There seems to be a ton of "should"s when it comes to our health. Living up to that idealized version can be overwhelming. My advice: don't.
A few weeks ago I was sitting with a new client discussing her pelvic pain. Let's call her "S." When we reached the nutrition portion of our conversation, she automatically got a little defensive.
"I know, I know. I need to cut out my soda and coffee and junk food. Everyone I've seen has told me the same thing. I've tried. But sometimes I just really want a burger and a candy bar. It makes me happy."
"Then have the junk. If that five minutes of chewing on a candy bar makes you feel a little better in the middle of your pain, then go for it! I'm not going to tell you to cut out things that bring you joy. What I do ask is that you make those moments super mindful, really experience that candy bar instead of just wolfing it down; and replace one or two of your sodas or coffees with water. Let's start there."
S started tearing up. Not one of the doctors, physical therapists, pain management specialists, or acupuncturists she had seen over the last five years had taken this approach. Every single one wanted her to make massive lifestyle changes immediately. Every one of them wanted her to limit herself further when she was already feeling so limited by her pain.
It was such a small thing - to tell her, "It's okay to have coffee," - but it was in that moment that I truly realized the power of meeting someone where they are at.
It also started me thinking about how often we withhold that same kind of compassion from ourselves.
How many times have you gone to start a new project or form a new exercise routine only to drop it because you can't seem to make that hour to workout five days a week? I'd there a dietary change you initiated only to give it up as hopeless after your first slip or two? What joy have you denied yourself because it was the "wrong choice?" How much time did you spend feeling guilty about those false starts and deviations?
In a way, it is normal to feel this guilt or shame or embarrassment. It is normal because on many levels, we are used to handing at least partial control over to those who seem to hold some higher authority than our own. You remember having to ask permission to use the restroom in school, right? And depending on your job, maybe you still feel like it is unacceptable to meet that and other bodily needs at certain times. In those moments our bodies become partially owned by someone else, someone who supposedly knows better than we do how we should be using it. But no one knows what is happening within yourself better than you do. Owning your body and your choices is one of the most important keys to healing. In claiming full bodily autonomy, you give yourself the freedom to make the choices that feel best for you in the moment. You give yourself permission to do things differently in the future. You claim the right to decide what is the best next step for you. You rid yourself from the burden of “should”s and “supposed-to”s. You offer yourself the chance to really sink into yourself to listen to what your body needs.
You allow yourself to be human.
All of this builds the foundation to begin non-judgmental, incremental change to carry you toward your health goals.
After our session, S went away with her family. She rode a jet ski, went on a bike ride, sat on the beach, and initiated a walk on the boardwalk. All with next to no pain and no pain flares. I am fully confident that the bodywork helped set her on the path toward healing. I am also positive that much of her extraordinary progress came from the simple fact that she had given herself permission to be happy and enjoy herself.
For what in your life have you been waiting for approval? Where are you giving away your power of self permission? What is one thing you are going today to fully claim your right to decide what is best for your body? Is there a small change you are excited to make to start moving you forward? Let me know in the comments!