When Your Body Doesn’t Trust You

IMG_0810I’ve been thinking a lot about trust lately– since mine has been thoroughly violated.  By an inanimate object, no less. My car brought me a lot of happiness when I first got her. The short version of a very long story is she’s been in and out of the shop for nearly 6 weeks, which is longer than I’ve gotten to drive her.  Every time I thought she was fixed, something else happened a day or two later.  She’s back home now, and all seems well.  She’s been thoroughly checked and cleared by mechanics, and been driven quite a few miles before I got her back.

But.  I’m having a hard time trusting this car that I love.  I worry when I go on roads where I have no cell service. I wonder if it’s safe to drive out of town.  I kinda have nightmares about getting stuck.

It’s nothing more than an issue of trust. I’ve been let down.

Maybe not with cars, but we all understand the idea of not being able to trust. Maybe it’s a relationship that’s gone sour.  Maybe it’s an institution–or something you really thought would be there for you. Maybe even it’s your body, which seems like it’s kind of let you down for some reason or another.

Perhaps, though, you’ve never given any thought to whether or not your body trusts you. My trainer and I teach our clients that you have to behave (train, eat well, rest well, etc) consistently 8-12 weeks before you really start to notice a change in how you feel and how it looks.  We talk to people about homeostasis– which is the body’s preference to keep things exactly as they are. I’ve lost 100lbs, but my body has stubbornly refused to let me lose the last 15-20.  I’ve been working on this last little bit for 2 1/2 years! Homeostasis at its finest, folks! In effort to finally make my body change, I’ve done some things that maybe I shouldn’t have– after trying all the usual things.  Ive increased my training and decreased my calories, I’ve tried weird macronutrient ratios.  Still nothing.

But recently I had a conversation with another mentor/coach, Dr. Jack Barnathan, that made me think a little bit differently.  The phrasing he used has rattled around in my brain ever since, because I love it so much:

You have to teach your body that it can trust you.

Dr. Jack Barnathan

Stop for a second and think.  Go grab a cup of coffee if you need it, and get really honest with yourself.  Because I have a hard question to ask:


How many dumb things have you done in the name of “health”, “fitness”, or you know, wearing smaller pants? Uh… asking for a friend.

  • Ever gone on a calorie restricted diet that had you well below your needs, or one that asked you to eliminate whole macronutrient categories?
  • Ever taken pills or supplements that promised you quick weight loss?
  • Ever pushed yourself waaaaay too hard in a training program?
  • Ever asked your body to keep going and doing amazing things while you pushed it to the max, kept it stressed out, didn’t give it enough rest, or fuel it properly?
  • Ever been chronically dehydrated, sleep deprived, stressed, or sedentary?

Nope.  Me either.  Ok, seriously.  I don’t have time to list all the ridiculous things I’ve done because I wanted to lose weight. I tell myself that at the time, I didn’t know better.  But I did.  Before I started the right way on losing weight, I did things like the grapefruit diet or Atkins, and took things that I couldn’t pronounce because some celebrity endorsed them. Let’s be honest.  I knew those things weren’t really all that healthy.

Really, your body probably has a lot of reasons not to trust you.  Most of us have a pretty poor track record with our bodies.  We’ve let our bodies down.

And then we are shocked/angry/confused/more angry that our bodies don’t just snap-to when we start a new program.  We want to see changes, like yesterday.  Side note: this lack of immediate progress is what knocks so many would be health superstars completely off track.  We live in an instant gratification society.

In all my car fun, I had the opportunity to drive a very new car that was excessively helpful. Not only would its screen flash and it make noises when I was too close to the white line or if it didn’t think I should be making a lane change right then, but it would actually steer me back where it thought I belonged.  Yes. “Helpful”.

Your body has this same sort of plan for keeping you alive.  It does the best it can to keep you safe… even from yourself.   Did you know that if you are dehydrated, your body will actually turn you into a human-camel by generating an anti-diuretic hormone (ADH)? The reasoning goes something like this: “hey, this crazy person isn’t giving me any water.  No idea when I’ll get some, so guess I’d better store all of this!” At this point, you become unable to sweat, and your tinkle dwindles to a trickle. Or if you’ve restricted your calories too much for too long, the body becomes convinced that you are trying to starve it right to death, and therefore that you won’t be able to carry on the species, and that the destruction of human kind will be completely on your shoulders.  Or something like that.  Even passing out is the body’s attempt to keep you from causing real damage because something is very wrong in your system.

If you ever want to make progress on your goals, you have to prove to your body that you can be trusted not to injure it.   Your body’s chief concern is your survival.  That means your job as you embark on/ or continue with any type of health self-improvement program is to consistently show your body that you are reliable.

You do this by:

  • giving it the proper fuel it needs to do its work: including enough calories in the form of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and with a focus on vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, etc.
  • not making any sudden/drastic movements:  If you go from eating your normal 2,000 calories a day to the 1,200 a women’s magazine suggested was appropriate for you, don’t be surprised that your body becomes cranky. You’ve just created a perceived crisis.
  • Moving it consistently, but appropriately: Don’t make your body drop you to keep you from overtraining, or pushing too hard and creating an injury. But on the other hand, move it enough to keep your muscles and joints fully functional.  Your body isn’t happy being still for long periods of time.
  • Keeping it hydrated: the camel look isn’t really your best look.
  • Give it enough rest: Your body has a lot of work to do, and some of it is hard– like repairing your wounds, and fighting off invading germs.  Don’t ask it to do the work without giving it the resources it needs.
  • Focusing on consistency, no matter what:  Your body is a machine.  Don’t show up for it for a day or two and then take a week or a month off from your health.

When you show your body that it can trust you, that’s when you’ll start to see changes.  Until then, your body is going to keep you exactly as you are.

How long will it take? That depends on how badly you’ve let your body down in the past. But will it be worth it?  Absolutely.

My dog, and my car, and I are headed out for a drive in the sunshine.  Why? Because I don’t want to have to keep worrying about being stranded.

Turns out, trust is earned– and only kept through consistently doing the job!

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