One of the most surprising effects of becoming pregnant is that I have suddenly become incredibly adept at listening to my body’s cues. I am healthier, more aware, and more in balance than I can ever remember being.
Let me begin this post by saying that I have never been in tune with my body. I am not a physical person; I am a cerebral person. When I was young I was not active and athletic, running around and exploring the world through the movement of my body. I was a thinker, sitting in a chair for hours on end, absorbed in a book, exploring the great wide world and all the ideas in it through the words on the page. When my parents would call my name, trying to get my attention, I would not hear them. I was not trying to be disrespectful – even they recognized that – I was simply so absorbed in my thoughts that the physical mechanisms in my ears that allowed me to hear outside noises were shut off. When I would get up from my reading sprees I was often sore from sitting in the same position for so long. Funny, my body never noticed this when I was in the middle of reading; I was too focused on my brain to worry about my body.
I utterly lack proprioception and am sometimes klutzy to the point of being laughable. When my husband Nick started training me in his CrossFit program, he initially did not believe that anybody could be so entirely unaware of her body, and then he thought I was kinda funny, in a cute and endearing way.
So I have never been very aware of my body and what it is doing in physical space, and I have also, in the past, not been very good at listening to my body’s cues. Did I used to go to bed when I was tired? Not if I wanted to finish the next chapter. Did I eat when I was hungry? Not necessarily. For quite some time I had rather mixed-up or non-existent hunger cues. In high school I would eat breakfast, lunch, after-school snack, dinner, and bedtime snack, because that was just when people ate. I was not always necessarily hungry at those times. And as far as what controlled how much I ate, it might have partially been hunger, but it was also the tastiness quotient of whatever food was available. Homemade cookies, especially peanut butter kiss cookies, inspired increased food consumption, which was not necessarily tied to increased hunger. Sometime during college I jumped on the conventional wisdom bandwagon, and started eating whole-wheat “healthy” snacks at three-hour intervals, not necessarily because I got hungry at three-hour intervals, but because that was what conventional wisdom said I ought to do to be slim and healthy. Then I discovered paleo, and I began experimenting with levels of strictness, levels of carbohydrate restriction, and intermittent fasting. I still think that these can be useful tools in a health and wellness arsenal, but bottom line is that none of them taught me to listen to my body’s natural hunger cues. With intermittent fasting, I had to blatantly ignore them.
And if we skip forward to the present, now that I am pregnant, my connection with my body has changed drastically. I am not sure if this shift is because I am now listening to my body more carefully because of my concern for my child’s health, or because pregnancy has a tendency to make the body’s signals more obvious and difficult to ignore. I think that it might be a combination of both. But now, I know, without a doubt, when I am hungry, and what exactly I am hungry for. Every morning I wake up famished, unable to ignore my body’s and my baby’s needs. I am usually craving lean protein and some berries (this baby puts in very specific orders) so that is exactly what I eat. When I become hungry later in the day, it is sudden and undeniable, and I usually know exactly what it is I need to eat – fatty meat, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, Greek yogurt, whatever. And even if it is not a conventional ‘meal time’ I follow my body’s lead. I am getting very good at listening, and I feel that much healthier, in balance, and in tune with my body and my baby for it.
The same is true for my sleep schedule. When I am tired, I know that I am tired. I have a hard time keeping my eyes open. I listen to my body’s cues at night, and when I wake up in the morning I feel wonderfully rested. Every once in a while, I absolutely need to take a half-hour power nap during the day (an entirely new experience for me). When I listen to these cues, I wake up feeling entirely refreshed and ready to conquer the rest of the day.
My workout schedule is becoming equally pliable. Instead of having an Excel spreadsheet of exact workouts planned out at least a month in advance (you think I am joking?) I now have an Excel spreadsheet with a whole bunch of possible workouts that I can plug in to each day, depending on my energy level. I still get so many days of yoga, weightlifting, kettlebells, and CrossFit into my routine, but when I do each type of activity depends on how I am feeling each day. As a consequence, I am looking forward to my workouts a little bit more (I get to do something that I feel like doing!), and I believe that I am performing better. I am no longer asking my body to do high intensity interval training on a day when I am exhausted and could really use some calming yoga; I am working with my body instead of against it. The results, in terms of my overall well being, are amazing.