Your body called…

It wanted me to tell you that it didn’t mean to make you eat that whole package of cookie dough, and it’s sorry it convinced you to skip your workout in favor of that House Hunters marathon.

Oh, wait…that was my body, not yours.  Sorry!

Ahem.

If there is one thing that separates us humans from the furry rank-and-file of Kingdom Mammalia, it’s our ability to use our big heads to control the desires of our hairless little bodies.

Which is why I don’t normally “listen to my body.”

Because my body is kind of a little bitch.  Yep, this body is all about guarding its own shortsighted interests.  Go for a run, body?  Noooo…I asked the legs, they’d rather take a rest day! Eat some of that broccoli?  Noooo…taste buds want ice cream instead! Get out of bed and go to work?  Oh…I consulted the epidermis and it says that these warm covers feel just fine, so we’re staying put, KTHXBAI.

If I listened to by body, literally, I would be fat and sedentary and ridden with all sorts of unsavory diseases.  And probably unshowered.  With a permanent crust of Cheeto crumbs on my chin.

And I’d be miserableDuh. So most of the time, I tell my whining little corpus to shut the eff up and get on with whatever it is that I know I need to do: run, do planks, put down the bottle of wine, eat more bean sprouts, etc.

Of course, those things are good for my body in the long run.  And deep down, on some subliminal level, I believe that my body knows this.  It knows the joy of flying through the last interval of a tough track workout, the simultaneous pain and elation a hard effort.  It knows the serenity of waking up in the morning after a healthy dinner and a good night’s sleep, as opposed to an all-night cheeseburger-and-beer bender.

However.  In the face of immediacy and decisions to be made, the part of my body that shouts the loudest usually just wants instant gratification.   That needy, greedy, lazy little bitch.

Our bodies are like enthusiastic and exceptionally vocal border collies.  Once in a while, their woof signals something real and important (“Timmy’s sick!”  “Pa fell down the well again!”)….but most of the time?  It’s just a bunch of barking.

And this is why I scratch my head when I see statements on blogs like this:

“My alarm went off at 6:30 this morning but I didn’t want to get up and work out.  So I listened to my body and went back to sleep!”

Followed by a rush of congratulatory comments: “Good for you for listening to your body!”  “Sounds like you did the right thing!”  “Way to go!”

Um…really? Because:

(1) It’s the asssssss-crack of dawn.  Of course your body wants to sleep.  You caved.  So…?

(2) Fact: Running is hard.  Working out is hard.  Taking rest days is easy.  (Well, rest days can be mentally challenging sometimes, but from a physical perspective, sleeping in and doing jack doody instead of working out couldn’t be easier.)  So….congratulations?

(3) Look: I’m not at all judging sleeping in and taking a rest day.  I love being lazy.  But own it for what it is – being lazy and resting! yay! – rather than trying to re-frame the situation with pseudo-self-aware justifications regarding the body and it’s desire to (duh) avoid effort.

(4) And then there’s injury.  Sickness.  Genuine burnout and over-training. Obviously, you’ve gotta “listen to your body” when it’s giving you feedback about an acute issue.  Even if 98% of your body’s signals are horsecrap, there’s that 2% of the time when you really do need to listen And back off.

That last one?  That’s the kicker. Learning to hear the critical notes of injury or  illness in a chorus of run-of-the-mill complaints is not easy.  It takes practice.  And discipline.

In other words: for every “OMG Timmy is face down in the creek!” bark, there are a whole lotta “Gimme more kibble” and “Rub my belly” barks.  If you heed every one, they’re gonna become difficult to distinguish.

And when that happens, your body is running the show.  You avoid ever experiencing the physical stress that is necessary to gain fitness, and you won’t improve.  Because…well, not to sound like a broken record, but:

Running. Is. Hard.

You have to push through it sometimes.  Even when your body doesn’t want to.  If you stay in bed every time you’re tired, bored, or slightly sore, you’ll never get stronger, faster or fitter.

So, what is the point of all of this?  Um, there probably isn’t one.  Except for me to (hopefully) open a discussion about a term that gets thrown rather frequently here in blog-world.

And to (hopefully) encourage everyone to be the best runner/gymrat/meerkat/whatever that they are trying to be.

And, honestly?  It’s just timely, for me, because I’m kind of laughing at my own body right now.  It’s mini-taper week, and with reduced mileage and no speedwork, I can tell that my legs think they’ve pulled one over on me.

Little do they know what’s in store for them on Sunday morning.  They’re going to be blindsided.  Rest now, tender legs.  You’ve got 13.1 tough miles on your docket.

I’m hoping for a kick-ass race.  As it happens, it was almost exactly a year ago, back in New York, that I started going to team workouts and trying to get back in decent running shape.  I’ve put in some quality work over the last year.  I’ve made good progress.  I’m ready to run hard.

And I never would have gotten here if I’d listened to my body every time it whined, complained and resisted.

(Although I do have a certain allowance for impromptu rest days, HGTV and raw cookie dough in my lifestyle.  And beer.  And potato chips.)

So, let’s discuss. What do you think about “listening to your body?”  Do you listen to yours sometimes, all of the time, rarely, never?  What’s on your body’s LIKES and DISLIKES lists?

Also, it’s officially St. Patty’s Day, so feel free to tell me if you think I’m full ‘o the shit. Cheers, y’all!

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61 responses to “Your body called…

  1. ahhhh shelby i love this post, but it makes me so sad because right now i feel like i actually SHOULD err on the side of laziness and i hate that. i want to push myself to do tempo runs and long runs and races and i miss that feeling of ‘it was hard, but i did it!’ so much. i have to remember that i WILL be there again someday.

    • Of course you should! It can work the other way around, too. I’m sure this is oversimplifying things, but from a workout standpoint you’re basically stuck in an extended version of a marathon taper, which is just…madness. Hang in there!

  2. lifeisbeachykeen

    Ha-larious. I listen to my body every single day when I hit the snooze button 5 times before waking up. She’s tired, and getting up early isn’t doing anyone any good so she might as well sleep. She’s a real bitch when she doesn’t get enough sleep. She really likes M&Ms and coffee, I give her those when she wants them.

    But for real, the only time I “listen to my body” is if my hip or knee start to bother me. I usually take an extra rest day. I can usually tell if it’s a “serious” pain or if I’m just being pussy about it. Other than that, my body can shut the hell up cuz I’ll do what I wanna do.

  3. There are definitely days where I have to push. It’s mostly mental, though, and I feel just fine afterwards.

    But I do think there needs to be a seperation from mind and body “rest days”. Because I agree- there are a lot of things the body can do, even if your mind doesn’t want to. But I feel both are important to listen to at certain times (as long as you’re not being a complete whiny bitch about it!).

  4. Unfortunately, I listened to my body last night and drank an entire bottle of wine. I also listened to my body when I woke up with a hangover this morning and slept in.

    My body needs to shut up.

  5. Very insightful thoughts 🙂 I had one of those hard runs this morning where I wanted to stop every second of the first mile. I’ve had a crazy week and wanted to sleep in, BUT… Knew I should at least get in a few miles. For me, I think there’s a difference between needing to back off and listening to your body when sick, injured, etc and just caving in to the desire to go back to bed/ be lazy.

    Long story short, take care of yourself. Which can mean pushing yourself and knowing when to take an extra rest day!

  6. Naaaaailed it.

    …rather than trying to re-frame the situation with pseudo-self-aware justifications regarding the body and it’s desire to (duh) avoid effort.

    I was watching Big Love last night and had a similar conversation with my husband about polygamy that went something like: “I would get it if they just wanted to have threesomes and foursomes and fivesomes, but they have to add in this delusion that there’s something deeply spiritual and meaningful about it.”

    MY body is craving an Irish car bomb and a big ol’ heaping plate of loaded pub fries.

  7. I listened to my body this week and was lazy. And now, I feel shitty. It’s ALL mental and right now I’m pissed I let “Waaaah, I need a rest week” win over “Get off your ass and F’ing RUN.” Changing that today.

  8. Haha, valid points. I do need to enforce my alarm clock authority. My biggest reminder I use is – “is that extra hour of sleep really going to make you feel all rested”. Plus I know I feel better/more awake if I get up to workout vs “getting extra rest”.

    Now I’ll get my run done, but then that gives me permission to be lazy the rest of the day which does not make for a tidy house or clean laundry…

  9. I’m an all or nothing kind of girl. So I either ignore my body ALL the time and just keep pushing, pushing, pushing. Or I “listen” to it (but really I’m just being lazy and I know it has nothing to do with my body – as you said, it’s faaaaaar easy just to simply not. work. out. DUH.) and take a workout off here, a day off there, another one, another one, another one.

    The one thing that really keeps me in check is that I DESPISE the way you feel when you start working out again after some time off. I hate feeling incapable, exhausted, weak, etc. So that’s what usually pushes me to ignore those feelings of laziness.

    Plus, with my food intake … skipping workouts would equal a wardrobe strictly composed of muumuus. And I just don’t want to go there.

  10. Great post!! I don’t listen to my body nearly enough – my brain is in constant control and doesn’t seem to care if my body wants to rest sometimes. I’m not even sure it knows how to chill out, actually, which is something I need to work on. So I guess I’m on the other side of the spectrum, resembling that INSANE border collie that absolutely will not stop hearding sheep no matter what you tell it. Hmm. Wonder how the farmers handle that one…

    • Word – it can definitely work the other way around, too! I’ll give you a call if I get too many sheep milling around over here…hehe. 🙂

  11. I can’t agree enough. There is a huge difference between mentally desired rest days and physically needed rest days and so many people pat themselves on the back for taking metnally desired rest days. I’m sure I’ve had my fair share too.

    The border collie metaphor is a pretty good one. Strangely, my border collie rarely speaks, my other dog is a total drama queen though. Total whiner over absolutely nothing. He must have learned from my body.

  12. I’ve had my fair share of mental days off too (December through February to be exact) and I’m glad to be getting back into things. The only time I’ll listen to my body is to make sure I’m actually awake and alert. I really don’t like tired runs.

  13. Such a great post. I sometimes have a hard time differentiating between “I’m overtrained and I need a rest day” and “I’m just lazy and I’d rather sit here and eat cookies.” Adding pregnancy to the mix has just confused things even more… because I’m not sure how I should be feeling, or if needing to walk during a long run is because of pregnancy or because of laziness. Obviously I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the kid, but I don’t want to be a lazy slob either…

    Anyway, very VERY good points here! Love it.

  14. RUNNING IS SUPPOSED TO BE HARD.

    Why is this such a difficult concept to grasp?

    I’d say more, but Imma gonna listen to my body and just stare at the wall instead. Because it’s easier.

  15. Very true. My rule for taking unplanned days off is, if I kind of don’t feel like working out, then I need to haul my butt out the door. If I really really really really don’t feel like working out, then I’ll take a day off. But it’s true that can be hard to distinguish between I kinda could just lay here for awhile longer but I really should haul it out of bed, and I’m actually getting sick/under-recovered/whatever and should take extra rest. Good luck at the race!

  16. Oh yeah, and my body is telling me to decompress from work by celebrating St. Patrick’s day tonight. WI has some great beer if you’re ever in the neighborhood.

  17. It always boggles my mind when people are like “oh it got really hard to run for so and so consecutive minutes, so I stopped”. No shit, it’s hard to run, the only way you get better and faster is to push through when it feels like it sucks. It really frustrates me when people ask how I managed to increase my pace and mileage. I worked at it. Duh.

    Anyway likes, wine, pizza, burgers, fries, vodka
    Dislikes: broccoli, tempo runs, strength training, salads

  18. I love this post so hard.

  19. Wait, running is hard? I thought running meant taking lots of pics, quoting Runner’s World, and holding hands as we cross the finish line singing Kumbaya. Oh wait, that’s running according to the internetz.
    I’ve definitely had my fair share of wuss out days, but I try to remember that most times I actually go for the run, I end up feeling much better (unless it is a really horrible run and then I just throw a pity party).
    Good luck in your half!

  20. You are very right. I think sometimes we all want to justify our way out of having to do something difficult or uncomfortable in the name of balance and moderation, but if you feel like you’re justifying, it probably means that it isn’t legit. I mean, I can justify eating a whole plate of fries but at the end of the day I know I really shouldn’t. Period. It’s also the difference between feeling uncomfortable v. being in pain during a workout.

  21. I love the analogy. My body doesn’t tell me to rest as much as it tells me to eat waffle fries and drink beer. I have to admit I am one that pushes too hard sometimes and have driven myself to pneumonia or some other godawful sickness because I was stubborn and no one was going to tell me to stop running!

    And also, I don’t work out in the morning for the exact reason that it’s pure torture to get up any earlier then I already have to – and even that is pure torture. Each and every day. Of course my body doesn’t want to get up at 5:45. Duh.

    Running is hard. I was prancing around for way too long not pushing myself. Fortunately my motto lately of “run faster if you want to run faster” has been working. I am not EDR or AR fast by any means 🙂

    • “Run faster if you want to run faster” – I had a coach who used to alllllways say that. And he was right!

      And whatever – you’re gonna surprise yourself in your half, I think!

  22. This is BRILLIANT. When people tell me to “just take a rest day” when I’m stressed at work/have a cold/traveling/etc., I just want to slap them across the face. Injury and real sickness are one thing. All the other chattering going on in your head? BS. When I get it done, I feel ten times better no matter what other stuff I still have to do that day. No, it’s not easy, and yes, sometimes I cut runs short and don’t do yoga or strength train as much as I should. It’s a struggle bc we live in a stupidly busy world which simultaneously glorifies laziness and physical perfection.

  23. On DailyMile there’s this phenomenon of someone will post “I’m feeling sick/injured/tired/lazy and cut my run short/didn’t run” and everyone will say “good for you for listening to your body!”

    Then someone will post “Despite feeling ____ I went out and did ______” and everyone will respond “Good for you for pushing through.”

    There’s being injured, sick, etc. There’s being lazy. There’s nothing morally wrong with taking time to feel lazy, but I think we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t call it like it is because that then limits our ability to truly recognize when we do need time off. Need vs. Want.

    I personally need a lot of emotional abuse to get myself out there (“better tired than fat” is my favorite) but I never regret the workouts I do, only the ones I miss. Just like I rarely regret NOT eating that cupcake(s), NOT drinking that second beer. And that’s the test I give myself – will it still be there tomorrow? For a run, no I only have today to run today. For a cupcake, beer, etc. Probably. If not, then it’s worth it to gorge! And then jsut call it like it is.

    • The dailymile thing makes me chuckle. It’s like…it’s great that everyone wants to be so supportive, but at some point it just turns in to meaningless noise.

      FYI your beer would not be there tomorrow if I were there. Because I’d drink it for you. ZING!

  24. This post is so right on that I can hardly stand it. My body is a whiney, lazy, horny little bitch. With the exception of dancing, twirling, and sex, if I listened to my body I would get ZERO exercise. Weight training? Not a chance!

    Where I really struggle, though, is when something really is wrong with my body. I spent too many years as the depressed fat girl who hurt all over to be able to properly discern what’s a real “something is wrong” pain and what’s a “I’m a whiney bitch” pain.

    Also because I struggle with not eating sometimes it’s hard to know then tired means my body doesn’t have enough fuel and when tired means I just want to lay on my floor and reread Great Expectations for the bajillionth time.

  25. Love it. I totally let my body win on Monday by talking me out of a run because my shin was a little tender and my knees were a little creaky (i.e., it was damp and gray and I didn’t want to run), but I fought back on Tuesday. I’m still working on telling the difference between normal aches & pains because running is hard and impending injury. I’ve been erring on the side of thinking that it might be impending injury, particularly as I come up on a 1/2 in a couple of weeks, but a lot of it is that I’m just tired and running is hard.
    Great post!

  26. Taking it easy or taking a rest day out of respect for illness, debilitating injury, or overtraining = “listening to your body.”

    Skipping a workout at 6:30 AM due to everyday just-woke-up fatigue = “listening to your momentary lapse mental fortitude” – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    My body…. weirdly…likes getting up early in the morning to run. It also likes enough cross training to displace some running mileage, and whenever I try to go against this preference it punishes me with chronic overuse injuries that turn me into a miserable and mentally unstable human molotov cocktail… or irish car bomb! Up the ‘RA!

  27. Seriously! Sometimes I read blogs and want to comment “Uh…you’ve been listening to your body for a week now. Your body is lazy.” But I don’t, I’m a chicken.

  28. hahah. if i listened to my body (or my emotional brain rather) i’d be running 24/7 and totally ignoring my body in the opposite way you described. i am too stubborn for my own good. i have to tell myself to loosen up a bit because my body does thrive on (occasional) nights of beer and late partying. it’s often hard to see the balance but that balance is soooo key to any type of mental sanity

  29. Late to the party, as always, but yes. Of course. Nobody gets ANYTHING without a shit-ton of hard work. Okay? Hard work means running five days a week. Hard work means running past the point of “uncomfortable,” to the realm of “I feel like passing out.” Some people don’t ascribe to this, and that’s fine. But you’re not really in training if you don’t.

  30. Thank you for posting, I really needed this. I’m just getting started so its a whole new kind of hard, and for a long time I def. “gave in” to my body because, like you, I’m an immediate gratification person. I bitched and moaned and shut down.

    I got back on the right track a few weeks ago, sticking to a schedule and getting x amount done a week and pushing as far as I could, no excuses. Then this week I had, for a few days, a shooting, throbbing pain in approximately the same place as a recently discovered hemmoraging cyst on an ovary. I’m hoping that was an ok time to take unexpected rest days (only two though, planning on giving it a go tomorrow; going for ultra sound Sat.)

    But in all honesty, I will think about this post whenever I can’t get my ass out the door. Because you’re right, it’s hard.” If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

  31. I cannot agree more with you! I invariably hate myself on the days ‘i listen to my body’ as it snuggles deeper into the covers after switching the alarm off. But yes, you can guilt of being a person who will always be supportive of others when they say they couldn’t get up in time for a scheduled run. I lie when I say ‘Its OK, I understand, you probably needed the rest’. I lie…

  32. Is this the first of many crotch closeups?

  33. My body and I are currently at odds. It wants to be trim and fast and I want to eat bon bons and watch TV. We’ve come to compromise of sorts. Like yesterday I ate a bag of chocolate covered almonds and two cup of goldfish before running hills. Win-win.

  34. Love this. My ITB injury back in Sept taught me to REALLY listen to my body for realz. I was pushing it too much.

    But you are so right–if I didn’t listen to my body inthe other way I’d still be 250 pounds. I liked being lazy, eating a whole pizza & gallon of ice cream by myself. Was I happy and healthy “listening” to what my body wanted? Not at all!!

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  36. hmm. i think you have to think about which blogs you’re reading in how you react to this “listening to my body” talk. a lot of “healthy living” blogs are written by “recovering” (topic of debate) anorexics, over-exercisers, etc., so of course hitting snooze is a big effing deal to these girls (and sometimes guys) who may have spent years pushing their bodies beyond unhealthy limits. to healthy people, though, with fitness goals and a healthy mental outlook, sleeping in and not pushing oneself during a workout is just being kind of lazy, as you said.

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  38. What a write up. Funny.
    I think some people are able to distinguish between what our body needs and what our brain wants. Needs – maybe certain food cravings are signalling a lack of something important in our diet. Brain wants – more sleep after sleeping 12 hours and NOT being sick…an lie you’re being told. The body NEEDS to get up and get things moving.

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  42. This is so funny. I completely agree. I also think Joanne (above) makes an important point about needs vs. wants. At some point I hope to truly learn to be that honest with myself and distinguish between the two with ease. It’s an ongoing process 🙂

  43. Your legs sure like to sass! I have to agree with you , that most of the time ‘listening to my body’ means ‘i don’t wanna!’ But then it always thanks me later if i get off my a$$! I say this on a day when i have not worked out and sit here eating chocolate-covered pomegranate bits…my body says they’re so yummy! There’s a blog name that addresses this exact thing–it’s called ‘Shut Up and Run’.

  44. Kerri @ Cat’s Pajamas pointed me over here and I love it.

    I’m in the “rarely” group for listening to my body. I’ve pushed it plenty of times to know it can take it. Even when I get injured, I tend to push the envelope a bit too far. I’m working on listening more, but I have a bit of an overly competitive mindset, so it’s tough.

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  47. I LOVE this post! Running is hard… plain and simple. There are days where I push and there are occasional days where I give in (like yesterday, but that was just for the morning part, still got a run done). I think you just have to learn to listen to your own body and know what training is like. I am always tired right now, but it’s also the peak of marathon training so DUH I am tired. You just have to try to find that fine line between training and over-training and its different for every person.

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