“Listen to your body” has become popular advice recently, but what does that actually mean? It sounds like a nice thing to do, in theory. If you don’t know what you’re listening for, or how your body is communicating to you, then this type of advice is rather meaningless. However, with some guidance and a few simple tools, the insights can be life-changing.
If you’re new to this idea of “listening” or “tuning in” to your body, then you’re in good company. It’s not magic or woo-woo. Rather, it’s a skill that can be learned and utilized to make meaningful changes that get real results. This skill could make all the difference, especially if you’ve been struggling with your health and fitness goals.
Listen to your body 101: what to listen for
Start with awareness. Before you roll your eyes, hear me out! As a Metabolic Optimization Health Coach, I deeply understand the body’s hormonal cues and what they mean. From that place, I have key information to help my clients tweak their nutrition and lifestyle in order to support their goals. However, if you’re like most people, you don’t have that skill-set. To my knowledge, body cue awareness is not taught in the traditional education system. We know that people are lacking this critical and empowering skillset, so we prioritize this education early in our program. Yes, it requires more effort and time than “one-size-fits-all” programs, but that’s not how we roll. I also know that most people do NOT want a one-size-fits-all program. But, what they don’t know is that the opposite of that, individualization, requires self-awareness. It’s foundational.
In my experience, awareness is often associated with a bit of resistance. Sometimes the resistance comes from a lack of clarity. It’s hard to do a thing when we don’t know what to do or how to do it. That’s an easier problem to solve. And we’ll get to that in a minute.
The other one is more psychological in nature. Lack of awareness allows us to stay in the dark. If you can’t see the problem, there’s nothing to change, right? I truly believe that this comes from a place of readiness. Or rather, not being ready. It’s probably happening below an individual’s conscious awareness. But if that’s coming up for you, consider the reasons why. It might not be the best time for you to make changes, or perhaps your beliefs about change might need re-evaluating. Not all change is bad. If you think that changing your diet involves a lot of restriction and zero pleasure, then I don’t blame you for resisting. From that place, check your beliefs. Do they hold up as fact, or are they holding you back from reaching your goals?
When you know what your body is telling you, and what that means, you have the capacity to make informed choices that move you closer to your goals. It puts YOU back in the driver’s seat where you belong.
So let’s get to it. How to build awareness.
Start with SHMEC.
SHMEC is a funny but catchy acronym that stands for “sleep, hunger, mood, energy and cravings”. SHMEC is actionable because it tells you exactly what to listen for when listening to your body.
Sleep. Are you sleeping well? Yes or no? Of course, there is tons of nuance here. But generally speaking, is this aspect of your health and wellbeing “in check” or “not in check”? If it’s not, what component needs more focus? Is it the ability to fall asleep, stay asleep or wake feeling rested? There are lots of practices that can build better sleep, but a good starting point is to know what component of your sleep is not in check. From there, you can explore strategies that optimize specific aspects of sleep and sleep hygiene.
Hunger. Are you full and satisfied after you eat? How long does the feeling of fullness and satisfaction last before you start noticing signs like a growling stomach or stomach emptiness? As a physiological cue, hunger is felt in the gut. It signals a need for energy, either specific nutrients or caloric needs. It is different from cravings, which are more of a want or desire. What do your hunger and fullness cues say about your nutrition or eating habits? If you need to eat every few hours, then your nutrition might need to be adjusted to include more food, specific nutrients, or a different ratio of carbs, fats and proteins.
Cravings can be a bit more nuanced. Just “wanting” to eat is different than “needing” to eat. Cravings are commonly triggered by emotions and a desire to self-soothe. Many of us use food to help regulate emotions, so cravings might be pointing to a different need – something that food or drink won’t truly resolve. By the way, it’s not easy to distinguish hunger from cravings unless you know how that feels in your body. We tell people that hunger is felt in the stomach and cravings are felt in the brain. Start there, and remain curious about what you uncover.
Mood & Energy often go hand-in-hand for people. When our energy levels feel stable and consistent, mood tends to follow. The opposite is often true. The brain and the body are intimately connected, and this can show up in different ways for different people. If this is a consistent trend in your body, explore the mind-body battery drains in your life. What is draining you physically and/or emotionally? On the flip side, what fills your energy and mood tanks? If you fill one tank, will the other tank feel fuller too? If they’re both drained together, you might be able to top them up together too!
Energy levels also track closely with sleep and nutrition habits. If you notice a trend across multiple body cues, there might be an underlying “big rock” to address.
When it comes to mood, I’d to make one thing clear. We need to make space for all the other feels. Life isn’t a smooth ride. It has its ups and downs. Feeling happy and content is great, but we also have the capacity to feel sad, lonely, frustrated, and angry too. A range of emotions is part of the human experience. The key is healthy emotional regulation, and being able to bounce back after something sucky happens.
Listening is a valuable skill. What’s even more valuable is knowing what to listen for. You know what you’re listening for now.
Body cues or signals like SHMEC can be rather simple, or complex. Keep it simple by asking yourself “is my SHMEC in check?” If not, what’s your best guess about what’s going on? What do you think your body is trying to tell you through the lens of sleep, hunger, mood, energy or cravings?
Sure, you might not have all of the answers, or a perfectly correct one but you probably have an idea. At the very least, you have a starting point. The “listen” part is done. You know what to listen for. Now you have a choice. Take action. Make a change, and then listen again. Did anything shift in your SHMEC? Did it change in a good way, meaning, in the direction of your goals? Maybe it went the other way. That’s ok. Time to pivot.
You are what you listen to.
Using SHMEC as a guiding compass, you too can reap the benefits from knowing how to listen to your body. When we better understand how our body is responding to our day-to-day habits, we are in a better position to make informed choices that move us toward our health goals or away from them.