Gut reaction. Gut feeling. Gut instinct. These common phrases express the idea of inner knowing, also called intuition or inner wisdom. Our “guts” speak to us about our physical, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs. They hold our natural brilliance.
Unfortunately, for many of us healing from an eating disorder, we don’t have much tolerance for our gut. The gut, or stomach, is a body part that evokes shame, embarrassment, and self-loathing. It’s a part that many devote lifetimes to trying to shrink, hide, or control. Our social and cultural beliefs that the gut or “tummy” is a body part that must be tamed triples the challenge for individuals in recovery to fight off gut shame and urges to changes his or her body through restricting, dieting, bingeing, purging, over exercise, or deadly combinations of all these behaviors.
Beyond the negative physical connotations of “gut,” is the very real and serious disconnect that happens between our minds, bodies, and spirits when we numb out with eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. We become more and more removed from our gut feelings, instincts, and reactions, unable to know or appropriately respond to what we truly need. We lose touch with how to nourish our bodies, minds, hearts, souls, and brains. We lose touch with our inner brilliance.
Luckily, this intelligent guiding wisdom does not disappear, even when we are at our lowest points. With practice and commitment, we can turn to our gut reactions, feelings, and instincts to guide us through the daily challenges of recovery. To do so, we must carve out time and space to tune into our needs and hear what our guts have to say rather than tame our truths, feelings, needs, desires, and right to live with a happy heart.
Letting go of taming my gut physically and emotionally is something that I’ve been working at for a long time. One thing that has helped me is practicing “tuning in” to my inner wisdom. I need space, time, and quiet to clear out the old tapes, beliefs, and other mental clutter to be able to tune into my gut and then take action to fulfill my needs. When my head is spinning about food, my body, a relationship, a decision I have to make, or another stressor, I find a quiet place within and ask myself one key question: What do I know to be true about what I need right now?
I find I can answer that question most truthfully when I do quiet practices that encourage presence such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises. If I am in a social situation and feel unsure or overwhelmed (which is when I usually am most likely to become disconnected from my gut), I bring my attention to my breathing and intentionally slow it down. I rest my mind on my inhale and exhale and hear in my mind: What do I know to be true about what I need right now?
I continue to ask myself this question until an answer bubbles to the surface. This simple question has been a game changer because it empowers me to tune into my true and brilliant voice versus old tapes or vestiges of the eating disorder. I encourage you to ask yourself this question or one like it to begin getting in the habit of tuning in and trusting your gut.
You might take time when you first wake up to be still and quiet and listen to your gut. Pausing before a meal or workout or other times in the day that run the risk of going in the opposite direction of what you truly need is a beautiful opportunity to tune to your inner brilliance. You might be surprised by how easily some of the answers come to you. With practice, you will become more familiar with your needs and build up the inner resilience to trust your gut and live from pure inner brilliance.
Jennifer Kreatsoulas, PhD, RYT 500 is a yoga teacher and yoga therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image. In recovery herself, Jennifer is extremely passionate about helping others reconnect with their bodies and be empowered in their lives. She also teaches yoga at the Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center of Philadelphia and is a partner with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. She leads trauma-sensitive yoga classes and teaches weekly flow yoga classes. Jennifer contributes regularly to several eating disorder and body image blogs and the YogaLiving Magazine. Connect with Jennifer.