Understanding our body’s messaging service

Learning to understand the language of our bodies can improve health and well-being
Our bodies have evolved ways of sending messages to us and tapping into these signals can be very useful

Mind Body ConnectionThe French novelist Marcel Proust said, ‘It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to recognize that we live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom: our body.’ Proust was making the point that only in illness do we become aware of our bodies. Through pain, discomfort or unwell-ness, we focus on the messages our bodies send us. Once well again, we return our attentions to our daily internal and external worlds.

It can be useful to think of our bodies as more than the physical container in which we live.

The human body has evolved many ways of letting us know how we’re doing and there is an important mind-body link that often gets ignored. Learning to use this internal messaging system through interpreting the many signals sent by our bodies can lead to better physical and psychological health.

Pain is the most obvious message our bodies send to us. When we feel pain, we know something is wrong. Because pain is uncomfortable, when we experience pain we set out to find the problem, fix the problem and alleviate the pain. This is, in fact, the function of pain. Without pain, we might not know that something’s wrong.

It’s easy for most people to understand the role pain plays in bringing our minds in touch with our bodies. Pain helps monitor and maintain physical health within the body. To some extent, pain helps keep us alive.

Another well-known message sent to us from our bodies is the feeling of being tired. Feeling tired is our body’s way of telling us that we have reached a limit. Feeling tired is a reminder that we need to restore ourselves; that our energy levels are being depleted.

There are many others. Learning to understand the many other messages the body sends us can be equally as useful.

Not all body messages are physical

Body and MindSome messages sent to us by our bodies are emotional. Our emotions are not random. They have evolved for specific purposes though sometimes those purposes have long been forgotten.

For example, fear exists for an important reason. Fear warns us that something might be dangerous. When we feel fearful, we prepare to protect or defend ourselves. Though not all situations that make us fearful are dangerous, feelings of fear make us assess a situation before going forward. Ignoring the message of fear can be a mistake.

The feeling of disgust is a powerful emotion that tells us something might be unhealthy for us. It’s believed that disgust evolved to protect us from disease. Many of the objects or situations that evoke disgust are associated with disease like spoiled foods, human waste (faeces and urine), animals (like rats or cockroaches), poor hygiene, dead bodies and body envelope violations (like surgery and amputations). When we feel disgust, our body is telling us to avoid something; warning us that something may damage our health. Disgust gives us a sense of revulsion and we step away from the disgusting object towards safety.

These days, you are not what you eat

Organic HealthMany foods popular today are mass-produced, made as cheaply as possible, are heavily processed and high in fat, salt and sugar. Though food is increasingly processed away from its natural state, our bodies remain as natural and organic as ever.

The term ‘doof’ (food backwards) seems appropriate for any food that’s been so heavily manipulated that it serves as a mere stand-in for healthy, nutritious, useable nourishment. Eating doof that’s been prepared with preservatives, artificial colours or flavours, has added salt, sugar or fat may taste nice, but our bodies are not easily fooled.

And the food we eat can illicit many messages from our bodies.

Some people describe an unpleasant feeling after eating fast food or other heavily processed foods. Some people talk of having a sense that the food they are eating is not good for them. Others talk about an unpleasant aftertaste that leads to feelings of disgust for the food they have just consumed. Our bodies can tell if the food we give it is of any nutritional value. When food is of poor quality, our bodies tell us. These messages can provide important guidelines on which to structure our diets.

A similar phenomenon often happens with alcohol. When drinking alcohol, some people become aware of a feeling, a kind of sense within themselves that consuming ‘one more drink’ will make them feel unwell. Wise people use this message from the body to stop drinking at this point. Through trusting the body, and listening to the body’s messages, some people can self-moderate the amount of alcohol that is good and acceptable for them.

And very healthy eating often evokes an affirming message from the body. Many people experience a rewarding feeling of satisfaction after consuming a healthy meal. They experience pleasure and contentment after giving the body nutritional food.

Practice makes perfect

Getting used to your body’s messaging service may take time. You may need to pay close attention to your body to learn how and when it sends messages to you. Getting in touch with these messages and responding to them can eventually be very beneficial.

ChocolateAs an experiment, try eating two types of chocolate. In the UK, for food to be labelled ‘chocolate’ it must contain a minimum of 20% cocoa solids (Cadbury’s chocolate contains 23%). Most of the popular corner shop chocolate bars are low in cocoa, high in sugar and high in fat (nearly 30% of a Snicker’s bar is fat). After eating a Snickers bar, pay attention to your body. Focus on the back and sides of your tongue and on your central abdomen. What signals do you pick up? Can you detect a sense of how your body responds to this food?

Compare this to eating a bar of higher quality chocolate. There are several brands of chocolate with higher cocoa content that are lower in sugar. (Green and Blacks organic milk chocolate contains 37% cocoa while their dark chocolate has 55-85% cocoa solids). Does your body respond differently to this chocolate? Are the messages being sent by your body different? Does one chocolate feel more welcomed by your body?

By learning to tap into the subtle messages sent by our bodies, we can learn what works best for us and what circumstances to avoid. We can become more attuned to what our physical bodies need for optimum functioning.

Eudaimonia is a Greek word translated as happiness or welfare though ‘human flourishing’ is a more accurate translation. In Aristotle’s works, eudaimonia was used as the term for the highest human good, and is the aim of practical philosophy. Eudaimonia is the good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well.