What does ‘listening to your body’ really mean?

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

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Listening to your body: What does that really mean?


Listen To Your Body



Sleep, ah. Does a body good.


And yet, while I know this, it can be one of the easiest things for me to ‘let go’ when it seems like there is never enough time in the day.


In efforts to ‘get ‘er done’, sometimes my sleep hours takes the brunt of it all.


However, I must say, if there is one thing I’ve learned in my 20-something years of life, it is that sleep is more necessary for optimal functioning than I formerly thought during college, and the art of listening to my body—no matter what.


I was reminded of this little fact the other day, when I managed to barely squeeze 5-hours of sleep (ie. A good nap) in the night before.


While I may have ‘gotten things done’ that very day, the very next day, I was feeling it and thinking about it—all I could think about was sleep.


Goodnight Moon


I was able to take a 15-minute cat-nap at some point that day, but the improper sleep pattern from the night before definitely caught the best of me.


I was a little less energetic. Had a little less brain energy. My workout felt a little more sluggish. And I just didn’t feel like ‘me.’


Has that ever happened to you?


Maybe not with sleep—but perhaps another lifestyle habit or hang-up in your life, wherein your body was telling you, ‘Yooo-hooo, hey you, listen up!’


Listen To Your Body1


It could be hitting it too hard in the gym or pounding the pavement with increased mileage and intensity a few too many days in a row.


Feeling hungry and energy depleted from being busier than usual to prep your meals or meal plan accordingly.


Experiencing stomach discomfort, headaches, bloating or a whole other slew of side effects, but ignoring a culprit or two that may looming in your diet.


Having an injury, but ignoring it aside from dosing up on some ibuprofen to ‘keep going.’


Feeling overwhelmed but trudging forward instead of prioritizing or not committing to EVERYTHING.


Having too many things to-do and feeling the effects of stress on your brain, your furrowed eyebrows and wound-up anxiety.


Cracked lips, dry skin, poor energy, fatigue, slow digestion—all from lack of plenty of water in a day. Hydration people!


Poor shoulder, ankle or hip mobility, but failing to stretch or warm-up properly.


Going non-stop, without much time to breathe, between one thing to the next.


You get the picture.


Sometimes our bodies speak—and our role lies in our ability to listen.


After my ‘blast from the past’ 5-hour sleep Wednesday night (I used to only sleep 4-5 hours every night during college), I got a good solid 7-hours in the next night, and my oh my, what a difference quality sleep makes!


Energized. Refreshed. Brain power to conquer my work for the day. Light in my eyes.


Night and day difference!


Ever since I started sleeping more properly (4-5 hour nights are very rare now), I most definitely am able to acknowledge when my body is speaking to me—and am also better able to listen.


Take a moment to reflect: What has your body been saying to you lately?


Can’t think of anything?


Here are a few things to spur your imagination:


Lack of Sleep/Improper Sleep: You’ve heard it more than once I am sure. 7-8 hours is the ‘sweet spot’ when it comes to replenishing your body and mind for living each day to the fullest. Take it from me—I ran off of 4-6 hours for nearly a decade, thinking I earned brownie points for being more productive, hard-working and hard-core in my days. Who needs sleep?! I lived by the motto, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ But then…I started sleeping, and I instantly noticed the night and day difference. Sleep not only leads to more energy, but did you know sleep actually plays a role in your brain function and memory storage? In fact, researchers are now linking memory loss in seniors to lack of sleep. In addition, heart disease, heart attacks and cancer are also being linked to getting 6-hours or less of sleep most nights.


Listen to your body: Unusual hunger, irritable moods, difficulty concentrating, trouble staying awake or alert, needing caffeine and energy drinks, cravings for various foods, headaches, slowed motor function, easily weepy or emotional are just some of the signs that may be your body “speaking” out, “I need sleep.”



Poor Digestion: Do you get stomachaches easily? Constipation or bloating? Do you have foods allergies or reactions, such as skin breakouts, after eating certain things? These symptoms are just some of the symptoms people experience with poor digestion. The kicker? Many people don’t directly attribute their physiological symptoms with the foods they eat or the health of their gut (ie. Digestion).


Enhancing your digestion and body’s natural ability to breakdown and process the food you eat daily is an intricate process. There is no one cause of poor digestion. For some: it may be gluten, dairy or excess sugar, and elimination (or playing around with elimination) of something you think may be causing some gastric distress can be a good way to assess the culprit.For others, it may be a lack of water.(Did you know that one of the biggest causes of poor digestion is dehydration?! Many of us don’t drink enough water to allow the stomach to produce the needed amount of digestive acid). To pre-hydrate the stomach, drink 12oz of water 15 minutes before you eat food. Also, If you are dehydrated it is recommended that you drink AT LEAST one-half your body weight in ounces daily.

Other reasons for poor digestion may include:


  • Not chewing your food properly (ensure you chew it fully before swallowing)


  • Regularly eating larger meals past your level of fullness if you are at a healthy weight, and not trying to gain weight


  • Consuming toxins and anti-nutrients through poor produce and meat sources, as well as processed foods


  • Lack of ‘good bacteria’ to aid in digestion (one word: Probiotic. Take one)


  • Chronic stress (the mind-gut connection)


  • Improper/lack of sleep


The faster you can identify the culprit and begin to address it, the happier your tummy will be.

P.S. A daily probiotic and even gastrofiber tablet can help!


Listen to your body: A slew of things! I listed some above, but here’s a few more: comprehensive list: Constipation, bloating, indigestion, gas, irregular bowels, heart burn, insatiable or regular cravings, food allergies, nausea, acne, diarrhea, eczema, arthritis, feelings of fullness-despite several hours passing after one meal. Sometimes we think these things are ‘normal’ or part of just how we feel after a particular food or meal, but, reality check: They are not. Sure you are going to go through life and experience some of these at one time or another, but if these are a regular part of your daily life, then it’s time to take a look at your diet, and your gut health.



Headaches: It’s 3 p.m. and that inevitable headache strikes again, reminding you that (a.) it’s time for a dose of caffeine, (b.) you need a snack, or (c.) you just want to curl up in a ball in a dark room and close your eyes. Headaches happen—but why do they happen to some more than others? Imbalances, nutrition habits, and lifestyle factors (such as sleep and stress) can all contribute to headaches—particularly chronic headaches.


Listen to your body: Dehydration. Fatigue or inadequate sleep. Inadequate nutritional needs met (ie. Needing more food). Too much sugar or regular sugar consumption. Stress and worry. Overconsumption and reliance on daily caffeine. Eye and brain strain from computer screens and technology.


Reflect on things in your lifestyle and diet that may be contributing to your body’s ‘fight’ response via your brainwaves. Drink more water, cut back on caffeine, improve your sleep habits, take a time out to de-stress and ‘don’t worry, be happy.’



Inadequate Fuel: Fuel—quality fuel—does a body good. This means a well-rounded balance of proteins (30-40% of intake), carbs (about 30-40% of intake, especially fresh veggies and fruits!), and fats (about 30% of intake), like nuts and seeds, oils, coconut, some animal meats, egg yolks and grassfed raw dairy (butter, ghee). Lack of quality fuel (especially fats and protein—something many women, in particular, avoid) will often times leave you feeling depleted, less energetic, experiencing some nutrient deficiencies, and even hormonally imbalanced. In fact, the average person needs (approximately) at least 1800 calories per day, and plenty of water, for optimal function. Many women fall far low underneath this limit; often worrying more is going to cause weight gain, promote body fat storage or work against their health and fitness goals. Quite the opposite, if you are fairly active and eating a balanced diet of quality foods, your body is going to use that fuel as fire in the furnace.


Listen to your body: Low energy. Fatigue. Sluggish workouts or lack of progress in the gym. Irritable mood. Hunger. Headaches. Poor metabolism. Trouble losing weight or body fat. Low thyroid or hormone function.



Overtraining: No pain, no gain, right? Tis the mantra of us hard working gym folk. Not always. You’ve probably heard it before: ‘Work smarter, not harder.’ Less most certainly can be more; and smart training isn’t necessarily directly related to the hours and pounding spent in the gym.   Sports science tells us that too much training can be worse than too little training, leaving you prone to injury or making you burned out for competition.


Overtraining is dependent on numerous variables as well, such as: adequate nutrition to support your endeavors; rest and recovery from the same movements and exercises that may overtax one body part or energy system in particular; and your own biological ‘threshold’ and adaption for training load (some people are ‘big monkeys—meaning they can handle more volume, and need more volume, in their training in order to make strides they desire; whereas other people are ‘little monkeys’—benefitting often times from a ‘less is more’ style of training).


That being said, to get better, fitter, stronger, yes, we do need to push ourselves – in a controlled careful program that allows for recovery. And, at times you might over-reach or push yourself harder to achieve a particular goal. These instances need to be of short duration with defined recovery built-in. Doing this too often results in poor performance if not approached appropriately.


Listen to your body: Some signs of overtraining may include:


  • Always tired, physically/mentally or both
  • Having difficulty with motivation
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Lack of menstrual cycle
  • Waking-up and feeling un-rested or un-refreshed
  • Finding it difficult to relax/wind-down after sessions
  • Suffering from mood swings
  • Feeling daytime fatigue
  • Having difficulty focusing
  • Suffering from constant niggling injuries
  • Performing below expectation
  • Feeling like you never get ‘me’ time or time away from your training/thinking about training
  • Plateaus, reverse in progress, or losing strength



Injury/Sickness: Feeling down and out is no fun. From a stress fracture, to the common cold, to a muscle strain, injuries and illness are inevitably part of life. The answer to recovering and recouping therein lies in your ability to listen to your bod. That doesn’t necessarily mean putting all of life, your training or your day-to-day activities on hold, but it may mean restructuring what some of those hours look like or your mode of training. For instance, a stress fracture in your foot may mean no running, jumping, or bounding. Instead, the rowing machine, Air Dyne bike or swimming pool may become a good friend, and the injury is an opportunity to become better at something else—like pull-ups or upperbody strength. Likewise, injuries and illness can also have ‘silver linings’ for doing other things we may not always take the time to do—like writing or reading, creating something, or learning something new. Consider injury or illness a ‘break from the norm’, an opportunity for personal growth and development, and a challenge to find a silver lining.


Listen to your body: This one may sound like a no-brainer. Injury and illness may seem hard to ignore—but often times, you can take preventative measures by listening to some key signals before injury or illness strikes, such as:


  • Tight muscles/immobility
  • Feeling run down
  • Fatigue or tired from too little sleep
  • An ache in a bone (such as shins or feet from too much running)
  • Continuing to workout or pound a particular body part sending you light signals of pain (such as adding weight to the snatch bar, even though your shoulder is bugging you)
  • Sniffles, cough, sore throat—and not addressing it


Key tip: For many under-the-weather illnesses, I swear by “Wellness Formula” (you can order on Amazon, or purchase at Whole Foods or Central Market). I seriously think it cures the common cold!



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