Why ‘listen to your body’ and ‘do what works for you’ rarely work — and what to do instead


“There are three things that are extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and the ability to know one’s self.”

Clichés like “listen to your body” and “do what works for you” sound like good advice. But they’re not actually that helpful unless you know how to use them. Since most people don’t, We're sharing these 4 important strategies today. With them, you’ll learn to build the self-knowledge you need to more easily reach your health and fitness goals.


Not everyone’s body is the same.

Neither are our goals. Or our lives. Or our idea of what “health” is. Nor should they be.


While we may have many commonalities, each human being is a little bit different. And fitness and nutrition advice should account for those unique differences.

That’s why, on the one hand, it’s reassuring to hear messages like:

“Listen to your body.”

“Do what works for you.”

“Be mindful.”

“Eat intuitively.”

“Follow your hunger cues.”

Generally, these messages are a nice antidote to the other, more prescriptive things we hear from the health and fitness types — the “eat this, not that” stuff.

However, while they sound nice, they’re not actually that effective.


On their own, these pieces of “advice” amount to clichés that feel nagging and lack any kind of real direction.

Here’s what we know.

Unless you provide a detailed framework to help people learn how to “listen to their bodies” and “do what works for them,” this advice does more harm than good.

Why? Well, most folks lost touch with their bodies’ signals a long time ago.

After years (or decades) of dieting, hunger and fullness cues have long since been overruled by strict calorie rations and drowned out by the highs and lows of emotion-driven binges.

They don’t know what “works for them,” or how to begin to figure that out.

They feel confused, overwhelmed. Hurt and angry.

They feel lost.

So tossing them a flashlight and some general instructions about “doing what works” tends to backfire:

“I’ll never figure out how to be fit again. What’s the point in trying?”


What people need, instead, is a detailed blueprint to help tune in their bodies’ signals and discover what works for them.

In this article, we’ll explain framework for clients to learn how to listen to their bodies and develop a deep understanding of which nutrition and exercise strategies work for them.

Plus, we’ll walk you through the specific strategies we use with our clients so you can use them for yourself (or, if you’re a coach, your clients) too.

First, some background:


Body awareness is crucial to improved nutrition and exercise habits.

The successful folks have built the skills, through practice, that allow them to be mindful, pay attention to their emotions, and tune into their body’s signals.

Being deeply aware of your body and able to understand things like your hunger cues, how your emotions drive your movement and eating decisions, and how stress manifests in your body is highly valuable.

In fact, it’s one of the differences between people who struggle with diet and exercise their whole life, and people who develop a healthy relationship with their bodies, food and fitness.

The successful folks have built the skills, through practice, that allow them to be mindful, pay attention to their emotions, and tune into their body’s signals.

Fortunately, the skill of accumulating self-knowledge — what we might call listening to your body and learning what works for you — is just that, a skill.

And, like other skills, it can be developed with a series of strategies and practices.


Four strategies to learn how to “listen to your body”… and build your self-knowledge superpowers.

One thing that’s important to remember: Like any other skill-building, this stuff takes time. And, for some, self-knowledge can be a particularly challenging undertaking. (As Benjamin Franklin said, “there are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”)

That’s why this type of skill development is most effective when done with a coach.

A coach can provide you with a solid step-by-step plan (or curriculum) that’ll help you build these skills — much like a music or language teacher has a pre-set plan for helping you develop music or conversation skills.

Even more importantly, a good coach can provide objective feedback and help you identify your blind spots (we’re all human beings, and it’s normal to fool ourselves — in fact, it’s extremely difficult not to).

But there’s a lot you can do on your own, too.

Here are the skills we help Power 3 clients develop, and teach to our Certification students so they can use them with their own clients.


Strategy #1: “Food and feelings” assessments


The concept

Assessments — or worksheets, diaries, journals — can be used to help you objectively observe and evaluate your eating and exercise choices, and how those choices make you feel.

An assessment allows you to capture information so you have an actual record of what’s going on; in other words, it allows you to collect data for you (or your coach) to interpret and make sense of.

This is a good first step towards accumulating self-knowledge because it helps you get the facts, rather than just going by general feelings or concerns.


How to implement this strategy

These assessments are most effective when they’re used from the very beginning of a nutrition plan (or coaching program) you’re using to improve your eating habits and work toward body composition or health goals.


Sample assessment tools

1. Eating Behaviors Journal

By tracking what you eat, and what you’re thinking when you eat it, you may uncover reasons for eating (and the resulting feelings, too) that have nothing to do with hunger and fullness.

The idea here is to observe and record — without judgment — to learn about your own motives. Over time, you may discover patterns that you want to break.

2. Behavior Awareness Worksheet

Use this assessment to understand emotional eating or bingeing episodes.

Research shows that while our behaviors may seem “spur-of-the-moment” when it comes to overeating the groundwork is laid several hours in advance (by our daily rituals, habits, mindset, and automatic thinking).

Overeating is simply the last link in a long chain. If you can break the first link, you have a much better chance of never getting to the last link.

This exercise will help you build an awareness of what your overeating episodes have in common. Maybe it’s a time of day, or a situation, or a type of food, or another person (or being alone), or a feeling – or all of these.

3. How Food Feels Journal

Use this exercise to get a better sense of how your body reacts to certain foods.

Tracking physical sensations — especially unpleasant ones — can help you uncover trigger foods, and even sensitivities or intolerances — that are getting in the way of your health goals.

Download the How Food Feels Journal.


Strategy #2: Awareness-building practices


The concept

These are regular activities — you might also call them practices or habits — that can help you develop the skill of tuning into and understanding your body’s signals.

With all areas of health and fitness, the ability to focus and tune into your own body is incredibly useful. And it’s particularly important for people who want to improve their eating habits.

Many of us have lost the ability to be present and aware while we eat, and have long since stopped paying attention to our own hunger and fullness cues.

Fortunately, being aware and present — what you might also call mindfulness — is a skill like any other: It can be developed with practice.


How to implement this strategy

Use these practices daily — ideally after you’ve completed an assessment or two to give yourself a baseline.

Commit to using a given practice every day for 2-4 weeks; after that, you can fall back on the practice any time you notice yourself feeling disconnected from your body.

Important note: The point is NOT to aim for perfection here. All you have to do is practice daily, and the skill will build on itself naturally. You’ll be amazed.


Sample practices

Try these three practices from Power 3 to help you learn how to better listen to your body.

Again, this should feel easy. If a practice is too challenging, make it simpler (for example, instead of a 5-minute mind-body scan, try for 2 or 3 minutes at first).

And don’t tackle all three at once. It’s best to focus on one at a time.

Practice #1: Eat slowly

Wait a few more moments.

If you still feel hungry, take another bite.


At each meal today, take a few extra minutes to simply… pause.

Put your utensils down after each bite. Take a breath. When you take a bite, notice — and enjoy — the taste and texture of the food.

Take another breath, or a sip of water.

Relax.

Wait a few more moments. If you still feel hungry, take another bite.

Repeat.

That’s it.

If you’re struggling to slow down, try a timer. When you’re done eating, see how many minutes have gone by. Now you have a baseline for improvement! Cool.

And if you add only 1 minute of meal time per day, by the end of 2 weeks you’ll have slowed the pace of your eating by nearly 15 minutes.

Practice #2: Eat to 80 percent full

You probably know what “stuffed” feels like. That’s the post-holiday meal feeling where you have to loosen your belt and breathe in little huffs after your fourth helping of dessert.

Let’s call that 150 percent full — waaay beyond capacity.

You might know what “really hungry” feels like. Let’s call that 0 percent full.

Somewhere in between is 80 percent full.

80 percent full is when you’re just satisfied. No longer hungry. (Or just a teeny tiny bit hungry, which passes after a few minutes.)

But not full. And definitely not stuffed.

At each meal, try to find that 80 percent point on the spectrum. (That first practice, eating slowly, really comes in handy here.)

You won’t know what 80 percent full feels like right away; but you don’t have to get this “perfect” or do any complicated math.

Just eat a little bit slower, and a little bit less, at each meal, until you recognize (and can reliably target) that 80 percent mark.

Practice #3: Mind-body scan

What’s a “mind-body scan”? While it sounds like something that aliens might invent (along with probing of your, ahem, backside), a mind-body scan is quite simple.

Step 1: Find a quiet place

Every day, take 5 minutes and find a quiet place without