My Birthday Wish (It Will Change Your Life)by Elise Museles
Woo hoo: it’s my birthday! For the last few years, on my special day, I have dug deep, opened my heart, and shared something personal with you, from my 10 top secrets to my 7 biggest lessons of the year to all the things that I want that aren’t things.
This time around the sun, I’m thinking about gifts! Not the kind that come all wrapped up in a bow, but the kind that make everyday living easier, lighter, and less stressful. Reflecting on birthdays (and gifts!) past, the greatest gift that I have ever given myself is the continuous permission to turn down the food noise and listen—really listen—to my body.
Now, for my birthday, I want to pass that gift on to you. Because nothing on earth would make me happier or more fulfilled than for you to 100% trust that your brilliant body holds all the wisdom it needs to know exactly what’s right for you, both on your plate…and in your life. It’s the perfect present as I prepare for another year filled to the brim with self-love and self-care.
Learning to listen to my body didn’t happen overnight.
When I was just a little ponytailed girl running through the heat and sunshine of southern California, I had an easy, breezy relationship with food. I’d pluck oranges off the trees in our backyard when I felt hungry (or leave them shining on the branch when I wasn’t!) If I munched on a handful of bright jellybeans, my only thought was “Wow! Those were good jellybeans.” I ate when I was hungry, stopped when I was full, and felt zero guilt about food.
But before long, things went awry. My father battled his own late-night eating demons, and good-naturedly wrapped a chain and padlock around the fridge in an attempt to curb his snacking habits. I attended an all-girls school in Los Angeles, where everyone around me anxiously compared calorie counts. The older I got, the more ads and articles I observed preaching which foods were “good,” “bad,” or inexcusable-do-not-eat-under-any-circumstances-absolutely-not-forbidden!
The adults in my life told me to “clean my plate” (even when I was already full!) or that I shouldn’t be hungry because we just ate (even when I was still hungry!) I overheard my mom and her friends talking about how they would never eat this, but always ate that. With all of this confusing input, it’s not at all surprising that I stopped listening to my body and my intuition and started listening to, well, everything (and everyone) else.
If you’re a woman who grew up in the Western world, you’ve probably had a similar experience. In fact, a 2015 study found that 80% of 10-year-old American girls had already gone on a diet (!) and 53% of 13-year-old girls had negative thoughts about how their bodies looked (!!!). At a very young age, we’re taught that how we look is more important than how we feel and, as these statistics show, we internalize that philosophy almost at once.
We learn that approval from others is more important than self-acceptance. We learn to tune out our needs in order to please others. All of this leads us to compile a list of “shoulds” or “don’ts,” and those commands then take us outside of our bodies and teach us to trust our families, peers, and even food “experts” who we have never met, instead of trusting our own bodies and, of course, ourselves.
But there’s good news: no matter how long you’ve ignored your body or silenced your intuition, it’s still there. If you’re willing to listen, your body will tell you everything you need to know.
So, how do you learn to tune in to your body? It’s an ongoing process, and definitely a practice. A few of my favorite tips and tricks…
Create space and time in your life to connect with yourself
The first step in truly reconnecting with your body is making a commitment to the process. Healing your relationship with food simply doesn’t happen overnight. It took years and years to create patterns, so it will take time, energy, and effort to shift them, too.
Changing the way you think about food and you body can transform your life in amazing ways. But you won’t be able to make real progress if you overschedule yourself and overcommit to everything else. Clear out the calendar, slow down, step away from all of the noise, and connect to yourself.
Get out of your head and into your body
I wish that I could tell you that this is an art I’ve mastered, but I’m afraid I’m a prime example of someone who spends more time thinking than I should. I know from personal experience that when we live in our heads, we become completely disconnected from our bodies, and we’re less likely to receive the messages they continually send us.
Being disconnected from our bodies also makes us more likely to view our physical selves through a lens of criticism and judgment. When you’re taking a dance class and you’re in your body, you’re thinking “Wheeee! This is fantastic!” When you’re in your head, you’re thinking “Ugh. I’m not good at this, and look at my thighs! Ick.” When you’re doing lunges at the gym and you’re in your body, you’re thinking “1… 2… 3…” When you’re in your head, you’re thinking “Why isn’t this easier? I’ve been doing these for so long!”
Becoming connected to your body also paves the way for incredible things to happen. You can sense and intuit its needs: you know when you need a nap, or a big glass of water, or a long walk and some fresh air. It’s much easier to appreciate your body and all that it does for you, and to treat it with love and respect, when you are mindful of its needs.
Tune into your body’s wisdom
What does it sound like when your body speaks up? How can you be sure that you get all of the important messages, loud and clear?
For starters: let yourself feel your feelings, even the painful and difficult ones. Listening to your body is all about letting everything inside you flow naturally, so blocking out certain thoughts or emotions will only create more internal static. Being able to FULLY feel what you feel—rather than push those emotions away—helps you become more present within yourself. And that’s a great first step toward opening the lines of communication between body and brain.
Sometimes listening to your body means paying attention to feelings of disconnection and discord. Have you ever made a decision that made you feel split down the middle—as though you were saying ‘yes’ out loud, but everything inside you was screaming ‘NO’? Later on, you might wish you had trusted your gut (a phrase that exists because our bodies pick up on things that our minds may gloss over) and handled that decision differently. That feeling is your body talking to you, and learning to listen to it can be as simple as making up your mind to just hear what it’s saying, even when it’s uncomfortable.
When you realize that your body holds all the wisdom that you need to care for it in the best way possible—and that it speaks to you all day long—you will make more individualized, personalized decisions about how to nourish yourself. And every one of those choices will bring you closer and closer to better health, greater peace, and a deeper understanding of your own innate ability to care for your body and meet its—your—needs.
This year, as I blow out the candles on my Fudgy Brownies, I’ll wish for all of us to truly trust the deep wisdom of our own brilliant bodies.
Now it’s your turn: How do you listen in to your beautiful body and hear its messages? Let’s inspire one another to tune in—it’s my birthday gift to myself, and to you.