Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
15 Sep

Listening to Your Body

Question: what does your body feel like right now? Go ahead. Take an inventory. From the toes to the head, what’s going on in there at the present moment? How’s your back? How’s your stomach? Your head? How about muscles? Your energy level and mood? Is your thinking clear this morning? Good and bad, what signals are you getting? Beyond the here and now, what’s your body been trying to tell you lately? Any changes since beginning the Challenge? Most important of all perhaps – are you accustomed to listening to what your body has to say?

Everything about our culture, it seems, discourages us from doing just that. From the commercials insisting we don’t need to put up with that headache to the glorification of binge drinking, taking a body’s hint isn’t exactly at the top of most people’s list of talents or priorities. Why live with that pesky fever when you can simply beat it back with 1000 milligrams of extra strength head-in-the-sand? Indigestion from eating that second Big Mac today? Try some Pepcid AC.

Think about it. People bring a kind of pride to pushing through the pain (and I’m not just talking about childbirth or weightlifting here). People go into work sick as dogs (my personal favorite). They knowingly ignore with the clear physiological effects of chronic stress. They eat a diet for much or all of their lifetime that leaves them sluggish and overweight. It’s only when serious illness hits that we sit up and take notice. (Ironically, sometimes serious illness teaches us how to listen to our bodies, to discover how symptoms – however subtle – can be a crucial barometer for larger issues.) The body has – and shares – its own brand of wisdom. We’d do well to heed its cues before it smacks us over the head with a club.

Too often, of course, we surrender the power that comes from reading and knowing our bodies. We unthinkingly relinquish it to doctors and other practitioners, either because we genuinely believe that theirs is the only substantive opinion or because we don’t really want to take responsibility for our health. Owning your well-being is an unofficial but essential Primal principle. Appreciating your ability to listen to your body’s signals follows from it.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the potential (and fun) of self-experimentation. You’re your very own guinea pig. (Oh, the possibilities…) Ultimately, however, the crux of self-experimentation is self-assessment – physical assessment to be exact. A glucose monitor can be a handy tool. A heart rate monitor is a good gadget to have. A notebook and pen (or Word document) might be an even better set of instruments, however. (It all depends upon an open and perceptive mind of course.) I’ll venture to say that your body will tell you in its own way what the machine displays. By all means, take advantage of technology, but use it to help hone your own perception. What does a certain heart rate feel like? What sensations creep up when your glucose hits a certain number?

What does a headache mean? A backache? What precipitates foggy thinking or acid reflux? What confers a sense of lightness after lunch or a good night’s sleep? What choices seem to contribute to or prevent that infamous midafternoon slump?

Think about all the sensations that your body can produce – positive and negative: fatigue, foggy thinking, dizziness, digestive issues, rapid breathing or heart beat, skin flare-ups, back pain or general achiness, stiffness, stuffy nose, neck tension, dry eyes, constipation, dry mouth, headache – and the balanced, comfortable opposites of those symptoms like a clear head, steady energy, effective digestion, relaxed muscles, and regular bowel movements. (Don’t underestimate the gratification and importance of a good poop.)

Genuine health of course isn’t just the absence of obvious negative symptoms as it’s often thought of. Living a life in line with its genetic expectations goes a long way toward deciphering the softer signs. For example, lots of folks tell me it was only after going Primal that they were able to pinpoint food allergies or underlying chronic conditions. Going Primal finally allowed them to perceive the subtler signals that had previously been blocked out by bigger noise of a SAD, inflammation-promoting, digestion-busting diet, chronic cardio, or consistent lack of sleep. Most of us have had this experience on some level. Going Primal reveals long-term disruption we didn’t even know existed until we had the experience of living without its sources and subsequent misery.

To complement your self-experimentation or just enhance your Challenge success, learn to hone your perception skills with regular practice and keen assessment.

  • Keep a reminder with you. Psychologists often advise clients to keep a stone or other object in their pocket or on their wrist as a reminder to assess their well-being periodically during the day.
  • Stop a few times a day – a few consistent times and any time you feel a peak or valley on the horizon. Put your hand on your heart if you need an added gesture to get into the spirit of the exercise. Take an inventory of every part, but don’t just look for the bad or use the “okay” as the measuring stick for good. Identify what sensations are associated with real vitality (e.g. relaxed shoulders, soft eye expression, a bright feeling in your upper body).
  • Record the negative and positive feelings you observe. Think about what’s going on in the present moment. Where are you are? What kind of interactions and activities have filled this part of the day? What have you eaten in the last one to two hours? When was the last time you were outside? How does this compare to how you felt yesterday at this same time?
  • Compare the sensations and connections to your self-experimentation project. Are you onto something? Write it down, and see if similar conditions the next day produce the same sensations or if changed circumstances interrupt the pattern.
  • Think about where you’re at in your self-experimentation or Challenge transition. If you’ve chosen to overhaul your diet and finally ditch grains and sugar this week, the fatigue you may be feeling is possibly the low carb flu. If your goal has been to ratchet up your exercise but you’ve been overdoing it or not allowing for adequate recovery time, you might need to give yourself a rest period. The truth might be found in both the details and the big picture.
  • Get in the habit of thinking through your physical sensation. Give the body its due as part of the intellect. Like all animals, we apprehend and interpret our environment bodily as well as abstractly. Ask the body in whatever manner of speaking you’re into, what do you need now? Movement? A nap? Some fresh air or sunlight? An extra layer of clothing? Maybe just a good laugh?
  • Whatever you undertake in response, take time to read the subsequent signals. What’s changed? What happened to the old sensations? What new ones do you notice? Are parts of you affected that weren’t before? Maybe you didn’t notice any mental fogginess before, but now you realize how much clearer and sharper your thinking is after a brisk walk or a few minutes of play. Relish and repeat.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. Have a great day.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This week I’m trying to cut back on fruits and dairy, so I’m feeling more lethargic than usual. I didn’t make it to the co-op this week, so we’re eating the best supermarket meat we can instead of that — not sure if that has any effect in the mix too. My skin has been really dry lately, probably just the season change, and my mood (generally ranging between a bit and very bipolar) has been better than it sometimes is, although in the neighborhood of “okay” rather than “good.” I think tomorrow I will try to get outside a little more and do some stretching. I’ll particularly pay attention in the next few days to how the temperature affects me.

    Erin wrote on September 15th, 2011
  2. Love your site Mark. Just found it through fitnessblackbook and I’m really digging this whole primal thing. Keep it up.

    HCW wrote on September 15th, 2011
  3. Well, I had to pee, but after reading the first paragraph I took care of that. 😛

    My feet hurt, my calves are tight, and I’m tired. I walked in my Vibrams several miles today pushing two kids in a bike trailer/stroller thing because our car recently died and we’re trying to see if we can be a car-free family. And I’m tired because I need to sleep, but I have to can a lot of pears and spaghetti sauce tonight before I sleep so I can make room in my fridge for my recent egg and yogurt purchase (5 dozen and 1 gallon, respectively).

    Oh, and my hands hurt from being cut in numerous places and then having to preserve lemons with salt.

    Krista wrote on September 15th, 2011
  4. G/Day Mark.
    This is a struggle I have only used these infernal machines about as long as I have been PRIMAL.I enjoyed your topic about listening to your body, as I practiced yoga for about 20y before other commitments took over. But learned habits never die. Just arrived back from a 6 kilometer walk and ready for dinner, rolled roast and steamed veg. Keep the news letters coming, loving them.
    Made some Sunflower and sesame crackers today and smeared them with home made salsa very nice thank you.

    Alan wrote on September 16th, 2011
  5. I’ve been eating really well, with the exception of one beer last night. The gluten made my stomach huge last night and now this morning. Yesterday I randomly lost my voice, mucus built up in my throat, and my ears started crackling…today I woke up with a stuffy nose, more mucus in my throat, more ear crackle, and more rasp in my voice. I’m sore in every muslce of my body, thanks to CrossFit, and I got woken up by a phone call an hour after I went to bed for five hours of rest last night…needless to say I don’t feel amazing right now, lol

    My director thinks I should go to Urgent Care, but I hate going to the doctor for little things…I did have a really bad ear infection when I was a kid, though, so I do worry about that. Should I drink some Emergen-C? Allergy medicine? Just more sleep? I’m really not sure what will help the most.

    Chrissy wrote on September 16th, 2011
    • Sambucol is a natural remedy for virus-caused illnesses,like a cold or sore throat. You can get it at Whole Foods. Obviously if you have something serious, or if you think its bacterial, this wont help.

      Hopeless Dreamer wrote on September 16th, 2011
      • Yeah, I think I’m gonna go to the doctor for antibiotics in the morning, since my ears are crackling so much. My ear drum busted when I was a kid and that was the worst pain ever, so I don’t wanna risk that…I don’t have a Whole Foods by me anyway. :'( But I’ll look for it at my health food store next time. Thanks!

        Chrissy wrote on September 16th, 2011
  6. Mark, great article here. Listening to your body is such a simple, but high value rule for health and fitness success. Feedback is critically important for what’s working and what’s not. It’s critical to evaluate how your body responds. Love the idea of ‘self experimentation.’

    What’s also great is that this principle also applies to exercise. Listening to your body both during and after exercise, can provide great insight on your progress and keep you injury free, as well.
    Always great information and thanks for sharing!

    Scott Iardella wrote on September 16th, 2011
  7. This is a great article Mark. When I started listening to my body, I changed the way I approached my training based on how my shoulder was feeling. Rather than thinking if I kept training through it the strange feeling would go away. Now I only perform body weight exercises and resistance bands instead of weights. Shoulder issues are a thing of the past now.

    Chad wrote on September 16th, 2011
  8. I’ve been listening to my body for quite awhile. Like other readers, I view a fever as killing off all the bad stuff and not as something to be overly concerned about. I just started back on Billy Blank’s dvds and today feeling energized and the loose stuff is tightening up. I’m off for Cardio Inferno in a few minutes.

    hiker wrote on September 16th, 2011
  9. Great post Mark
    Since starting the challenge I’ve been sleeping better and more alert throughout the day. Generally happier!So far so good.

    Nate wrote on September 16th, 2011
  10. Just ate 1.5 lbs of free range chicken thighs cooked in coconut oil and I feel great… from my little toe all the way to my big Neanderthalitic head

    Andy wrote on September 16th, 2011
  11. I have never had the issue of not listening to my body, in fact I have actually had doctors tell me I had no idea what I was talking about ( I insisted I had cysts on my ovaries- I swear I just knew this was the issue with my pain on the right side) turns out I was completely and utterly correct ( kudos for me?) I have always kept a good record both mentally and physically ( written down) when it comes to how my body feels.. this is why I stick to primal eating! :)

    Lexxy wrote on September 16th, 2011
  12. I’m afraid my body is telling me that I can’t afford nasty low-carb flu while trying to balance work and looking after a toddler. New plan – go back to to a more conventional “healthy” diet (still heavy on the lean meat, vegies and fruit) and slowly reduce the carbs over time. Still love the PB philosophy, though, and am working on the other parts of the lifestyle…

    Christie wrote on September 16th, 2011
    • Christie,

      Not everyone experiences “low carb flu”. I would even go so far as to wager that most people don’t (you don’t hear from that group since they don’t have a complaint). If they do, it is usually short lived and mild.

      The problem with slowly reducing carbs is the cravings for them never go away.

      If you quit ’em all at once, in two weeks you will find you hardly miss all but a few of your favorites.

      If you can go a whole month, you can have one of those favorites and you will be shocked at how unsatisfying it is. Really!

      NotSoFast wrote on September 16th, 2011
  13. I’ve exercised my whole life and decided last week to finally make changes to my eating (not quite primal yet but cut out most of the starchy carbs, sugars etc.) and it wasn’t until reading this article that I realized that since making these changes I haven’t had the afternoon lethargic feeling I’m use to at work.
    Thanks for helping me come to such a simple and obvious realization. Definitely added motivation to continue eating better

    Isaac wrote on September 16th, 2011
  14. What a great reminder, As I was reading I noticed how tired my eyes feel, I have been Primal since the Sept 1st and loving it, but still have to work on getting more sleep it seems, my 1 year old daughter has a lot to answer for 😉
    Im just confused about the stone in the pocket idea? what is that for?

    Ava wrote on September 16th, 2011
  15. Mark,

    Listening to your body is a simple thing that everyone can do to improve their overall quality of life. Little habits like taking an ice bath after a rough cardio session to prevent soreness the next day or just taking time off from everything to catch up on sleep when your body needs it can go a long way.


    Alykhan - Fitness Breakout wrote on September 16th, 2011
  16. I’m really having a hard time going primal. I’ve been eating an Atkins-style very low carb diet for the last couple of years. I’ve cured my IBS/GERD, lost about 60# and generally feel a lot better. So the idea of adding fruit and yams and other primal carbs is being hard.

    I’m going to use the challenge to ditch my last crutches – high fiber tortillas and the occassional Atkins bar (way too processed with too much soy and sugar alcohols).

    And getting 15 min of sun. I hadn’t realized what a mole I had become, getting to work before sunrise and leaving in the sunset.

    RowanF wrote on September 17th, 2011
  17. I absolutely loved this post! I’ve realize a while ago that when my body gives me signals that something is wrong, listen. I’ve done my share of not listening and I payed a very high price for it. I’ve been feeling very sick lately, but I would still push through my trainings. This week I had to stop working out because I kept feeling more sick, at first I felt guilty about not pushing my self ( because I feel the only way to stop feeling sick is to push your self ). But after reading this I don’t feel guilty anymore, my body needs a rest and I am going to give it the rest it’s asking for.

    Tatianna wrote on September 17th, 2011
  18. Another day of under 70 grams carb. However, I expected to be losing weight at about the same pace as before (eating around 110-120 grams carb, 1400-1600 calories per day, 50-60% fat) and unfortunately, I’m not losing weight. Even walking 3 miles about 5-6 days per week, with some sprints thrown in, no movement of weight. In fact, I’m rising very slowly. I may continue this for another week, but then switch back to more carbs, to see if I can get back on track. It is confusing…any ideas?

    Jackie wrote on September 19th, 2011
  19. It is appropriate time to make a few plans for the long run and it’s time to be happy. I’ve learn this post and if I may I want to recommend you some attention-grabbing issues or suggestions. Perhaps you could write subsequent articles relating to this article. I wish to learn more issues approximately it!

    decent property wrote on April 5th, 2012
  20. really nice post !
    I always apply 80/20 rule to all my works and i always write my plan on paper before doing anything.

    Nilesh wrote on June 26th, 2013

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