3 Simple Tools for Your Wellness Toolbox
Guest Post by Lina Salazar, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, LiveWell
Edited by Sara L. Allen, Founder and Principal, waterstoneGLOBAL
Lina Salazar is an integrative nutrition health coach in the Washington, DC metro region who works with women who are tired of fighting food and their bodies. As the owner of LiveWell, Lina supports clients tackling the mindset, practical and nutritional obstacles to healthy living.
She also shares waterstoneGLOBAL’s vision for everyone, everywhere, living life well. We are excited to share her insights about how awareness of the body – and its connection to our thoughts, emotions and choices – can help us to truly live life well.
Awareness: Where it all begins…
We all know that change is not an easy path (at first). But whether you realize it or not, you are working at staying where you are. The question to ask is: Are your current habits – eating, working, sleeping – really working for you?
What if I told you that the ability to connect your body to your mind, emotions and choices is more effective than sheer willpower when it comes to changing a habit, especially one related to food? What if I told you that developing this ability begins with simple awareness?
Furthermore, what if I told you that in the midst of this awareness and slowing down, your energy, productivity and satisfaction actually increase?
Awareness takes persistence, consistency and patience, yet it is perhaps the most effective tool for change. Only from awareness can you truly develop the capacity to feel your body's cues and choose an appropriate response to them. Unlike mints that claim to curb sugar cravings, or a pill your doctor might prescribe to prevent overeating, awareness is a skill that stays with you forever (for free!), and that with practice can become a new habit that works for you instead of against you.
There are many approaches to building awareness, but I have found these three to be the most helpful (especially if you implement them at the same time).
The key to your success will be to experiment and find an approach that fits you and your lifestyle.
1. PAUSE: gain awareness of your current state
Right now – pause to breathe in deeply – and exhale. It’s a piece of cake, yet its effect is underestimated. The moment you pause, you build awareness.
Have you found yourself holding your breath for too long (maybe while in traffic or watching the evening news)? Tightening your neck and shoulders (while in a meeting with your boss)? I have found that pausing helps me release tension and provide greater understanding of what is behind a negative state of being (usually fear!).
Inevitably, coming face-to-face with what I’m feeling diminishes its intensity.
I like to use Tara Brach's RAIN approach, which can be used:
in a moment of stress,
to address that “scattered” feeling at the end of the day, or
to recognize and appreciate positive states of being.
Recognize what is happening (physical sensations, thoughts or emotions). Simply ask yourself, “What is happening internally at this moment?” Is your body tense? Do you crave a snack?
Allow it to be. You can even say it aloud. For example, “I accept that I feel discouraged about the presentation I just gave,” or “I accept that my body is tired today.” Try it. Does the intensity of the feeling dissipate, even a little?
Investigate what's going on at a deeper level by asking, “What story am I telling myself right now?” or “What am I believing?” It may be uncomfortable to face a fear of loneliness or anger at an injustice. Show kindness toward yourself and those involved as you seek what is behind the stress you feel.
Non-identification occurs by understanding the connection between what is happening in your body (tension, stress, fatigue) and accepting and investigating related thoughts, feelings and choices. You can begin to release (not identify so closely with) the negativity that binds you.
With increased awareness, we can be, as Dr. Beth Cuje states, “conscious observers,” able to remain in our healthy best selves. We can “see both sides of reality and choose which we prefer to focus on.” We are no longer operating on autopilot, where our subconscious mind and past are controlling our choices in the present.
2. MEDITATE: create space for your desired state of being
The benefits of meditation are well known, but it wasn't until I actually tried it several years ago that I understood that it precedes any successful effort to eat healthily and live well. Back then, I started practicing meditation consistently, and after a couple of months I saw how – without even trying – I became more aware of my body and how I felt when I ate specific food items.
Suddenly, the "space" between the moment I felt a craving and the actual movement of my hand to grab the cookie or slice of bread became wider. With meditation, my actions played out in slow motion, giving me more time to make a decision that I could feel good about both in the short-term and the long-term.
Meditation slows us down and allows us to perceive physical sensations, thoughts and emotions that we might otherwise ignore.
3. RECORD: identify gaps and celebrate successes
If I ask you what you ate last week, or even two days ago, would you be able to tell me in detail? It's very likely that you won't. Recording what you eat sheds light on what you are putting into your body (coffee? cookies?) as well as helps you identify what is missing (water? greens?).
Recording your food consumption also helps to reveal possible food allergies, sensitivities or imbalances as you pay attention to the body sensations, thoughts and feelings that emerge with the different types of foods you eat.
Using this free template, try writing down (for 5-7 days) how specific food items made you feel as you ate them (or even what you felt before you decided to eat them!).
Similar to looking at a credit card statement and evaluating your spending, reviewing your food intake at the end of each day or week can help you identify the thought patterns that might be triggering emotional eating or unhealthy habits. You might be surprised at how much you discover.
Connecting your body to your mind, emotions and choices has several advantages, and the awareness to make better food choices that nourish you is just one of them.
Remember it takes persistence before you see results, but it works if you work it. My hope is that any or all of these approaches to building awareness will help you on your journey to wellness.
I encourage you to give them a try, and I would love to hear from you if you want to share feedback. Please email me.
Learn more about Lina Salazar at www.livewellway.com.
Better together starts with you.™
We are better together, and it starts with each individual understanding how to be his or her best self in every situation. waterstoneGLOBAL partners with leaders in community development, mental health, integrated wellness, and faith-based initiatives to build the more beautiful world we know is possible. Our vision is everyone, everywhere, living life well.
Learn more at www.waterstoneglobal.com.