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How to Listen to Your Body Again

When we’re born, we instinctively know how to listen to our bodies. As babies, we cried when we were hungry, and we didn’t follow a set schedule or routine. We stopped eating when we felt full, and there was no pressure to eat everything on our plate. 


By the time we’re adults, though, that natural intuition is often silenced. 


Years of diets, conditioning and internalised beliefs around food make listening to our bodies difficult or near impossible. 


Think about it. 


Your first food memories

When you were in primary school, you weren’t taught how to listen to your body. You were taught to eat specific foods, in specific amounts, at specific times. Sweets may have been used as rewards for good behaviour. You may have been reprimanded for not eating everything on your plate. And you may have even been teased about your body being too large or too small, or too tall or too short.


These are all food & body beliefs.


And as you got older, new ones emerged. 


As a teenager, you likely became much more aware of your body – and that likely shifted your perspective of food. You may have observed your mother on the latest diet. You might have seen a friend get more attention because of their looks. You didn’t think about how to listen to your body, but rather about how to listen to others’ opinions of your body.   


As adults, we still aren’t taught to love our bodies for everything they give us. 


Instead, we’re bombarded with diet culture. On a daily basis, we’re marketed various standards of beauty, and we’re sold on the methods of how to get there, from the latest diet supplements and beauty products to the current fad diets. 


We’re taught that looking a certain way needs to take priority over what our bodies want and need.


And after all of this manipulation, we are often left feeling physically and mentally overwhelmed – and we may not even know it.


I personally was fully committed to the diet culture for years before entering a bikini competition in my mid-30s. What I thought would be a celebration of health and hard work, became a mirror for my unhealthy relationship with food and my own body. I spiralled deeper and deeper into self-loathing and criticising. 


Like many people, these thoughts and feelings led me to emotional eating, binge eating then followed by a cycle of bingeing and restricting.


What is emotional eating?

Whether you have a history of binge eating or you’re simply trying to be more mindful and connected with your body, it’s very likely that you have experienced emotional eating. Learning what emotional eating is and how to deal with it is a key part of learning how to listen to your body. 


What is Emotional Eating? Simply put, emotional eating is using food to feel better. Most of us can think of a time when our emotions overpowered us, our thoughts ran out of control, and we turned to food as a natural release.


There’s a reason eating makes us feel better. Food (especially sweet and salty food), gives our brains a massive rush of dopamine. Dopamine is commonly described as the “happy chemical”, so it makes sense that we turn to food to feel better. 


You may even find yourself emotionally eating to deal with happy feelings. For example, you might use food as a reward for accomplishing something. Maybe you treat yourself to an extra snack when you’ve been making “good” dietary choices (such as the common “cheat meal” used in diet culture), or you indulge when hanging out with friends and family on the weekends.


After you answer the question “what is emotional eating?” you might start to wonder “what’s wrong with emotional eating?”


One of the biggest problems with emotional eating is also one you may not expect. When you reach for that sweet or salty (or even alcoholic) fix, you turn down the volume on your body’s natural hunger cues. The more emotional eating you do, the more difficult it is to learn how to listen to your body.


Another problem might occur if food is your only coping strategy and you don’t have any other means to cope with how you feel. 


Stop emotional eating and transform your life! Listening to your body gives you an incredible sense of food and body freedom. 


When you learn how to love your body and respect your hunger, there are no more “cheat days” and toxic cycles. No more cheat days mean no more next-day wallowing in shame for making “bad” food choices, which then leads to more emotional eating.  


How can I listen to my body?

Listening to your body is a long journey, and you might find it challenging along the way. First and foremost, learning to listen to your body isn’t just about food, it’s about transforming your relationship with yourself. 


Think about the last time you met someone and began a relationship with them, whether that was a romantic relationship, a friendship, or even a familial relationship. You didn’t suddenly know everything about them. 


It takes days, months or years to form a relationship. There are bumps in the road, times when you’re closer or more distant from a person, and even fights. Your bond grows closer after you continuously choose what you’re fighting for. 


Your relationship with yourself is no different. It’ll be a slow process but it’ll be worth it. 


Your journey towards listening to your body is about so much more than what you do or don’t eat. It’s a multilayered process that’s quite unique to every person. That being said, there are a few general tips you can use to get started with listening to your body. 


#1: How to Listen to Your Body’s Hunger Cues 

Learning how to listen to your body includes learning (or relearning) your body’s natural hunger cues. These cues can include: 

  • Stomach growling
  • Low energy/fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Crankiness
  • Shaking 
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea


Your body will display different hunger cues depending on how hungry you are and depending on your body’s unique response to hunger. Using the food feeling scale can help you identify how hungry you are. This scale is an amazing resource if you’re out of practice when it comes to listening to your body. 


The more practice you have listening to your body’s hunger cues, the easier it gets. 


When you’re starting out, you might miss your body’s initial hunger cues. You may feel like you’re suddenly starving because you missed the first subtle signs that it was time to eat.


As you keep using the food feeling scale and learning how to listen to your body, you’ll be amazed at just how intuitive it becomes. After all, this is your most natural state!


#2: How to Listen to Your Body’s Pain

When you’re learning how to listen to your body, food is only part of the puzzle. Think about your body as it is right now. There are many more sensations than just whether or not you’re hungry!


Listening to your body means taking in and understanding all the input your body gives you. What does that ache in your back mean? Or that soreness in your legs? Or that headache that just won’t go away?


Pain can be your body’s way to communicate that something needs to change. Maybe your backaches for some gentle stretching. Sore legs might mean it’s time to take a break from the gym – or a call to get back into the gym after years of sitting at a desk. Your headache might be your body’s way of communicating that you need more rest, more water, and less caffeine.


Did you know that unprocessed trauma and emotions can even have physical side effects? Adopting a journaling practice, exploring some therapy, or joining a support group programme could be the key to unlocking those emotions and releasing the pain.


Like listening to your body’s hunger cues, this will get easier with practice.


At first, you might say to yourself, “I don’t know why I have a headache, I just do!” Be patient and take your time. Find a quiet place and reflect on your day for a couple of moments. 


Have you gotten enough sleep? Are you putting a lot of pressure on yourself? Are you repressing any feelings of anger or anxiety? Have you given yourself time to rest and relax? Have you eaten or drank water recently?


No matter how out of touch you’ve gotten with your body, you can find the answers to these questions within yourself. The more you practise, the easier it will be to figure out where the pain is coming from, and how you can give your body what it needs. 


#3: How to Listen to Your Body’s Pleasure 

The other side of pain is pleasure. What activities make you feel really good and why? 


When we learn to listen to our bodies, we also learn to love our bodies. Part of growing to love your body is learning to practise body kindness. In addition to nourishment, our bodies and our minds need movement, rest, and relaxation. That’s why it’s important for us to find holistic approaches when it comes to being truly well.


Remember how I said dopamine is often called the “happiness chemical”? Well, you can get dopamine from loads of things, not just food. A pleasant walk can release dopamine and so can a massage, singing, dancing, and even spending time with a friend. 


The release of dopamine makes your brain feel good, but it also makes your whole body feel good. While you’re learning how to listen to your body again, dial in on those times that you feel good from your head to your toes. 


Learning to listen to your body’s pain and pleasure can help you form better habits. Our negative habits, like binge eating, staring at a screen all day, or spending too much time alone, often make us feel worse afterwards. 


You feel good during a binge, but terrible after you’ve finished eating. 


Listen to how your body feels during all of the activity, before, during and after. This will help you learn what your body really needs and wants, which can guide you on a path toward a healthier life.


#4: How to Listen to Your Body’s Responses to Emotions

Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach? Chances are, you have felt that fluttering sensation at least once or twice. Maybe you’ve felt so excited or nervous that you even start feeling a little nauseous. 


Our bodies respond to all kinds of emotions, and your brain can often convince you that you need something else to fix the problem. 


Feeling sad can make your body feel heavy and tired, making you think you need a nap. Feeling anxious can give you a knotting feeling in your stomach that makes you think you need a snack. Even when you feel excited, you might mistake it for nerves because your brain can’t tell the difference!


As you’re learning how to listen to your body, dialling into your emotions is important. Especially when you’re recovering from binge eating or a habit of emotional eating, your body and brain are used to using food to cope with emotions. 


There’s a simple, three-step process to start listening to your body’s responses to emotions. 

  • Notice the physical feeling
  • Explore your mental and emotional state
  • Ask yourself how they’re connected


First, notice the physical feeling in your body. Don’t take any action just yet. Instead, describe it to yourself. Does it feel painful or pleasant? Are you full of energy or do you feel like there’s an elephant on your back? 


Next, think about your mental and emotional state. Did someone say something to you that hurt your feelings? Are you under a lot of pressure at work or at home? Are you preparing for something that you’re excited about or scared about? Again, don’t act on these yet. Just notice them.


Finally, check to see if there’s a connection. Maybe you feel like your chest is going to explode, but it’s because you have a stressful meeting coming up. You could feel full of energy after a good talk with a friend, or want to curl up and cry after someone said something cruel. 


When you start to connect your emotions with how your body is feeling, you can learn what your body, mind, and heart actually need. Learning how to listen to your body is never only listening to your body. You’re a whole person, and your body and heart are deeply connected. 


How to Listen to Your Body for Food & Body Freedom and A Better Life

Learning how to listen to your body is a long journey. Once you begin, though, you’ll find it’s impossible to stop. It feels so good – so natural – to allow your body to guide you through what you need in your day! 


On the first day of listening to your body, you might feel confused and frustrated. Be patient and give yourself grace. Most importantly, don’t give up! Keep learning about your body and the patterns of behaviour you’ve found yourself stuck in. 


Read binge eating books to explore your eating habits and form new ones. Visit with a doctor or physiotherapist to explore and explain your pain, and work with a food & body freedom therapist to discover the many ways your body can move and enjoy food in tandem. 


If you need help or guidance after months or years of being disconnected from your body, reach out and join one of my programmes. I offer group hybrid and one-on-one coaching in a discreet, supportive environment, helping women learn how to listen to their bodies (intuitively) and find food & body freedom. 

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