Getting to Know Ourselves

"Sometimes I feel like like I'm a head on a stick." This was a quote that a physiotherapist gave us from one person who has Motor Neurone Disease and struggles to communicate how difficult life becomes when your body is weighing you down. A profound quote that reflects just how aware this one person has become of their body and of the changes they have experienced since the onset of this particular condition. A reflection, also, on how much they have come to appreciate what their has been capable of in the past and sadness at how this has decreased.

Sadly, many of us (myself included) fail to appreciate the wonder and capacity of our bodies. From two cells we became one, to the billions and billions of cells, all with their little powerhouses pumping away to keep us going. Each busily unfolding and refolding DNA or producing enzymes or rebuilding their walls to keep out the "bad stuff" floating around in the outside world. Each communicating with the cell next door and those far away so that other cells can do their job well. All culminating in our ability to laugh, dance, sing, sit at a desk and work, walk from the train station to work, do the dishes and ...well, everything. Our bodies are incredible and deserve to be treated as such.

I am lucky enough to spend a lot of my time talking to people about their bodies, whether as a student or in my world. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a young man, only eighteen, who was very concerned about some sudden weight gain. He'd had a big night a few days before - two "massive" pizzas for dinner and some beers. He had weighed himself the next day and discovered he was a entire kilogram heavier. He looked distraughted. He had been working so hard at the gym, generally eating well and then had this one big night that seemed to destroy weeks of effort. For a few moments, I was shocked. His "sudden weight gain" seemed quite simple to me. But I couldn't think of a particularly polite way of explaining it to him.

I don't think you will have "put on" a kilo, I started. When you eat food, it takes a little while to go through your digestive tract - your stomach - and to then be excreted from your body. So when you weighed yourself, what you were seeing was that meal sitting in your belly, rather than being added to your hips. Does that make sense?  For a little while, he looked perplexed. And then it seemed to dawn on him. And then, there was a big smile.

It made me wonder...how many people struggle with the same ideas as this young man? If you've never paused to think about digestion, or even to think about what happens to the many delicious things we consume in a day, after we've chewed, you could easily get worried. If you have never thought of your entire digestive tract as a complicated tube going right through the middle of you, there to allow passage of food and fluids, with levels of processing and absorption, how can you truly understand good nutrition?

One of my friends has a quote that goes something like "no-one knows how to eat well, but we all know how to eat badly. If you want to eat well, just do the opposite." This probably works for many. I tend to tell people that the closer food is to the farm, the better it is for you. Understanding the molecular biology behind digestion is entirely unnecessary for the majority of the population, but it does help me to understand that eating iron and Vitamin C in the same meal is a good idea, iron and milk the opposite. The answer to good nutrition, really, is to get to know your body.

If you know your body well, you recognize when it needs to get out of a chair and get into some joggers, when it needs to hop into bed for some rest, when it is hungry, thirsty or full. When you spend time thinking about your body, rather than about everything outside of you and the space between your ears, you begin to understand how you work best. And when you understand that, you take care of yourself more. And, when you take care of you, the activities that fill your day tend to be more productive.

So get to know your body. Get to know your inner thoughts. Give yourself quiet time on a nice walk, run, swim, in a belly-dancing lesson or doing some rock-climbing. Find something that makes you happy. Inside and out.

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