You may hear your Mood Balance Nutrition dietitian talking about “interoceptive awareness.” She may not specifically call it that but chances are you’ve had a conversation or two about listening to your body. This is one of the keys to rebuilding body trust that may have been chiseled away by an eating disorder or diet culture.
Interoceptive awareness, or interoception, is our sixth sense. We all know the basic 5 senses: taste, smell, sight, touch, and sound. This other one means the ability to perceive the internal state of the body. Knowing that your heart is racing, your bladder is full, whether that meal “hit the spot” or your body is still wanting more, or you’re aching for a glass of cold water on a warm day is all part of this skill.
Some people are more in tune with their body than others but with some practice that skill can be refined in all of us. The disconnect typically comes with some kind of diet culture message that asks us to stop listening to our body. An example of that could be a diet saying to listen to the clock to determine when to eat instead of sensing it from your stomach (or wherever and however you sense hunger!) The less we listen to and honor the body, the harder it becomes to know what it’s telling us.
I like to think of interoception as the little person inside us all. As you gradually start to get hungry for a meal that little person will politely tap you on the shoulder (metaphorically) and send a subtle hint that the body is in need of some fuel. It’s like they’re saying, “Hey, I’m feeling a little hungry and if you could start seeking out food that’d be appreciated, bud.” If that little person is constantly ignored, chances are they’re going to have to learn how to scream to get your attention. I often hear people say they know what extreme hunger feels like and what extreme fullness feels like. That’s because that little person has to make their message very clear, and often very uncomfortable, for you to act on what the body needs. That’s why some people who ignore those body cues feel like they get hit with extreme hunger, like huge mood swings, fatigue, and even things like shakiness and constant food thoughts, without noticing the prior signs that hunger is building. Remember that every body cue is that little person looking out for you
and trying to help you not only survive, but thrive.
A great activity created by the authors of Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, is practicing to perceive your heart beat. This is something you can do to start understanding what’s going on inside your body. Sometimes cues like hunger and fullness often come with feelings of wrongness or shame, so starting with something less likely to feel right or wrong, like your heart rate, is recommended. Basically, all you do is sit still and try to sense your pulse without touching your pulse points. This activity, and much more, is explained more in-depth in the Intuitive Eating workbook and is highly recommended by the Mood Balance Nutrition dietitians.
An important part of the process of relearning body cues is to approach this work with curiosity and non-judgement. Please be patient with yourself and do not expect to relearn body trust overnight. Just like any relationship, it takes investment and time to realize trust.
-Melissa Stitt, RDN and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor