Knowing what your body needs at any moment should be second nature. After all, it’s your body, right?
But in our always-on, go-go-go world, many of us become conditioned to ignore our natural cues to slow down, rest, and take good care of ourselves.
Being able to listen to your body “helps you learn when it’s time to take a rest day, eat, drink, or even see a doctor,” explains Jim White, a registered dietitian, certified exercise physiologist, and owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. “Your body is very good at notifying you when it needs something.”
Feel like yours is on mute these days?
You’re not alone, so we’re sharing tips to help you learn to listen to your body again.
1. You’re excessively sore
“When your body is sore from a workout or an injury, it’s your body’s way of saying ‘Hey, I need a rest day or a less intense workout so that I can recover,’” says White.
But how sore is too sore? And how can you tell if you’re overtraining?
Try this: If you wake up feeling stiff, try some morning stretches. If you feel better and more limber after warming up your body, you may be able to work out.
If the stretches don’t do much to alleviate your muscle aches, take a rest day.
2. You’re tired in the middle of the day
Assuming you didn’t change anything from your normal routine, feeling tired in the afternoon isn’t about a physical need for sleep.
Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., says it’s likely you’re hungry, thirsty, or “need to get up and move around to increase the oxygen in your body’s system.”
Try this: First, drink some water. Fatigue is an early sign of dehydration. If that doesn’t help and it’s been several hours since you’ve eaten, grab a healthy snack.
If you haven’t moved in over an hour, take a quick walk.
3. You want to eat
Food offers both emotional and physical nourishment, so wanting to eat isn’t always the same as needing to eat.
Learning the difference takes time, but it’s “important to differentiate between emotional and physical cues so that you can know exactly what your body needs and when it needs it,” says White.
Try this: Assess how you feel emotionally and physically. How long ago did you eat? Is your stomach growling?
If you would eat just about anything, you’re probably hungry. If you want something specific, an emotional need may be causing that craving.
If you know you’re a stress-eater, we have tips for that and other bad habits to break.
4. Your muscles are cramping
“Cramping is a way your body tries to communicate with you that it is dehydrated, lacking electrolytes or glucose or needs to be stretched before or after a workout,” explains White.
Try this: Take stock of your pre-workout routine. Did you fuel and hydrate properly? Did you warm up?
If not, tend to your body as needed now — and make time to properly prepare for your next workout.
5. You feel foggy and unfocused
Assuming you slept enough and got your morning coffee fix, this one’s probably about food — and one kind specifically.
Your brain’s primary fuel source is glucose, which you get through carbs in your diet. In fact, your brain uses around 120 grams of glucose a day.
Try this: Check the time — how long ago did you last eat? If it’s been a while, try having a snack containing carbs, like an apple with peanut butter.
While you’re at it, drink a glass of water, since dehydration can also make you feel foggy.
6. Your neck and shoulders are stiff
If you’re sore, especially through the neck and shoulders, “it can mean your posture isn’t good,” points out Hunnes.
You may also be holding your stress in your body.
Try this: Set a timer during the workday. Each time it goes off, circle your shoulders and neck a few times, to let go of tension.
Check your jaw, too, to make sure you’re not clenching your teeth.
Meditation (and yoga) can also help you “keep in tune with your body more easily,” says White.
Creating a meditation space may help you stick with your new habit.