Learning to think for myself.

A post about the importance of listening to your own body when deciding what to eat, but why it can be difficult and why we may be wired to want to be told what to eat.

This post is borrowed from my other blog…because I can, and because this blog is about both triathlon and the rest of the trilife. While it doesn’t start out that way, the point of the post is to reflect on perhaps why it may be so difficult for us to listen to our own bodies when deciding what to eat.

I recently started a new job. One outside of the legal field and into the world of small business. It is the first job in my adult life outside of government. In my work life, I went from high school and college summer jobs (life-guarding and landscaping), to a couple of anything-I-can-get jobs after college (FedEx delivery woman and research analyst). After a few frightening years after college, having no idea how to live in the world without school, I returned to that comfort. Three years later, I graduated with a law degree and proceeded to spend the next 8 years trying out different law jobs to find my perfect fit, before finally deciding that I would stop trying.

My new job is with a small business where I will have a boss and tasks to complete, but I don’t think I will have someone constantly telling me what to do or how to do it. I think I will have autonomy and the ability, but also expectation, that I look at things a different way. To figure things out or to get ideas and to go to the organization and say, “hey, how about trying it this way?” Or, maybe more likely, I will be told – “do this, figure it out, and come back when it’s done.”

As I’m learning this new job, I find myself constantly saying “okay, what next?” to the person training me. This has been true even if I have the tools to figure it out myself. I am, in a way, used to being told what to do.

I am reminded of something Seth Godin talks about (here is one video, but it is a common theme of his). That is, that our educational system was designed to produce humans who would go to work in factories. They would be told what to do, and everyone was expected to follow along. School was designed to teach us to follow directions, to do what we are told, to not be too different than the person next to us. It worked well for the work that was done, but times are changing. Now, what is awarded in the workplace is not just doing what you are told and doing it well, but going beyond. It’s about figuring things out and making connections and creating things or new ways to do things. Godin recently answered a question on his podcast from an attorney who was questioning whether he wanted to continue being an attorney, but wasn’t sure what else to do and had invested so much time in money in the path. Godin discussed the decision to go to law school as sensible because it is what he knew, it was the easy path to go back to school. Our society places law school on a pedestal, but I agree with Godin in the sense that it allows us to continue following along on a path nicely laid out for us. As an attorney, I was able to continue this path because legal work often follows a fairly set prescription. “Hey client – we just received this law suit from this other party. I examined the case law. Here is what it says. I think you may prevail, but it is no sure bet, and we must consider the cost of litigation. And here are some of the possible actions the judge could take that may affect your business before the case is resolved, and here is how long it might take if we go to trial. There client – there is the information – now what do you want to do?” I gave advice, but didn’t make the decisions.

Last week I listened to a lecture by Marie Forleo about writing for businesses to sell goods and services. She gave the advice that we must tell our readers exactly what we want them to do. “Sign up for my newsletter, push this button,” “go to my Facebook page and leave a comment,” etc. Is this advice the symptom of the same education that Godin talks about?

I have been thinking about food and dieting along this same paradigm. I think we want to be told exactly what to eat. If we are trained to follow along in school and then perhaps at work, why not continue with our diet. You would think it would be easy for someone to tell you what you should be eating, how much, and when. Maybe this is part of why the diet industry is so huge. Sure people want the easy fix to lose weight, but maybe it goes deeper than that, maybe people want someone to tell them what to do because it is easier than listening to their own body.

The problem is that we are all unique. Each of us will be our best selves eating a different set of foods, and each of us has different factors playing into how we process different food. Food and weight are so incredibly emotional. It isn’t just what, but how. To be our best, healthiest, selves, we need to learn to listen to us. That’s not to say that food education isn’t important, but when experts’ information is conflicting, and each body is different, I think that the best course is to eat mostly whole foods and then listen to your body to direct you.

As a health coach, I support clients to find the food and way of eating that works best for them. It includes actual foods, as well as practical and emotional factors. If you are interested in learning more about that kind of support, contact me to schedule a free health history. You will not be told what to do, but together we will figure out a path forward.