As I’m sure you know already by my blog, I am passionate about health and wellness. I love to read books and articles about the latest findings in nutrition and leading a healthy lifestyle. But with my perfectionist nature, sometimes I venture into “information overload”. One book is telling me not to eat meat or dairy for optimal health, while another is informing me of all of the benefits of consuming healthy fats like eggs and salmon. Pretty soon, I’ve wound up at a loss as to what to eat. I bet you know the feeling, right?
When this happens, we need to take a step back and remember what the purpose of all of these different approaches to healthy eating/living are: to feel your best and live your longest, healthiest life possible. Living YOUR best life — obviously this is a subjective matter, and there can’t possibly be just one single way of eating or living that will apply to all of us.
The key to living your best life is teaching yourself to tune into your own body and its specific needs. Not only do we need to remember that our body’s needs may be very different from your friends or family member’s needs, but also that our own body’s needs are constantly changing. This was an idea I was inspired by in the book Wellth (I haven’t read it yet, only the first couple of chapters). The idea is that your body’s dietary needs are constantly changing and evolving based on things like your age, your activity level, stress levels, environment, relationships, etc. As these factors change throughout different times in your life, you may find your body needing a different type of diet or workout regimen. For example, you may happily have been a vegetarian for 5 years until you become pregnant, and then all of a sudden you find yourself craving meat all the time. This is a fairly drastic example, but even smaller changes like working out more often or starting a new job or being in a new relationship could potentially cause a shift in the food and nutrients your body needs.
I believe that your body knows what it needs and that it would be a mistake to ignore your natural cravings — your body is trying to tell you something. Obviously a midnight craving for Ben and Jerry’s is slightly different; usually cravings for junk food are more emotional than physical, so it will be your job to learn to differentiate between the two.
I have been struggling with digestive issues, skin issues, lack of energy, and just not feeling my best for years, and at this time in my life I am really trying to learn about my body and its individual needs so that I can consume the right foods, avoid the wrong ones, and feel vibrant and energetic. I am trying to do an elimination of certain foods that I think may not be the best for my body, but through this process I am also focusing on something just as important: cravings. Each day not only am I journaling my food and workouts, but also what I’m craving that day. This practice makes me stop and think for a minute, tuning into my body and trying to hone in on what it needs that day. For example, after about six months of eating very little meat, I noticed that lately my body has been craving red meat. So I am choosing to start incorporating a little more grass fed beef paired with lots of veggies into my diet. I’m trusting that my body is telling me to eat those foods for a reason, and that it needs those nutrients, proteins, and fats for a purpose.
I also tune into any cravings for physical movement or rest. I have been a gym junkie for years and I typically love to lift weights. Lately, however, my body is craving slower movement like yoga and walking outdoors. I am listening to these signs because it is most likely my body and nervous system telling me to slow down and not stress it out even more with vigorous exercise.
So here’s what you can do to tune into your own body’s individual needs: each day take a moment to ask yourself, “What am I craving today?” or in other words, “What does my body need today?” Maybe it will be a big salad because you indulged too much last weekend and feel weighed down. Maybe it will be a juicy steak because you need more fat and protein. Maybe it’s rest and going to bed early. Maybe its a long, sweaty run. Maybe it’s a huge glass of ice water. Remember, if you find yourself craving things that are “unhealthy” like cookies or chips or ice cream, try to delve a little deeper and get to the root of the craving — maybe your body is actually trying to tell you that it is stressed to the max and needs some rest, or maybe you are lonely and need to schedule a meet-up with a friend or call your mom. Are you craving a huge quad shot latte because your body wants caffeine or because it really needs rest and hydration? Teach yourself to delve further than the craving itself and get to the root of your body’s needs. With that said, if you really just want a freakin’ piece of chocolate, then I say go for it. Depriving yourself of what you really want all the time is no way to live a fulfilling life.
I encourage you to embrace your cravings and not be scared of them. A craving for red meat doesn’t make you a bad person if you’re typically a vegetarian. Rather than getting stuck in the mold of being “vegan” or “paleo” or “yogi” or “weight-lifter” or what have you, strive to nourish your specific body with whatever foods and movement that it’s crying out for. This will help you develop a loving and intimate relationship with your own body, your life-long companion. And that, I believe, is the key to living that long, healthy, energetic life that you were after in the first place.