came my 17th summer. Classmates and I drove to a friend’s beach house to celebrate graduation. As I headed to the sand in my colorful new bikini, my boyfriend leaned in close. “You’ve gained weight,” he told me.
When I look at pictures from that trip, I feel indignation, because I looked fabulous in that bathing suit—like a healthy 17-year-old. But at the time, I was devastated, and my simmering food and body fears exploded into an eating disorder. I restricted calories obsessively, and over-exercised daily.
I’ll be forever grateful to a concerned friend who recommended I see a dietitian. That dietitian taught me something I still follow: “Trust your body. If you eat only when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full, you’ll never have a weight problem.”
I tried it, and found she was right. This made such a difference that I wanted to help others. I took an undergraduate degree in dietetics, and eventually became a doctor and a life coach. I’ve been teaching other women to listen to and trust their bodies for more than 20 years now.
Here are some ways that may help you reconnect with your own:
Learn your body’s language
Most of us push ourselves too hard. Up to 90 percent of visits to a doctor are for stress-provoked conditions. Common examples I see in my office are upset stomach, neck or back tension, rashes and frequent colds. Often, people go to a doctor for a quick fix. But ask yourself, “What does my body want me to change?” The answer could be you need to slow down, or stop eating too much junk food. Or maybe your body wants you to change careers. Pay attention to the answer.
Get to the root of unhealthy eating habits
Food was meant to nourish. Yet I encounter, both as a life coach and a doctor, women who think of food and their appetites as uncontrollable enemies. A classic example is the woman who longs to lose weight, but can’t resist eating a big bowl of ice cream while watching TV. She feels helpless, blaming an “out-of-control” appetite. The real problem is that she’s stressed, lonely or bored, but smothers those feelings with food.
Be curious about what’s driving your eating habits. Pay attention to what true hunger feels like compared with a craving. Take time to enjoy your food’s textures and flavors. And stop when you feel full. Once you realize you have control, you’ll be amazed how easy it is to eat in a way that truly serves your body.
Focus on feeling strong and healthy
One of my coaching clients recently realized that “lose 10 pounds” had been her goal for 10 years. She’d try extreme measures, temporarily lose weight, and then end up gaining it back. She finally decided to forget about weight loss and focus on creating a stronger, healthier body simply to feel better.
Though she thought she had no time to exercise, we found a solution: Since she had to take her kids to soccer three nights a week, she found a health club nearby. Now she drops her kids off, then goes to a Zumba class. We also worked on easy-to-implement habits that got her to start eating smarter. These days, she plans a whole week’s worth of healthy meals and does one big shop, instead of picking something up every day on the way home.
She loved how she felt, and to her amazement, lost five pounds in a few weeks.
Consider where you can make some simple changes and smarter choices. Find creative ways to work good habits into your life, instead of trying to add things to an already overstuffed schedule. Focus on your health rather than radical changes. Listen to your body, keep it moving and feed it good things. You will love the results, and you’ll love your body—guaranteed.
May 2012 issue Best Health magazine