If you’re like a lot of women born in the 70’s – 90’s, you grew up with an onslaught of diet culture messages. We didn’t have a lot, or really any, messages around body acceptance growing up and most of us dabbled in dieting ourselves or know a loved one who’s tried every diet under the sun. While things nowadays aren’t amazing there is at a minimum a movement towards more inclusive body sizes, shapes and colours.
One of the most harmful things that dieting can do is disconnect us from our inner signals. By telling us that what we’re feeling is wrong or something to ignore diets break down the trust between our consciousness and signals from our body. Unfortunately, this is something in our culture that is still happening. We still feel shame around feeling hungry even though we just ate or like we’re letting someone down if we don’t eat as much of something as they anticipated. We might also feel like we can’t eat with our kids because it hasn’t been “long enough” between meals, even though you could definitely eat or like we can’t have ice cream with our kids even though we really want it.
Figuring out to reattune or reconnect with your body is a key step to becoming an intuitive eater yourself and once you trust your own signals it’s easier to help your kids reconnect or maintain a connection with their own signals and learn to understand them.
This connection of consciousness to sensations inside your body is called interoceptive awareness. An example of this that most people can relate to, is the ability to tell if you need to use the bathroom. You know that your bladder is full because of signals inside the body not from any other sensory input. In other words, you can’t see, hear, taste, smell, or touch to know that your bladder is full, but yet you know that it is.
Being able to translate this skill to other parts of your body or other inner sensations can be invaluable to navigating some of life’s challenges in self regulation skills, and just a better understanding of your body’s signals. One of the ways that we use interoceptive awareness in the FED Mamas program is to reconnect with inner signals of hunger and fullness.
Unfortunately, our hunger and fullness is often run by the clock or what’s on our plate and we rarely take note of inner signals to tell us if we are hungry or full. So, before you can use interoceptive awareness to help you reconnect with hunger and fullness and before you can really master this skill, just like anything else, you need to practice.
Our busy, busy world does not promote interoceptive awareness. So it’s not a skill that a lot of people practice regularly and instead it’s usually something that has been numbed or disassociated from.
Good news, we can regain this awareness.
Just like if you’re trying to raise an intuitive eater you encourage them to listen to their own bodies and inner signals around food. This is something we can do too.
A really interesting activity that can help give you a baseline of your interoceptive awareness is to monitor your heartbeat.
Heartbeat detection is the most dominate method in research to determine individual differences in interoceptive accuracy. Heartbeats are distinct and frequent internal events that can be easily measured.
For this version of a heartbeat exercise you would sit down, find your pulse on your wrist or your neck with your fingers. Set a timer for 30 seconds and count the number of times you feel your heartbeat. After you’ve done that for 30 seconds, take a little one-minute break.
Then again set a timer for 30 seconds, sit down if you got up for your minute break and maybe close your eyes. This time you are going to perceive your heartbeat. So, without touching your body, without that external sensory input, just try to create a connection with the inner sensations of your heartbeat.
You can compare the numbers if you want to, but that’s not really the point of this exercise. We’re not looking for accuracy here. We’re looking for awareness.
Some people can’t perceive their heartbeat at all. Some people can feel it. Some people feel it faintly and some people just kind of feel it once or twice and then can guess on the other ones because you know the rhythm.
This is a very personal exercise and it’s just to give you an idea of what your interoceptive awareness is like right now and to give you kind of a baseline.
If you found this effortless you can also try it in the reverse order. Try to perceive your heartbeat first and then measure with your touch.
After you’ve completed this exercise, it can also be valuable to explore where you feel your heartbeat. Some people feel it in their chest, in their head, in their wrist or neck where they were measuring or somewhere else entirely. Again. all we’re doing here is making that conscious connection.
Another exercise to help improve your interoceptive awareness is to take a moment, maybe a couple times a day and ask yourself if you feel unpleasant, pleasant or neutral. You can focus on a specific body part if that’s easier. For example, some people like to start with their bladder since it can be a bit easier to connect with. We are usually pretty good at knowing if something is pleasant or unpleasant and if it’s neither it’s in the neutral camp.
Once you feel comfortable detecting your inner sensations and awareness you can start to think about how you know when you’re hungry and how you know when you’re full. Again, this can look so different in each person and often we only know the unpleasant sensations of being overfull or over hungry. Work backwards. Try to notice how you felt before you were overfull and over hungry, what were some of the inner sensations that alerted you to this feeling?
These exercises can be hard to do when you’re being pulled in a million different directions every day, but the confidence and self-actualization that can come from understanding your inner signals is huge! If you’re looking for accountability and support in building your interoceptive awareness and reattunement with your body just send me an email with the subject line “reconnect”.
Thank you for reading!
With kindness and compassion,